Chelsea have started their 2015/16 title defence more like a newly promoted side than defending English champions. Taking four points from their opening four fixtures, with a negative goal difference, Blues manager Jose Mourinho should consider the international break a blessing rather than a curse.
The Portuguese manager can rest and/or train the Blues' unselected/internationally retired players before their next Premier League outing in September.
Starting slow from the blocks was not Chelsea's modus operandi in 2014/15, so catching the flying leaders Manchester City will require a sprinter-like burst come the season's restart in a fortnight's time.
Normally solid footballers have gone missing. John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard, Willian, Diego Costa and others are the culprits to Chelsea's disappointing form.
Lost in the west London murk, however, at least five players have begun with positive accounts—they only require their team-mates to show up sooner rather than later.
Asmir Begovic moved to Chelsea with hopes of dislodging Thibaut Courtois. No doubt a mammoth task, it was not meant to commence in the season's kick-off.
After Courtois' sending-off vs. Swansea City in the opening fixture, Begovic was hastily thrust between Stamford Bridge's goal posts. Other than a Bafetimbi Gomis penalty he was charged with saving (and did not), he was generally flawless in the 2-2 draw.
Starting the next game at Manchester City, the Bosnia and Herzegovina international denied Sergio Aguero four times before the Premier League's best centre-forward finally breached him.
City won 3-0, but without Begovic, Chelsea might have received a seven-goal drubbing.
4) Thibaut Courtois
If Courtois is not the EPL's best goalkeeper, he is certainly in the argument. August, however, did not necessarily reflect that standing. Belgium's first-choice shot-stopper was red-carded vs. Swansea—in the season opener—after an ill-advised challenge on the edge of his 18-yard box.
Missing their 3-0 loss vs. Manchester City, the Blues were left with one point. A loss in Chelsea's third match vs. West Bromwich Albion would have seen Mourinho's side fall into deeper crisis.
With the awarded penalty, WBA had an opportunity to crush the defending champions, but Courtois made himself large and denied James Morrison's effort.
Stuttering to start the 2015/16 season, his save was crucial to temporarily ending Chelsea's bleeding.
3) Pedro Rodriguez
More an indictment of Hazard, Willian and the injured Oscar, England newcomer Pedro has become Chelsea's foremost attacking midfielder in just 180 minutes.
Bought from Barcelona under controversial circumstances, costing the Londoners £21 million, the Spain international has taken to Premier League football like a duck to water.
Creating Costa and Radamel Falcao's first EPL goals—as well as scoring vs. West Bromwich Albion—Pedro appears Mourinho's best creative piece.
The 28-year-old would not have been expecting to be joining a fledgling outfit—especially after winning the treble with Barca last season—but the Blues' success (or lack thereof) may be contingent on his assertiveness/adaptability.
2) Cesar Azpilicueta
Chelsea have conceded nine goals this season, and only one was caused by a mistake from Cesar Azpilicueta.
Bombing forward vs. Crystal Palace, showing desire to win back possession, the Spanish full-back left a vacancy on the left side of Mourinho's defence. The ball was crossed into Courtois' box, and Azpilicueta's tired clearance was eventually converted by the Eagles in a 2-1 loss.
That one instance removed—as far as defending goes—Azpilicueta's mistakes have been minimal.
While his other back-four mates from 2014/15 (Terry, Ivanovic and Gary Cahill) have been largely dysfunctional entering the new season, the Spain international has been Chelsea's best defensive mainstay.
1) Kurt Zouma
Bought for £12.5 million in January 2014, Kurt Zouma has started showing the massive potential he was earmarked with. For evidence, the 20-year-old centre-back was Chelsea's best player in August.
Replacing long-serving captain Terry after 45 minutes at the Etihad, Zouma hardly placed a foot wrong, even though the Blues lost the match.
How Mourinho sits the talented French youngster down after 240 minutes of quality defending—especially when compared to his team-mates—will be a question answered by September 12's Everton clash.
All things being equal, though, Zouma has earned his starting shirt based on August's performances.