The English Premier League Top Six: Stating Their Case for the Title
Chelsea: It’ll Be a REAL Title Defense This Time (…We Promise)
1) Amidst speculation that he’d move on after just one year in the EPL, Antonio Conte penned a two-year extension this July to remain at Stamford Bridge for the immediate future…or at least until he falls out of favor with Roman Abramovich. (It’s been known to happen.) Conte’s tactics -- hello, 3-4-3! -- and his passion were integral to inspiring a Blues side that had finished 10th the year before to their second league title in three seasons.
2) Not only did Conte spend the summer becoming the league’s highest-paid manager at a cool $12 million a season, the Italian also “broke up” with Diego Costa -- apparently via text message -- and brought in 24-year old Alvaro Morata, the striker who supplanted Costa in the Spanish national team set-up several years back. Costa’s imposing nature and his 52 league goals and 16 assists over the last three years won’t be easy to replace, but it was time to move on, and the line of succession has now been established.
3) Outside of Costa and the offloaded Nemanja Matic, the Chelsea side that won the title last year on 93 points remains almost completely intact. Remember, Conte’s men won 30 of 38 league games in ’16-‘17, and that included a run of 13 straight victories from October to January. Why mess with success?
4) No more John Terry. Yes, he's a "Captain, Legend, Leader", but let's not get sentimental. This is a man who once celebrated a Champions League victory in full kit -- including shin pads -- despite being suspended for the match, who essentially pulled a King David on then-teammate Wayne Bridge, and who substituted himself off at the 26-minute mark of his final match in a Chelsea uniform...just because. And we're just scratching the surface here. CFC will be a different place without Terry, a five-time league winner and a true hero (...anti-hero?) of the Abramovich Era, but the leadership vacuum he's leaving behind will be filled by younger, better players...and let's hope they're more decent human beings, as well.
5) Chelsea were second last year in goals scored -- just one behind Spurs with 85 -- and third in goals conceded and clean sheets. The backline should be more flexible this year with the addition of German international Antonio Rudiger from Roma, and while the midfield will be lacking in August as Eden Hazard recovers from offseason ankle surgery, the eventual introduction of Monaco powerhouse Tiemoue Bakayoko and the unshackling of Willian should help fill the gap.
6) Repeating in the EPL isn’t easy. Only Man United (1998-2001, 2006-2009) and First Era Mourinho Chelsea (2004-06) have done so in the last 20 Premier League seasons. But don’t forget that clubs led by Antonio Conte haven’t lost a league championship since -- wait for it – 2011, when Siena finished second in Serie B. Bet on the Godfather at your own peril.