BPL Kick-off: 'Chelsea's Eden Hazard is one of the best players in the league' | Barclays Premier League

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Saturday 09 August 2014

BPL Kick-off: 'Hazard is one of the best players in the league'

Our club-by-club preview of the 2014/15 Barclays Premier League campaign turns to Chelsea

  • Eden Hazard top scored for Chelsea in the BPL last season

  • Diego Costa is one of five new signings for Chelsea this summer

  • Gianfranco Zola is regarded as one of the best Chelsea players of all time

  • Jose Mourinho has lost only one home BPL match as Chelsea manager

  • Cesc Fabregas has impressed in midfield for Chelsea this summer

Chelsea

Manager: Jose Mourinho (June 2013)
Home ground: Stamford Bridge
Players in: Cesc Fabregas, Mario Pasalic, Diego Costa, Filipe Luis, Didier Drogba
First five BPL matches: Crystal Palace (H), Everton (A), Leicester City (A), Manchester City (H), Aston Villa (A)

After finishing only four points adrift of champions Manchester City in a gripping 2013/14 Barclays Premier League title race, Chelsea turned to a trio of La Liga stars and a returning club legend as Jose Mourinho bids win the first trophy of his second spell as manager at Stamford Bridge.

Cesc Fabregas, who made 212 Barclays Premier League appearances in an eight-year spell at Arsenal before joining Barcelona, is joined by left back Filipe Luis and striker Diego Costa, who both played an integral role in Atletico Madrid winning last season's La Liga title and reaching the UEFA Champions League final.

Didier Drogba, who won three Barclays Premier League titles and scored the winning penalty in Chelsea's 2012 UEFA Champions League triumph, returned to Stamford Bridge this summer after spells with Shanghai Shenhua and Galatasaray.

He links up once more with Mourinho, who won two of those titles with Drogba during his first three-year spell as Chelsea manager.

Mourinho, who had successful spells at Inter Milan and Real Madrid after leaving Chelsea in 2007, described himself as "the happy one" after his return to take charge of the Blues last summer. The Portuguese enjoyed a promising campaign that nearly ended in silverware on multiple fronts, as they fell just short in the league and were knocked out by Atletico in the Champions League semi-finals.

In the Barclays Premier League, the Blues did not lose a single match against fellow top four clubs last term, and they boasted a 100% record against eventual champions City and runners-up Liverpool. Their 2-0 win against Liverpool at Anfield with three matches left crucially swung the title race in City's favour.

Mourinho's first home league defeat as Chelsea manager at the hands of Sunderland, and further defeats on the road to Aston Villa and Crystal Palace in the closing stages of the season dashed their title hopes.

Chelsea conceded only 27 goals in the Barclays Premier League last term, with John Terry and Gary Cahill combining in the middle of the backline and the impressive Cesar Azpilicueta holding a regular left-back spot. The club's all-time top scorer Frank Lampard left Stamford Bridge this summer after an illustrious career in west London.

Mourinho's second spell in charge started with a win over newly promoted Hull City last season, and Chelsea will get the new campaign under way with a visit to another promoted side in Burnley this time round.

The first home match for Chelsea, who are one of seven ever-present Barclays Premier League teams, is against 2013/14 Championship title winners Leicester City, while they also face trips to Everton and Man City in the opening six matches of the new campaign

 

Best BPL finish
1st (2004/05; 2005/06; 2009/10)
Last five BPL finishes 3rd 3rd 6th 2nd 1st
Seasons in the BPL
All (1992/93-2013/14)
Most BPL appearances Frank Lampard (429)
Top BPL goalscorer Frank Lampard (147)


The local view - Simon Johnson (London Evening Standard)

Hopes for the new season.

For Chelsea it's to go that final step. Finishing four points short of Manchester City was a big disappointment in the sense that they had the best record against the top teams. They beat Man City and Liverpool home and away so the quality is there, they have added to that in the summer, so only the title will do.

What is the mood like among the fans?

Overall there's lot of optimism because they have strengthened in the areas that they needed to. The one caveat, though, is that there is concern about what happens if Costa gets injured or goes out of form.

What are the special qualities of Jose Mourinho?

The ability to change a match when it is going wrong. It doesn't always work but I have never seen another coach in all the time I have covered Chelsea who has been able to change a game tactically. He is not afraid to make bold decisions. He will make that substitution, will go with two or three up front or three at the back. The players have great confidence in him. He also has that ability to take all the pressure on his shoulders. 

What have you made of Chelsea's signings so far?

Filipe Luis was part of Atletico Madrid's title-winning squad who also reached the Champions League final - he played very well against Chelsea in the semi-final. Cesc Fabregas is a quality creative midfielder and can produce that vital defence-splitting pass. He is a player who perhaps can offer more than what they already had. He also has great experience of the Premier League with Arsenal and is not going to take any time to adapt. From what I have seen in pre-season, he looks as if he has been at the club for longer than he has. The players are giving him the ball at every opportunity.

You can argue that that the biggest and most vital signing is Costa because it was up front that Mourinho said was where they were lacking last season. He had an amazing season for Atletico. You put his goals in Chelsea's team of last season and they would have won the title.

Didier Drogba will bring his influence in the dressing room and although I don't think he will be starting a lot of matches, he will be a great option to have to rotate with Costa and also to give Chelsea a change of tactics for the last 20-25 minutes from the bench. Opposition defences will fear the sight of him even if he might not quite the same player he was when he left Chelsea a couple of years ago.

Chelsea's strengths and weaknesses.

They are very tough side to beat. They are very well organised and are particularly strong at the back - they had the best defensive record in the league last season. They have got the strongest two goalkeepers in the league to choose from in Petr Cech and Thibaut Courtois and in John Terry and Gary Cahill they had the best central-defensive partnership. They are a very hard team to break down. With Mourinho liking to play two players in front of the back four as well, it just means that once Chelsea take the lead, it's very tough to come back against them. 

Another strength is that the manager is tactically astute, one of the best coaches in the world, and that gives Chelsea a good 10 points more a season. They are very good in the big games. They take their game on to another level with the best teams. These players almost thrive in that environment. They know the attention is on them and they love proving a point. 

In Eden Hazard have got one of the best players in the league. He was voted the PFA Young Player of the Year and can only get better, which is a scary prospect for everyone because when he turns it on, there are few defences that can stop him.

There are questions over whether Chelsea still have enough mobility to break down teams and whether they are too reliant on Hazard to make the difference. An early example that it might not have been ironed out yet was in the pre-season match against Werder Bremen, where Chelsea struggled to break them down although, saying that, not all of the first team was playing and there was still work to do on their fitness.

What are the matches the fans always look forward to, and what are the ones they dread?

If there are two teams they'd love to beat more than any other, they are Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. Even when Chelsea weren't as good as now, Spurs was always the fixture they'd look out for. There's been a real rivalry there. Liverpool is another fixture where due to Chelsea's emergence over the last 16 years as a club that wins regularly, it's become an intense rivalry.

As for the matches they dread, you only have to look at the results from last season at where the title was lost, Stoke City, Newcastle United, Crystal Palace and Aston Villa. It's not so much that they fear any team, or not want to play certain teams, there's a general feeling of worry about the team against the lower clubs, the teams who are hard to break down and sit deep and hit them on the counter. That is Chelsea's preferred tactic against the best opposition but they struggle against it themselves.

Who is the best young talent BPL fans might see emerge this season?

Marco van Ginkel suffered a serious knee injury in September but I would expect him to play quite a few games as a squad player after the exits of David Luiz and Oriol Romeu on loan. He will be looking to show what he can do.

I can also see Nathan Ake getting a few games. He has been playing at left-back quite a lot, even if he started out as a midfielder and can act as a back-up to Filipe Luis and Cesar Azpilicueta. I have noticed in pre-season that under Mourinho he got a lot quicker, stronger and there is an increase in his workrate. He's fitting the mould of a classic Mourinho player and can only get better under him.

There's also Lewis Baker and Jeremie Boga. Baker was voted the club's young player of the season and is very highly thought of. Boga has a very good reputation after playing in the Under-21s and youth teams and scored a great goal in pre-season. He has definitely impressed Mourinho and people at the club really like him. He is a very skilful player, very confident on the ball and good at taking on opposition players.

Chelsea in three words

Silverware a must.

Simon Johnson is the Chelsea correspondent for the Evening Standard.

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Key Points

  • As part of our build-up to the new Barclays Premier League season, we take a look at all the clubs in the competition
  • Today, we take a look at Chelsea
  • Simon Johnson of the Evening Standard looks ahead to their 2014/15 campaign