A Blue year

Chelsea’s chances of landing a second Premier League title in three years seem to once again rest heavily on the shoulders of their experienced backbone.

Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba were all part of the team that won the first of four league titles under Jose Mourinho. Their know-how and undoubted quality will be even more crucial this season.

All four have missed large chunks of recent seasons through injury and it’s no
coincidence that in their absence Chelsea lost crucial games.

Remember how easily an injury-ravaged, Terry-less Chelsea rearguard were ripped apart by Sunderland at Stamford Bridge in November.

Lampard also missed that game and the cohesion and confidence the big names bring becomes all too apparent when two of them are missing at the same time.

Chelsea have enough quality to finish top of the pile.

As players, Terry and Lampard are replaceable. As leaders and as an inspiration to those around them, they are not.

If they stay fit for the majority of the season and Drogba – whose serious illness deprived Chelsea of the most complete centre-forward in the country – can be made to feel loved, then the title is well within their grasp. They look stronger than Manchester United.

Chelsea have class, strength in depth, game-winners, hunger, and a younger-looking squad than 12 months ago.

And in their new manager Andre Villas-Boas and his assistant Roberto di Matteo, they have two men in charge with Chelsea backgrounds and an excellent understanding of the club.

It would be foolish to underestimate the part Steve Clarke played in Mourinho’s trophy-laden years, but bringing in the revered di Matteo is a masterstroke.

The competition is fiercer this season. Manchester City have no excuses
for not challenging, United looked impressive in the Community Shield and despite being far from convincing at times last term, they still won the league and will be stronger this time out.

Liverpool, despite the endless celebration of Kenny Dalglish’s return, are still
likely to struggle to match the top two or three.

Arsenal cannot be discounted despite doom and gloom about a lack of
signings and the impending departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.

In Jack Wilshere they have a genuine superstar. They will be capable of surprising many if they sign a couple of quality players – including a centre-half – before the end of August.

Tottenham cannot hide behind the notion that other clubs have more money.
Spurs have spent a fortune in recent seasons and possess world-class players all over the pitch.

Harry Redknapp’s side have no excuse for not challenging – and the fact they are not in the Champions League will help their domestic cause no end.

All that said, Chelsea have enough quality to finish top of the pile.

Michael Essien’s knee injury, which will keep him out for around six months, is a massive blow. ‘The Beast’ has boundless energy and when fully fit provides dynamism and drive that arguably no other midfielder in the country can match.

The Blues certainly have plenty of attacking options

But in Ramires, Chelsea have a player who could well blossom this season.
Often the Brazilian looked shell-shocked by the sheer pace of the English game in the last campaign.

But by the latter stages of the season, he was beginning to adjust and show his ability with some lung-busting displays

The other midfield option is Josh McEachran – a player with so much talent and composure he will surely go all the way.

Up front, Fernando Torres, despite all the goodwill, has not delivered and still looks like something is not quite right.

He has shown flashes of genius and amazing vision, the odd clever flick and cute run. But it’s simply a goal threat Chelsea need from the Spaniard and the fear is he may struggle to deliver in the current system.

Torres needs to be accommodated to get the best of him and with so many
wonderful players around him, that is not always the right thing to do.  It’s a hugely difficult call.

Nicolas Anelka was at times Chelsea’s best forward last season yet was often played out of position. Daniel Sturridge looks sharp and proved his talent at Bolton, and a fully-fit Drogba is an awesome proposition. Salomon Kalou has also shown his worth with some vital contributions.

It’s going to be a fascinating season. But while the competition is stronger, Chelsea are in very good shape themselves, and something tells me the boost Villas-Boas has given the club could well spell a fifth Premier League title.