Title favourites Chelsea are set to unleash some of the club’s major close-season buys when they launch their campaign at Barclays Premier League new boys Burnley.
Jose Mourinho’s men finished last season third, faltering as a dramatic title tussle with Liverpool and eventual champions Manchester City reached its conclusion. Chelsea moved quickly to try to they last the course this time around, bringing in striker Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid, and former Arsenal playmaker Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona.
Both players are set to be pivotal figures for Mourinho in 2014/15 and Filipe Luis also has come in from Atletico to replace the long-serving Ashley Cole.
Returning hero Didier Drogba adds further muscle in attack, but is a doubt for the season opener after sustaining an ankle injury during a pre-season friendly against Ferencvaros.
But perhaps the greatest intrigue surrounding the Chelsea squad is the battle for the goalkeeping position. Petr Cech has been a mainstay of their success during the modern era, but Thibaut Courtois’s return after three years on loan at Atletico, picking up the Spanish Liga title and starring en route to the UEFA Champions League final last season, leaves Mourinho with an unenviable decision to make ahead of the Turf Moor showdown on Monday.
”I can’t tell you [which goalkeeper will play] because they don’t know and the team doesn’t know,” Mourinho said in his pre-match press conference. ”What I can say is that in my opinion, with all respect to fantastic goalkeepers around the world, I think Chelsea has two of the three best goalkeepers in the world, which is unique.”
Mourinho continually played down his team’s title prospects last term, but he accepts that Chelsea are among the front-runners this time around.
”This season obviously we bought some key players, we believe and we are feeling that the new players have brought the squad and team into another dimension,” he said. ”Yes, we are title contenders. If you expect me to say we will win the Premier League I can’t say that. I can’t because I have to respect the competition, which is the only [league] that has more than two title contenders. I have to respect the opponents and efforts the other teams made to improve their already top teams, but we all feel we are title contenders.”
Burnley undertook a more low-key approach during the close-season following their surprise march to an automatic promotion place in a magnificent 2013/14. Wolverhampton Wanderers left-back Stephen Ward became the club’s seventh recruit on Friday ahead of their top-flight return, while Lukas Jutkiewicz has enjoyed a prolific pre-season since signing from Middlesbrough. Jutkiewicz is expected to partner Danny Ings in attack as Sam Vokes continues his lengthy rehabilitation from cruciate knee ligament damage.
”There will be a vast gap in resources available, that’s the reality of it,” manager Sean Dyche, who is nicknamed ”The Ginger Mourinho” by the Burnley faithful, said at a pre-match press conference. ”There are probably still eight Championship clubs I could name off the bat who have got a better player wage level than we have now.
”But look at what you’ve got, not what you haven’t. We have to find a way of operating to get where we want. Behind my extremely bouncer-like look, there are a couple of brain cells in there!”
Five years ago, Burnley won their opening Barclays Premier League home match of the season 1-0 against Manchester United and Dyche is not ruling out another upset.
”Never say never,” he said. ”Was it Cardiff who got three points off Man City early last season? I don’t think many would have been expecting that.”
Burnley (from): Cisak, Gilks, Heaton; Duff, Lafferty, Long, Mee, O’Neill, Shackell, Trippier, Ward; Arfield, Marney, Jones, Howieson, Kightly, Reid, Taylor, Wallace; Barnes, Ings, Jutkiewicz, Sordell.
Chelsea (from): Cech, Courtois, Schwarzer; Ake, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Christensen, Ivanovic, Luis, Terry, Zouma; Fabregas, Hazard, Matic Mikel, Oscar, Ramires, Salah, Van Ginkel, Willian; Costa, Drogba, Torres, Schurrle.
Referee: Michael Oliver. Assistants: S Burt, D Cann. Fourth Official: M Dean.
Don Hutchison’s view
Talking point: It’ll be tough for Burnley, despite their unknown factor, with Chelsea’s an excellent opening-day record.
Main man: I am a big fan of Diego Costa, of his workrate and physical approach, and I think he will hit the ground running?
Prediction: BUR 0-2 CHE. The atmosphere at Turf Moor will carry Burnley for the first 45-60 minutes but Chelsea’s overriding quality will show in the end.
- Burnley lost their only previous opening weekend fixture in the Barclays Premier League (0-2 to Stoke in Aug 2009).
- Jose Mourinho has seen Chelsea win on all five opening BPL weekends that he has been manager.