Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Chelsea

1 Comment

The reigning Premier League champions will look to defend their title, as Chelsea and Jose Mourinho go for everything in the 2015-16 season.

[ MORE: All of PST’s season previews ]

Chelsea excelled last season, winning the PL title at a canter and if their star men can stay fit throughout this season then you can expect much of the same. The Blues have now won four Premier League titles in the last 10 seasons, five league titles in total, and after winning their first-ever UEFA Champions League trophy in 2012, they will be looking to replicate that success this season.

The west London club have a local rivalry with second-tier Fulham, but the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and now Manchester City have become huge rivals.

Best possible XI:

—– Courtois —–

— Ivanovic — Cahill — Terry — Azpilicueta —

— Matic —– Fabregas —

—– Willian —-  Oscar —- Hazard —-

—— Costa —–

Transfers In: Asmir Begovic ($12 million, Stoke City), Radamel Falcao (Season-long loan, AS Monaco) Danilo Pantic ($2 million, Partizan) Nathan ($7 million, Atletico Paranaense)

Transfers Out: Filipe Luis ($25 million, Atletico Madrid), Didier Drogba (Free, Montreal Impact), Petr Cech ($16 million, Arsenal)

source: Getty Images
Hazard, at times, is unstoppable.

Last season: Premier League champions, League Cup winners – A superb season from Mourinho’s side as the Blues won the PL by eight points and lost just three times throughout the campaign. Chelsea came under plenty of pressure in the second half of the season for their defensive tactics, but their experienced defense used all of their nous to record the most shutouts and concede the fewest goals, plus new signings Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa dazzled in their first season at Stamford Bridge. The only shock was crashing out of the UCL to Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16.

Star player: Eden Hazard – What more can we say about the little Belgian wizard? He won all of the accolades — and rightly so — at the end of a dazzling 2014-15 campaign. Hazard is still only 24, but he was the focal point of Chelsea’s creativity last season and despite being the most fouled player in the league, time and time again he dusted himself off and delivered the goods. He’s on his way to becoming a legend at Chelsea and in the PL with his goals, assists and strong desire to improve each and every game.

source:
Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC

Coaches’ Corner: Mourinho has now won three Premier League titles in five full seasons with Chelsea, and “The Special One” really enjoyed the first trophies of his second spell in charge of the Blues last season. He is widely regarded as having the best technical brain in the game and the way he set his team up to frustrate top four opponents last season was sublime. He is a box-office manager who loves to get involved with the media, but at the end of the day he does one thing: he wins. And that is exactly what he is adored by Chelsea’s fans.

PST predicts: Title contenders for sure, and right now they look like the favorites as Mourinho has kept the squad together and added two key signings in Begovic and Falcao to cover their needs. With promising youngsters ready to step up from their academy and at least two top class players in every position, the squad is looking strong and Mourinho will want to win it all in 2015-16. Expect a strong charge in the UEFA Champions League, too.

FA Cup: Leicester survive trip to Brentford, reach 5th round (video)

Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Brendan Rodgers made nine changes, but Leicester City were simply too much for an equally rotated Brentford side in the fourth round of the FA Cup at Griffin Park on Saturday.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Leicester took an early lead through Kelechi Iheanacho with just four minutes on the clock, and that was all the Premier League’s third-place side needed to see off the EFL Championship’s third-place side. Dennis Praet gets no official credit for the goal, but it was the Belgian midfielder’s seeing-eye through ball that carved the Bees up and found James Justin for the routine cross followed by Iheanacho’s tap-in finish.

It was far from easy or straightforward for the Foxes, though, as Brentford turned things around following the first-half whistle an so nearly pulled level just past the hour mark. Emiliano Marcondes whipped in a curling, in-swinging cross that needed the slightest of redirects to find the back of the net, but Halil Dervisoglu couldn’t get a toe on the ball and watched helplessly as it hit the inside of the post and settled on the ground a yard or two off the goal line.

Bryan Mbeumo came off the bench and put the ball into the back of Leicester’s goal with his first touch, but the Frenchman was correctly ruled offside when Rico Henry looped the ball over the Foxes’ defense.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.

Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Eriksen

Photo by Lukasz Laskowski/PressFocus/MB Media/Getty Images
Leave a comment

After months of posturing and working the back channels, it would appear that Christian Eriksen is close to getting his transfer away from Tottenham Hotspur.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

After months of posturing and holding firm, it would appear that Tottenham are close to getting their desired transfer fee for Eriksen despite his contract having only six months remaining.

After months of posturing and unsettling the 27-year-old star, it would appear that Inter Milan are close to getting their Danish international playmaker.

In the end, it would appear that everyone is going to get what they want, only no one truly gets what they want. Spurs spent the last year trying to sign Eriksen to a new contract; Eriksen wanted to leave in the summer and will feel like they wasted six months of his career; much like Inter would have been desperate to bolster their squad in the summer.

[ MORE: Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong ]

$22 million — the amount Spurs will reportedly receive from Inter — will hardly be enough to replace such an influential player, therefore Spurs come out of this long-running saga the worst of the bunch.

As for Eriksen and Inter, it’ll be a challenge for the player to immediately find his footing and shine ever so brightly in the midst of a title race, especially after the side has already slumped to back-to-back draws and fallen four points back of Juventus. Though, reportedly tripling his wages from Spurs to Inter leaves Eriksen the biggest winner in a mostly no-win situation.

Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

Photo by Oscar J. Barroso / AFP7 / Europa Press Sports via Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID — This is uncharted territory for many Atletico Madrid fans.

Few other times in recent years have they seen their team struggle so much under Diego Simeone.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

Few other times have they seen their coach fail so often while trying to put the team back on track.

Atletico hit a new low under Simeone on Thursday when it was eliminated by third-division club Cultural Leonesa in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. The 2-1 loss in extra time was the team’s worst result in the cup competition since losing to third-tier club Albacete at the same stage in 2011-12.

Two days after that loss in 2011, Atletico hired the then-mostly unknown Simeone to replace Gregorio Manzano, a move that kick-started one of the club’s most successful eras and led to a Spanish league title, two Europa League trophies and two Champions League final appearances.

Atletico did go through difficult moments under Simeone, including when the team failed to advance past the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago.

“There were always complicated moments in past seasons, maybe after we didn’t make it in the Champions League, or when we lost in the Champions League finals,” Simeone said. “After being at the club for so long, things like this can happen, although they shouldn’t happen.”

There is a greater sense of urgency about the team’s struggles this time.

In addition to Wednesday’s embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination, Atletico lost the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid on Jan. 12, and already is eight points off the Spanish league lead after 20 matches.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

Before, there used to be a notion that Simeone would quickly turn things around and put the team back on track, but this time there aren’t many signs things will improve again soon.

Atletico has yet to impress since undergoing its biggest squad revamp under Simeone at the end of last season, when it lost Antoine Griezmann and other veteran players such as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin. Young Portugal forward Joao Felix, who arrived to replace Griezmann after a transfer from Benfica worth more than 120 million euros ($133 million), has yet to meet expectations.

More concerning, Atletico is not being nearly as effective as it used to be, when it always seemed to find a way to win matches despite not playing well.

The team remains solid defensively — it has the second-best defense in the Spanish league with 14 goals conceded — but it hasn’t been able to do much in attack recently.

“Everything is harder when you can’t score,” Simeone said.

Only seven teams have scored fewer goals than Atletico’s 22 in the 20-team standings.

Diego Costa has been mostly out injured, and Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Alvaro Morata haven’t done much in attack. Morata is the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, and no one else has more than five.

“We have to be humble enough to be self-critical,” Simeone said. “We need to keep working to try to be ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us. We have a very good squad and I’m sure that the results that we want will start arriving soon.”

Atletico biggest chance to rebound will come next month against European champion Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg will be on Feb. 18 in Spain.

Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho seems to be quite happy that the Premier League will implement its first-ever winter break next month, allowing players a bit of rest and recovery time during a marathon campaign, but says its timing makes the break almost worthless for clubs competing in European competitions.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

The next four weeks will play out as follows for Tottenham Hotspur: FA Cup against Southampton this weekend; PL fixture against Manchester City next weekend; the following weekend off which results in two weeks without a game; PL fixture against Aston Villa the following weekend; Champions League first leg against RB Leipzig three days later.

In Mourinho’s perfect world, that first round of PL fixtures following the break would be held a week earlier, leaving the seven English clubs competing in the Champions League and Europa League with a week and a half between games before setting out once again to chase European glory. Instead, Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea will all have a quick turnaround from PL action to UCL competition — quotes from the Guardian:

“It is what it is. I’m not happy that the break comes in the wrong moment. The break should be before the Champions League and, in the end, before the Champions League we don’t have the break. We have to play Aston Villa on the Sunday, playing [RB Leipzig three] days later. So we don’t really care about the break, honestly.”

Mourinho’s point is a solid one: if the winter break is going to exist — and it should — then why shouldn’t its benefits be maximized? Non-European sides — typically those with smaller squads — would still have the full two weeks between games, while those in Europe are able to better leverage their slightly larger squads with only 10 or 11 days between games — still a lengthy break relative to the rest of the season.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

It’s only the first year of the winter break in the PL, so perhaps hopefully they’ll receive Mourinho’s criticism — and that of any other managers — constructively.