Chelsea will begin the defense of the Premier League title at home to Swansea City on Saturday with a lineup featuring little or no change from the one that romped to the championship in May. Chelsea finished eight points clear of the competition to lift the trophy for the first time since 2010, and, rather than make major alterations, their transfer business since has consisted of replacing departed squad players.
Following Petr Cech’s move to rivals Arsenal, Asmir Begovic has arrived to back up Thibaut Courtois, and Radamel Falcao has been signed on loan to replace the departed veteran Didier Drogba. The club is also pursuing young Everton center-back John Stones, while manager Jose Mourinho has stated that the club needs a new left-back to compete with Cesar Azpilicueta after allowing Filipe Luis to move back to Atletico Madrid. The primary target is thought to be Augsburg’s Abdul Baba Rahman.
Furthering the theme of continuity, Mourinho has signed a new four-year contract on the eve of the season. Still, questions have been raised about whether more significant additions are required to hold off the challenge posed by rivals who have each made notable upgrades to their first team. Last Sunday one of those rivals, Arsenal, came out on top against Chelsea in the Community Shield at Wembley.
There are unlikely to be any alarm bells sounding given that preseason results tend to be a hugely unreliable indicator for performances once the real season gets underway. But there will be more concern about the potential absence of Diego Costa. The Spain international was blighted by a hamstring problem throughout last season and is again struggling to be fit for the season opener, with Falcao and Loic Remy the options to step in.
“I think he is going to train with the team [today],” Mourinho said at his pre-match press conference on Friday, reports Chelsea’s official website. “His reaction after that and his decision to be confident to play is another story.
“There is nobody to blame. I can’t blame the player because he works hard. I completely trust the medical department. I am calm, positive, and I believe he will be with us for many matches.
“I prefer a top player like him who makes a real difference when he is ready than to have a player who is always available who is just a bit better than myself.”
Chelsea’s opponents have no such fitness concerns heading into the contest at Stamford Bridge. And, despite the difficulty of an opening trip to the home of the champions, there is plenty of optimism around Swansea. In the first full season under Garry Monk last term, the Welsh side recorded their highest ever Premier League points total to finish eighth.
Looking to build on that success, the club has added to their ranks over the summer with the signings of French left-back Franck Tabanou, Portugal international striker Eder and, perhaps most excitingly, in-demand Ghanaian winger Andre Ayew.
“He has all the credentials and skills and abilities to play well in this league,” he said of Ayew at his pre-match press conference. “Andre’s a great caliber of signing for ourselves, but it’s never down to one man to produce everything.
“I’ve made the whole group competitive. I said at the start my ideal situation is to try and get to a position with the squad where there’s competition every single place. I think this is the first season I can remember at Swansea where we have that.”
Kickoff time: 12:30 p.m. EDT
TV channel: NBC
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra