After the worst title defence mounted by any Premier League champions, the encouraging thing for new boss Antonio Conte is that he can only take Chelsea in one direction. He has the benefit of not competing in Europe, which will help in his quest and zeal to win.
The new Chelsea boss also insists on playing with two strikers up top, which will be an interesting change from how we have seen the Blues being operated.
Here is the strongest possible starting line-up for the Stamford Bridge outfit at the moment.
Thibaut Courtois: Despite enduring a weak 2015/16 season, the Belgian will be the club’s preferred goalkeeper and has shown enough in his career to prove why he holds such high opinion. Asmir Begovic is a worthy number 2, and it was well on display last season. The Bosnian will be ready to pounce for any available opportunity.
Cesar Azpilicueta: The Spaniard has earned the interest of Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona in the recent transfer window but Conte definitely wants to keep hold of his key player. Azpilicueta has constantly improved since his 2012 arrival from Marseille and the 26-year-old is expected to have another solid campaign for the Blues.
John Terry: After it almost being sure that he would be leaving the club this season, Chelsea offered their long serving captain a contract and he is with them for another season. Terry is a fantastic defender will be a key man in Conte’s first year in charge of the London club.
Gary Cahill: Chelsea’s interest in Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly suggests Conte knows he definitely needs to sign at least one more centre back. Cahill’s performances declined last season but at the moment, he represents the best option alongside Terry at the back. Kurt Zouma suffered an unfortunate injury last season but is expected to make a comeback soon. The Frenchman and Terry made a promising partnership last season so it is up to Cahill to prove to the new boss that he should be a definite starter.
Branislav Ivanovic: Chelsea’s depth in the full-back positions is abysmal and Ivanovic making the strongest eleven after a terrible 2015/16 season proves that more than anything. The back-up is the 19-year-old Ola Aina and it is up to Conte to ensure Ivanovic can regain his consistency again, or sign a full-back before the window ends.
N’Golo Kante: After winning the Premier League with Leicester, and playing a very crucial part in it, the Frenchman decided to sign for the Blues. He immediately represents an upgrade on Chelsea’s central midfield; it doesn’t matter whether Conte would use the player in a midfield duo or a trident. He is brilliant at marshalling the midfield, shielding the back 4, winning the ball back dynamically and ensuring the game keeps progressing forward. Conte has expressed his desire to keep Nemanja Matic and despite a bad season last time out, the Serbian provides good depth to the squad. He might be used in a double pivot with Kante if the Italian boss chooses a more conservative approach in a game.
Cesc Fabregas: With an able player like Kante in the side, someone who will do most of the defensive work, Fabregas should be able to play with more grit and guile. He needs to replicate the form he showed immediately after becoming a Chelsea player. His distribution from the midfield could be something Conte relies on this season.
Willian: In an absolutely horrible season where almost every player underwent a severe decline, Willian stepped up and demonstrated brilliant ability. He was named player of the year last season and it is no wonder he was awarded a new four year contract with the club. Despite this, it remains unclear whether he will be an undisputed starter for Conte this season. It all depends on the formation and approach the Italian is going for and there remains a big chance that Willian might find himself on the bench a lot of times.
Eden Hazard: It was a poor season for Hazard last time out, something no one could have envisioned. His end of the season form was good, which he carried to the Euros and has looked to further that into the pre-season. It looks promising for Hazard once again, and much like Chelsea, it is difficult to go in any other direction after the disastrous previous season.
Michy Batshuayi: Batshuayi certainly has what it takes to make a massive impact on the league. His £33m price tag shows how the transfer market works and Chelsea would hope the Belgian can demonstrate his ability sooner rather than later. With support up-top, it will be interesting to see how the striker does as he has always been the lone man in front, for Marseille.
Diego Costa: Not everyone will put up with the Spaniard’s attitude and it won’t be surprising to see the tetchy striker head somewhere else. However, if Chelsea are unable to land someone else, the former Atletico man will stay and partner Batshuayi up-top. Costa certainly has the great touch in front of goal but he spent way too much time embroiled in rows and serving suspensions. It’s now up to him to be focused and prove he is worth all the trouble.