With the Far East portion of the pre-season complete, Chelsea jet of to the US for the Guinness International Champions Cup. The chance to test the squad against a more challenging level of competition will be welcome as the players work to bed into Jose Mourinho’s system.
The eight-team tournament will see us play three matches against the likes of Juventus, Real Madrid, Valencia, Everton, LA Galaxy and both Milan clubs. Following an Asian tour which saw the club score 13 goals in just three games, the Champions Cup will be a sterner test, along with a friendly against AS Roma in Washington.
These games will not only see the return of players rested following the Confederations Cup earlier in the summer, but might also help to address the areas of concern heading into the new season. For each area of concern,
1) Midfield. Under the assumption that the main formation used will be 4-2-3-1, the real question is: which combinations will be used?
If Mikel stays, and there are no further signings to add to Marco van Ginkel, then those two, along with Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Ramires look most likely to form the core of the Chelsea midfield for the upcoming season, with Kevin De Bruyne and possibly Oscar also being used in deeper-lying positions.
This group is quite well balanced, with the stamina of Ramires, power of Essien and Mikel and the passing abilities of Lampard, van Ginkel and Oscar. However, especially playing with two deeper midfielders, combining these options into a valid partnership will be key. For example, while Lampard and Oscar might combine to give the best vision and passing options, there isn’t much strength or defensive nous. Similarly, Lampard and Mikel might give you positional discipline and passing, but no speed. With the mobility and box-to-box running of Ramires and Essien, partnering them with a less mobile passer might be the best option, giving some flexibility both in attack and defence.
Who should start against Hull City? Ramires and Lampard.
Potential Transfers? Mikel out, Khedira (Real Madrid) in.
2) Defence. What role will David Luiz play in defence, and what are the best centre-back pairings?
With Mourinho having said that he feels Branislav Ivanovic’s best position is at right back, the main centre-back options in the squad are John Terry, Gary Cahill, Luiz and Tomas Kalas.
Luiz is the most mobile of these options, and offers the most as a footballer. The question will be whether he can be a centre-back in the Ricardo Carvalho style, excellent defensively as well as a threat moving out of defence.
One of the reasons for Carvalho’s success in partnership with Terry was a clear understanding of what each players responsibility was – often with Terry attacking the ball and Carvalho covering. Assuming the club captain is fully fit again after a disrupted (and below-par) season last year, then a similar combination could work effectively. Cahill can also be brought into this type of partnership, and has the flexibility to fill either role, with his strong positioning and ability to react to attacking movement quicker than Terry, whose lack of mobility could be concerning.
Who should start against Hull City? Luiz and Terry
Potential Transfers? Luiz is rumoured to be the subject of a bid from Bayern, but it is highly unlikely that any tranfser would be sanctioned.
3) Goal scoring. Who will start up front?
Torres hit the 20-goal mark last season, even though many of those goals came in the Europa League. Ba had some good games, but also went missing more often than he should have. Lukaku looked hugely impressive playing for West Brom. Andre Schurrle can play up front, but it isn’t his first choice position.
These are the current options to open the season as the main striker. While none of them have performed at a superstar level, there is talent, flexibility and a range of skills available. Lukaku has the most upside, while Torres has the scoring record, and when he is on form Ba has the potential to be a match winner, as we saw in the FA Cup against Man United last season.
Given that Torres and Ba are very much known quantities at this point in their careers, and can only offer a certain level of physicality and pace. Lukaku has the potential to be better than both, and could well outperform them in the US and make a bid to start the season as the centre forward, despite his inexperience.
Who should start against Hull City? Lukaku
Potential Transfers? The Rooney saga continues, but that seems likely to be the only movement.