Chelsea season preview

Posted by Mark Worrall and Phil Lythell

What's changed since last season?
Mark Worrall: The Special One has returned. Jose Mourinho is back in the Stamford Bridge hot seat, and the easy manner in which he has renewed his vows to keep Roman Abramovich's trophy cabinet replete with silverware suggests he will do just that. Significantly, that is the only real change. Mourinho takes over an immensely talented squad that despite recent managerial comings and goings has won European and domestic trophies and is ready to challenge once more for the Premier League title. In the ranks, club legends Frank Lampard and John Terry, whose days at the Bridge appeared numbered last term, are back in the fold and ready to play an important part for the club both on and off the pitch.

Key to this campaign
MW: Last season, the Blues finished third in the league, 14 points behind champions Manchester United and three behind their neighbours City. The key to the title last season was United's signing of Robin van Persie -- his goals were the difference between the two Manchester clubs, and Chelsea also struggled in this department while having to contend with a midterm change of manager. Mourinho has set his stall out in saying that Wayne Rooney is his only remaining transfer target. If Rooney comes to Stamford Bridge and is played as an out-and-out striker, feeding off the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata, the results could be devastating for opposing defences. If the deal doesn't happen, Romelu Lukaku, who capably demonstrated his ability last term, will be the man to do the damage. Either way, the damage will happen.

Predicted finish/realistic goal
MW: Champions. Chelsea have the Mourinho factor. Of the clubs expected to challenge for the Premier League title, only the Blues boast a manager whose recent track record indicates that he has the know-how to deliver. An early visit to Wembley will also be on the agenda. The League (Capital One) Cup is a personal favourite of Mourinho, and there will no questions asked about Chelsea fielding weakened sides in this competition -- it's not a part of the club's DNA. Europe will be a different matter altogether. If the Blues can avoid Real Madrid and Bayern Munich for as long as possible in the knockout phase of the Champions League competition, a decent run is a possibility, but the key focus this term will be winning the domestic title.

Make-or-break season for ...
Phil Lythell: With Chelsea's captain, leader and legend now the wrong side of 30 and with just a year remaining on his current contract at Stamford Bridge, the 2013-14 campaign will be pivotal to Terry's immediate future. Last season saw Terry's star begin to wane as he slipped down the pecking order with Rafael Benitez preferring to pair David Luiz with either Branislav Ivanovic or Gary Cahill for the more important matches, leaving the former England captain to feature mainly in the cup competitions.

There was a dip in form, although how much of that was due to a spate of injuries that he picked up is unclear, and perhaps a trouble-free preseason will see him back to his dogged best. However, his body is no longer the indestructible monolith of old and is suffering from the ravages of time. Terry's fitness and his subsequent performances will play a large part in whether he will still be a Chelsea player in 12 months' time unless, of course, Abramovich has already decided that his time is up.

One to watch
PL: Among all the ups and downs of last season, the most positive contributions were supplied by Mata and Hazard, but conversely it became clear that the team had become too reliant on its magical talents. This season there should be no such concern because of Kevin De Bruyne's emergence on the Chelsea squad. The young Belgian spent last campaign on loan at Werder Bremen and lit up the Bundesliga in a struggling side, scoring 10 goals in his 33 appearances.

The 22-year-old is extremely versatile, capable of playing across the width of the pitch in advanced areas or even as a deeper-lying midfielder. He has exhibited excellent movement, fine passing and a knack of scoring eye-catching goals during Chelsea's preseason tours of Asia and the United States, with each passing performance more assured than the one before. De Bruyne's creativity should see him ease the burden of responsibility from Mata's and Hazard's shoulders, and should he perform to his capabilities, his profile is set to soar.


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