Note: We're previewing each team in the Premier League in advance of the coming season. We started with the promoted teams, and now we are moving up the table (more or less), skippingand saving them for last.
Chelsea finished third last season and won the Europa League after falling out of the Champions League. Now Jose Mourinho is back in charge and hoping to return the Blues to Champs League glory. I sat down with Graham MacAree, co-manager of We Ain't Got No History, to preview the upcoming Chelsea season.
Coming Home Newcastle: The Special One is back. What tangible changes have you seen during his short tenure, and what do you expect moving forward?
We Ain't Got No History: The players seem far more motivated, to start. We're also seeing big changes in tactics -- formations are more fluid, and substitions seem to have more intent behind them than they used to. But pulling information from preseason is... not really something we can rely on. The main thing about his return is how much it's energised the supporters. Everyone's happy, which is a nice change.
CHN: I've always admired Chelsea's ability to loan entire teams out during the season and not have their senior squad affected. Which of your loaned players are you especially excited about?
WAGNH: Thibaut Courtois is the easy winner here. He's going back to Atletico Madrid for their Champions League campaign, and has already established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in La Liga. He's the obvious successor to Petr Cech and might even be better right now -- definitely one for the future. Otherwise, I'm most excited abut a player who hasn't even gone on loan yet. Nathaniel Chalobah spent last season at Watford, where he showed all the signs of future greatness. He'll be a Chelsea and England regular before too long.
CHN: Which European tournament are you going to win this year?
WAGNH: Maybe the Super Cup, although beating Bayern Munich will be a tough order. The Champions League is out of the question without an enormous dose of luck, and the Europa League would be kind of embarrassing.
CHN: What's going on with Demba Ba? Do you expect him to receive much playing time?
WAGNH: I think Demba Ba is Chelsea's number two striker, and an option when we're going forward to win games as well. I think he'll get plenty of time this year -- his movement is excellent and he helps the rest of the side, something that many fans don't appreciate but Jose Mourinho certainly will.
CHN: What does your gut tell you will happen with Wayne Rooney? Will Chelsea challenge for the title without him?
WAGNH: I think that Wayne Rooney is probably a Chelsea player come September 3rd, but I wouldn't be willing to bet on it. And yes, Chelsea can challenge for the title without Rooney, but I don't think they're anything like favourites at the moment.
CHN: Given your current squad, what would your ideal Starting XI be?
WAGNH: It depends on what's being asked of us an any particular game. Hull City and Manchester United, for example, are entirely different propositions, and Chelsea will have to adapt to whom they're facing. For example, against a weaker side, we might want to do something like this:
If we were confronted with a strong side, though, we're probably better off playing with more defensively-inclined footballers. Victor Moses, Michael Essien et. a; would then find themselves coming in.
CHN: What do you expect Mourinho's Starting XI to be?
WAGNH: I don't think he'll have one. There are only a couple of must-start players -- for me that's Petr Cech, David Luiz and Eden Hazard (even Mata should be dropped in games against teams that will dominate possession).
CHN: What would have to happen this season for you to consider it a success?
WAGNH: Challenge seriously for the title rather than fret about not making the top four for eighty percent of the season.
CHN: Where will Chelsea finish in the table?
WAGNH: Second, probably.
Thanks to Graham for taking the time to answer these questions. Check out We Ain't Got No History for all things Chelsea.