Last time out, Chelsea’s Premier League campaign could hardly have gone any better. They ended the season as champions, and comfortable champions, in Antonio Conte’s debut year in English football.
It could have been very different. Had Conte not arrested his side’s slide at the start of the season by adopting a solid 3-4-3 formation, Chelsea would not have gone on a remarkable 13-game winning streak which pulled the rug from underneath their title rivals.
The challenge now is to match that and, crucially, fight on two main fronts. The absence of any European football and an excellent injury record helped last time out. Next season, they will have midweek Champions League fixtures to contend with and cannot guarantee players will stay out of the treatment room.
Additions are, therefore, needed. Who could arrive at Stamford Bridge this summer and how would they fit into Conte’s line up on the first day of next season?
Goalkeeper - Thibaut Courtois
Certain to be between the sticks, Courtois ended the campaign with not only a Premier League winners’ medal but also the Golden Glove award.
He will be wary of his failure to keep many clean sheets in the second half of the season however, going without a single one in the league between late January and late April.
Centre-back - Virgil van Dijk
The two big winners in this week’s van Dijk transfer saga are undoubtedly Chelsea and Manchester City, who will look to avoid the mistakes which forced Liverpool to withdraw their interest amid accusations of ‘tapping up’.
However, if the Dutchman were to join Stamford Bridge, it would be for a pretty penny.
Southampton, confident that they can keep their most valuable asset, will only sell for around £70m and despite van Dijk’s excellent reputation, there has to be questions as to whether he is worth a world record fee for a defender.
Centre-back - David Luiz
Many doubted the Brazilian on his return to Stamford Bridge last summer, but his acquisition turned out to be one of the signings of the season.
Luiz played as the central pivot in Conte’s three-man and is all but certain to retain his place there at the start of next season. The only worry will be if the erratic form of his first spell at Stamford Bridge returns, as it did in glimpses towards the end of last season.
Centre-back – Gary Cahill
Cesar Azpilicueta deserves to be in this team after an excellent year but if van Dijk was to arrive, he would be the likely casualty. After all, following John Terry’s departure, Gary Cahill will be club captain and a certain starter for Conte.
The England international has his doubters but deserves an opportunity to lead the team on a full-time basis after his displays last season.
Right wing-back - Victor Moses
Moses’ resurrection was one of the remarkable stories of last season. From fringe player to integral part of a title-winning system, Conte deserves praise for giving the winger-turned-wing-back an opportunity to impress.
The Nigeria international will, however, need to maintain such form if he is to keep his place. The wing-back positions are crucial to Conte’s system and there are many talented options in his position on the market.
Left wing-back - Marcos Alonso
Another unlikely success story, Alonso arguably flourished even more than Moses in Conte’s 3-4-3 system. The Spaniard’s place feels more secure and his goal threat adds an extra dimension to Chelsea’s attack.
Centre-midfield - N’Golo Kante
The double Player of the Year’s place is the safest name on the teamsheet. Indispensable in the title-winning campaign, Kante will remain the fulcrum of Chelsea’s midfield, breaking down the opposition’s attacks and starting his own with his composed passing and deceptively nimble dribbling.
Centre-midfield - Tiemoué Bakayoko
Conte’s system requires two ‘destroyers’ in the middle of the park, and Nemanja Matic recovered from a horrendous 2015/16 to perform admirably alongside Kante last season.
Bakayoko’s name will not go away though and the Monaco man’s dominant displays in Ligue 1 and the Champions League turned heads at Stamford Bridge.
Bakayoko is not without his faults – you only need to look at Juventus’ goals in their semi-final victory at the Stade Louis II to see some of his limitations – but the powerful midfielder remains highly thought-of in west London.
Right-sided attacking midfielder - Riyad Mahrez
This was one of the few areas which Conte was more than happy to rotate, with Pedro, Willian and Cesc Fabregas all sharing minutes in the role throughout the season.
Will the Italian now look to find a regular, certain starter in the position? Dries Mertens was reportedly a target, but he signed a contract extension with Napoli last month.
Mahrez, meanwhile, announced his intention to leave Leicester City after a disappointing year for 2015/16’s PFA Player of the Year.
Could he revive his reputation at Chelsea? Arsenal are also thought to be interested, but if he recaptures his form, the Algerian may solve Conte’s right-sided question once and for all.
Left-sided attacking midfielder - Eden Hazard
Behind Kante, the next name on the teamsheet. A strong and functional system needs a dash of flair and Hazard provides that in spades.
He produced several key performances in ‘clutch’ moments last season when Chelsea needed them – not least the home victories over Arsenal in February and Manchester City in April.
Striker - Romelu Lukaku
If Chelsea are to strengthen anywhere this summer, it needs to be up front. Diego Costa’s days at Stamford Bridge seem to be over after he admitted Conte told him, “by message”, that he is no longer part of the Italian’s plans.
Lukaku, the league's second top-scorer this season, appears to be the preferred replacement, and the Belgian is seemingly intent on leaving Everton this summer after arriving from Chelsea three years ago.
We all know Lukaku's qualities. The question will be whether he can shed the tendency he has to go quiet in games against top clubs and the questions over his work rate.Reuse content