For Jose Mourinho, the fixtures could hardly be better. Back-to-back home games against Hull and Villa afford “The Special One” the perfect opportunity to kick-start his second spell at Stamford Bridge with six points but with a trip to Old Trafford and a European Super Cup Final against Bayern Munich also on the Blues’ short-term agenda, the threat of rest and rotation hangs heavy over our Fantasy plans. With a blank Gameweek 3 also to factor into our thinking, there’s plenty to ponder ahead of Saturday’s deadline.
First up for Chelsea is a home showdown with promoted Hull on Sunday afternoon. Steve Bruce’s side managed a mere six clean sheets on the road in last season’s Championship but have been a little more resilient over the summer, keeping out their opponents in five of eight friendlies – with 20 goals in seven pre-season fixtures, though, Mourinho’s side will be confident of finding the net. At the back, faith in the Blues backline is high. Hull may have scored three goals in their first and last pre-season matches but in between, they notched three times over six fixtures; a suggestion that their raft of summer signings are yet to click.
Tuesday’s game against Villa also looks hugely promising from an attacking perspective – Fantasy managers won’t need reminding the Blues won the corresponding fixture 8-0 last season. Paul Lambert’s side seem incapable of keeping out their opponents and conceded in each of their last 22 league games in 2012/13; with 41 goals against on their travels, they had the worst away defence of any side last time out.
With Christian Benteke in free-scoring form (seven goals in five appearances), Villa have netted 15 times in their last four friendlies, including an impressive 3-2 win over Malaga last weekend. Mourinho’s men managed three clean sheets in seven over the summer; a suggestion that while a home win is expected, Villa could well breach the hosts’ backline. Indeed, Lambert’s side scored in all but one of their last 16 league matches in the previous season – only Man City managed to keep them out from mid-January onwards.
The Likely Lads
In all likelihood, it seems Mourinho will look to utilise the strength and depth of his squad over the two league games to ensure his players approach the United and Bayern matches fully fit. Looking at each player’s minutes and performances over the summer period is the best barometer to gauge his intentions by – Juan Mata, Cesar Azpilicueta, Fernando Torres and David Luiz have had little pre-season due to an extended break as a result of their Confederations Cup duties, for example. Frank Lampard missed almost all the Blues’ matches with an Achilles problem, while Kevin de Bruyne and Andre Schurrle also spent time on the sidelines though injury – certainly, it would be a real surprise if any of these players started both matches.
As we suggested in an earlier Burning Question article, attempting to pick your way through the multitude of options on offer to Mourinho is, at this point at least, a path paved with plenty uncertainty – it’s feasible that only one or two players will be afforded the 180 minutes.
Using a process of elimination, then, Petr Cech looks one of the very few we are likely to rely upon, with save points boosting his appeal should the Blues concede. Elsewhere at the back, Branislav Ivanovic’s versatility could be key – with Azpilicueta admitting recently he was lacking match-fitness, the Serbian looks set to start against Hull at right-back and could also fill in at centre-half if Mourinho looks to freshen up his options at centre-half.
Ashley Cole, one of Mourinho’s “Untouchables” during his first spell, offers less attacking potential than Ivanovic but is likely to be a far more secure pick this season; there is the fear that Ryan Bertrand may get the nod for one of the games, with Mourinho having one eye on the trip to Old Trafford. As Ivanovic showed in last year’s double Gameweek 1, the potential for points is likely to sway many to take a punt – on the other hand, all three come in at 6.5 in Fantasy Premier League (FPL) and are far from budget friendly. With the United game and a blank to follow, there’s a real dilemma for Fantasy managers here; the similarly-priced Vincent Kompany, for example, has (NEW, car, HUL) in the opening three and will surely play all 270 minutes for City. Food for thought if you are also loading up on Chelsea players further up the field.
In midfield and attack, pre-season form certainly points to Eden Hazard. Coming in at 9.5 in FPL, the Belgian’s displays have been singled out by Mourinho and he’s featured heavily over the summer friendlies – Hazard is also second in line to Lampard for spot-kicks and benefitted twice from this over the last few matches. Little wonder he’s the runaway leader in this week’s Captain Poll.
Oscar has started three of the Blues last four, dropping to the bench in the final game when Mourinho freshened up his starting XI. With a full pre-season under his belt, the 8.5 priced Brazilian will be looking to replicate the form that saw him finish the last campaign strongly, with three goals in his final five starts.
Up front, Romelu Lukaku has made a persuasive case for inclusion – top scorer over the summer schedule, he racked up five goals and two assists in just 256 minutes of summer action. More significantly, he continues to look formidable even when introduced from the bench; looking closer into his summer contribution, three goals and an assist were harvested over 60 minutes across three sub appearances – a factor which may sway would-be suitors worried that Mourinho may hand him a sub role in one of the matches.
The Cheeky Punt
Coming in at 6.0 in FPL, John Terry is a little cheaper than the like of Ivanovic and has started the majority of the Blues friendlies. Mourinho retains plenty faith in his skipper and will hand him at least one start but Terry’s acquisition doesn’t come without a degree of uncertainty ahead of the United match – given the injury worries that plagued the centre-half last term, will Mourinho hand him three starts over the period of eight days?
Typically, given the number of eye-catching options on offer, Ramires wouldn’t come into the equation. It would be remiss of us, however, not to factor in the Brazilian here – he scored three times in the summer (all from open play compared to Hazard’s two spot-kicks) and coming in at 6.5, with an ownership under 5%, he’s a decent under the radar differential. Ramires featured in all seven of the Blues friendlies and played at least 60 minutes in the four games he started.
Selecting Juan Mata would, indeed, be a punt at this point. The Spaniard has managed just two lots of 45-minute run outs since returning from his extended break and last featured off the bench against Milan on August 4. His class requires little time to make an impact, though, and while Mourinho may still be keen to ease him into action, Mata still has the potential to rack up the points with limited game time. At 10.5, though, his lack of match sharpness makes him a gamble.