European champions Chelsea will look to end a four-year Premier League title drought in 2021/22.
The 2020/21 campaign was one of change and upheaval at Stamford Bridge, with the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech struggling to adapt to Premier League life, while Frank Lampard was eventually relieved of his duties in January.
Thomas Tuchel came in to fill the void and elevated the Blues to a top-four finish and FA Cup final before remarkably beating Manchester City to secure the club’s second-ever Champions League title.
So, Chelsea have already beaten City to one title, but can they overhaul Pep Guardiola’s men to steal their Premier League crown?
Here are five things to expect from Chelsea in the 2021/22 Premier League season.
1. Chelsea will line up like…
Chelsea have had an uncharacteristically quiet transfer window so far, though that could obviously change with their pursuit of Romelu Lukaku. Even so, they already have a starting XI capable of taking down Europe’s best on any given day, as they illustrated in the Champions League last season.
Edouard Mendy proved a far more reliable option between the sticks than Kepa Arrizabalaga and will remain Tuchel’s first choice ‘keeper, while a centre-back trio of Cesar Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva and Antonio Rudiger combines experience, skill and solidity.
English duo Reece James and Ben Chilwell will provide thrust from wing-back and both should be able to hit the ground running quickly after seeing little to no time on the pitch during Euro 2020.
Jorginho was one of the stars of Euro 2020 with his precision passing and unmatched composure, offering Italy total dominance of possession. The prospect of him running the show for this Chelsea side alongside N’Golo Kante — who arguably remains the best central midfielder on the planet and was a high point for France at the Euros — should be a terrifying one for the rest of the Premier League. Especially with the duo’s defensive prowess.
If Lukaku returns to Chelsea, he’s their nailed-on starter up front. The Belgium international scored 24 Serie A goals to fire Inter Milan to the title last season and netted four times at Euro 2020. What’s more, though he didn’t score in the Premier League for Chelsea in his previous spell, he did net 113 times during stays with West Brom, Everton and Manchester United.
Flanking Lukaku with the creativity of Mason Mount and Kai Havertz — who will drift centrally to make space for Chilwell and James — should give the Belgian striker plenty of service, while the duo can swap flanks to either deliver crosses from the byline or cut inside to get shots at goal.
An alternative XI…
Of course, Chelsea’s squad is absolutely stacked right now with few sides in the Premier League able to come close to matching their depth.
Though his time with Chelsea has been riddled with mistakes and inconsistency, Kepa is still an 11-time international goalkeeper with a £70m price tag, there are far worse No.2 goalkeepers around Europe’s top five leagues.
Kurt Zouma is looking increasingly unlikely to leave Stamford Bridge with West Ham’s latest offer being knocked back and a centre-back trio of him, Andreas Christensen — a nailed-on starter for Euro 2020 semi-finalists Denmark — and France youth international Malang Sarr is one many sides in the Premier League would envy.
James remains the undisputed right wing-back, though Azpilicueta could provide a more defensively resolute option. On the left, Marcos Alonso could slot in to provide an outright attacking outlet, while Euro 2020 winner Emerson is arguably the best third-choice left-back/left wing-back in Europe.
Kante would remain a nailed-on starter for as long as he’s fit, but the industrious Mateo Kovacic could come in alongside him in an alternative XI with very little drop in quality.
Hakim Ziyech has struggled for form since joining Chelsea from Ajax. But if Tuchel can keep him and Christian Pulisic fit, what an alternative they could offer either side of the striker, with an increase in pace and unpredictability over Mount and Havertz. And should Chelsea fail to land Lukaku or wish to rest the Belgian, Timo Werner will have a point to prove after scoring just six goals during his debut Premier League season.
2. Lukaku to return with a vengeance
It’s been seven years since Romelu Lukaku officially left Chelsea, joining Everton on a permanent basis in 2014 following a successful season-long loan. But ever since then, there’s been a nagging feeling of unfinished business.
Well, now Lukaku is back at Stamford Bridge and he’s a very different player from the last time he was there.
During his time away — including loans spells at West Brom and his initial temporary stint at Goodison Park — the Belgian has scored 210 goals at club level alone. In the 2016/17 season, Lukaku was second only to Harry Kane in the Premier League Golden Boot race, netting 25 times for an Everton side that finished seventh. Then when he moved to Man Utd, he managed 42 goals in 96 appearances across all competitions despite the eventual departure of the manager who signed him (Jose Mourinho) and his replacement basically freezing him out.
Of course, it’s at Inter where he’s tasted the most success. Across all competitions, Lukaku netted an astounding 64 goals in 95 appearances across all competitions and just last season, he netted 24 Serie A goals to fire Inter to their first title since 2010.
2020/21 was the season Romelu Lukaku proved he is one of the most complete centre-forwards in the world.
— William Hill (@WilliamHill) May 23, 2021
“I’ve spoken to him recently and he’s hungry man,” Rio Ferdinand said of Lukaku recently. He added: “I just think this guy, a lot of greatness comes through having fuel and what I mean by that is having doubters and wanting to prove them wrong.
“He’s got a whole stadium full at Manchester United who doubted him, all the fan base at Old Trafford doubted him. A lot of people weren’t too dissatisfied when he left.
“He will be sitting there and looking in the diary to see when that Old Trafford game is and he will want to unload.
“Romelu Lukaku guarantees you 20 goals, minimum. He guarantees you that. He’s scored goals wherever he’s been, he’s an elite goalscorer, it’s as simple as that.”
It might not just be Old Trafford where Lukaku ‘unloads’. There’s also Goodison Park, where a surprising number of supporters were happy to see him leave. Then there’s the bread and butter of playing at Stamford Bridge every other week; Lukaku will be desperate to prove once and for all to Chelsea fans that they were wrong to ever let him go in the first place.
Lukaku has come second in a lot of Golden Boot races but perhaps this time, he has the ‘fuel’ to go all the way…
3. Defensive experience to fuel a title charge
Only Manchester City kept more clean sheets (19) and conceded fewer goals (32) in the Premier League than Chelsea’s 18 and 36, respectively, last season. Most importantly, 11 of those 18 clean sheets during Tuchel’s 19 games in charge during the second half of the season, with Lampard only managing seven in the same number of games.
In the absence of a regular goalscorer, it was that defensive solidity that fuelled Chelsea’s charge up the table from ninth at the time of Tuchel’s appointment to fourth by the end of the campaign.
Given their personnel, it’s hard to see that changing again this season. Azpilicueta enjoyed a solid Euro 2020 with Spain, while Thiago Silva rolled back the years last season and remains a real leader for this side.
“He’s certainly brought a calmness to that defence,” Ashley Cole said of Silva earlier this year. “He’s very assured at the back. I think the younger players around him, he’s getting that experience and, of course, that leadership into these younger players.”
With rumours linking the Blues with a move for Sevilla’s Jules Kounde, Tuchel’s defence looks like it’ll only get stronger and even without the France international, it’s a pretty formidable unit.
Couple that with the fact that Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez will need time to regain match fitness and Ibrahima Konate is new to the Premier League at Liverpool, and Man City’s depth is under threat with Aymeric Laporte linked with a move away, and it’s hard to see another defence matching Chelsea across a 38-game season.
4. Havertz to build on UCL final goal
Kai Havertz largely struggled to meet his £70m price-tag and considerable expectation last season, managing just four goals and three assists in the Premier League and rarely holding down a regular starting spot. That said, all was most certainly forgiven when the 22-year-old scored the winning goal against Manchester City in the Champions League final.
While Germany struggled at Euro 2020, Havertz proved to be a bright spot, scoring twice for Die Mannschaft and ending their disappointing 2-0 round-of-16 defeat to England as one of the few players in Joachim Low’s side to hold their heads high.
Now, it’s time to build on those summer positives back in the blue of Chelsea. At his best during his Bayer Leverkusen days, Havertz was a terror for opposing defences whatever position he played. Whether it was as a false nine dropping between the lines to create space and link play, a creative midfielder picking the lock, or as an inside forward looking for shooting opportunities, it was clear just how high his ceiling was.
Havertz has the confidence of a Champions League final goal and a positive major international tournament, at least on a personal level. He also has a year in the Premier League now under his belt. Let’s see if he can translate all that into true influence on the pitch. Double figures for goals and assists isn’t an unreasonable goal.
William Hill‘s odds for 2021/22 Premier League most assists…
Havertz is priced at 28/1 to finish the new Premier League season as the highest assist provider, but who do William Hill rank as the favourites?
- Kevin De Bruyne – 4/1
- Jack Grealish – 8/1
- Bruno Fernandes – 10/1
- Jadon Sancho – 10/1
- Harry Kane – 11/1
18+ only. BeGambleAware. All odds within this article are correct at the time of publishing (11.30am, 13/08/21).
5. Blues to come up short behind Man City and Liverpool
Should Chelsea get Lukaku over the line, and Kounde for that matter, they’ll undoubtedly run much closer in the Premier League title race. Manchester United have also significantly strengthened this summer with the signings of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane but on paper, the Blues edge out the Red Devils.
Unfortunately, with the likes of Van Dijk and Gomez coming back to fitness, alongside the arrival of Konate, Liverpool remain a formidable force and the only reason they finished as low as second last season was rampant injury problems. If Jurgen Klopp can keep his squad fit and add a little depth in forward areas, they could be a terrifying prospect.
William Hill‘s 2021/22 Premier League title odds…
- Man City – 4/6
- Liverpool – 5/1
- Chelsea – 5/1
- Man Utd – 8/1
- Leicester – 40/1
18+ only. BeGambleAware.
But quite possibly not as terrifying as Man City, who have further expanded their creative options with the landmark signing of England hero Jack Grealish. Whoever lines up through the middle for Pep Guardiola, right now that’s Gabriel Jesus, will have no shortage of bullets with Grealish lining up alongside the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez.
Chelsea will close the gap and probably overtake Man Utd. They might even win another cup. But a full-strength Man City and Liverpool are a duopoly they’re not equipped to catch just yet.