Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Blues premiership powerhouse
Mourhino has firepower, depth to blow competition away
Jose Mourinho is so comfortable at Chelsea he refers to Stamford Bridge as "SB;" he still hopes to bring Wayne Rooney to London before the transfer window slams shut and insists, at the outset of the 2013-14 Premier League season, that he is "better than ever."
None of this is good news for his top-flight opposition -- the 19 other clubs that will be looking to secure objectives as wide-ranging as a title bid, European qualification and mid-table safety over the next nine months.
But it speaks to Chelsea's first-team strength, squad depth and iconic manager who has returned after a six-year absence in which he won titles at Inter Milan and Real Madrid, also lifting the European Cup during a historic, treble-winning season with the Nerazzurri.
The Blues, most recently champions in 2010, simply check all the boxes, which is why we're tipping them to return to the top of the pile this season.
Fronted by one of Romelu Lukaku (who scored 17 goals on loan at West Bromwich Albion last term), Demba Ba (who tallied 15 between Chelsea and Newcastle) and Fernando Torres (that he is third on the depth chart is telling), Chelsea will go into their first weekends of the campaign with an elite group of forwards, even if they fail in their efforts to land Rooney.
Supporting the striker will be the likes of Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata, while summer signing Andre Schurrle will also be in the mix, along with Victor Moses, Marko van Ginkel and Kevin De Bruyne, who was exceptional for Belgium in Wednesday's international friendly against France.
Ramires, John Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard and David Luiz will compete for only two places in the centre of midfield, although David Luiz will also have his eye on a spot in the centre of defence, as will John Terry, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic.
Cesar Azpilicueta and Ashley Cole will begin the season in the fullback slots, and backing the side will be Petr Cech -- still a world-class goalkeeper at 31 and coming off a campaign in which he posted 22 wins and kept 14 clean sheets.
In charge of it all will be Mourinho -- a greyer, more thoughtful Mourinho than Chelsea fans once knew, but a manager who, as he said on Friday, is back in his "favourite competition and favourite football country."
Consider the gauntlet laid down.
Title contenders, alphabetically: Manchester City, Manchester United
If the trophy celebration is not held at Stamford Bridge it will almost certainly take place at either Etihad Stadium or Old Trafford, homes to Manchester City and Manchester United, respectively.
United, the reigning champions, are set to begin their first campaign since 1986 in which legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson has not been in charge, and while Wilfried Zaha was added to the squad over the summer incoming boss David Moyes has done little else to bolster the side.
City, meanwhile, have spent nearly £87 million (cdn $140.4M) in recent weeks, bringing in midfielder Fernandinho from Shakhtar Donetsk, winger Jesus Navas from Sevilla and forwards Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic from Sevilla and Fiorentina.
In Manuel Pellegrini, formerly of Villarreal, Real Madrid and Malaga, they also have a new manager and are likely Chelsea's most serious rivals for the title.
Europe, alphabetically: Arsenal, Liverpool, Swansea, Tottenham Hotspur
The fourth and final Champions League berth is likely to once again be a battle between North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham.
Spurs, who will begin the season without 2012-13 Player of the Year Gareth Bale, may also be set to lose the 24-year-old to Real Madrid, but have already brought in a handful of players, including former Corinthians midfielder Paulinho and £25 million Valencia striker Roberto Soldado (Cdn $40.37M).
Over at Arsenal, manager Arsene Wenger has added only France U-20 star Yaya Sanogo to a side that barely pipped Spurs to fourth last season and will be hoping for increased production from Theo Walcott, a full, healthy campaign from Jack Wilshere and a reprise of 2012-13 from Santi Cazorla.
Swansea and Liverpool, finally, can be expected to play some of the more watchable stuff in 2013-14.
Given their triumph in the League Cup last February Swansea are already participating in the Europa League this season while Liverpool, looking to improve on a seventh-place finish, will have the Luis Suarez saga hanging over their heads until they either sell the 26-year-old or patch things up with the Uruguayan once and for all.
Mid-table, alphabetically: Everton, Fulham, Norwich, Southampton, Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion, West Ham
Southampton may be the most upwardly mobile team in this group, with manager Mauricio Pochettino having punched above his weight in the transfer market by acquiring defender Dejan Lovren from Lyon and Victor Wanyama from Celtic.
West Ham have also been big spenders, securing striker Andy Carroll on a permanent transfer and signing Stewart Downing from Liverpool.
Sunderland, who have enjoyed a successful pre-season, can expect to finish well above their previous mark of 17th thanks to the arrivals of midfielder Cabral, winger Emanuele Giaccherini and striker Jozy Altidore.
Relegation battle, alphabetically: Aston Villa, Cardiff, Crystal Palace, Hull, Newcastle, Stoke
Aston Villa managed to sign 19-goal scorer Christian Benteke to a contract extension this summer but are nevertheless headed for a relegation scrap unless manager Paul Lambert can work a miracle.
Crystal Palace and Hull -- both promoted from the League Championship last season -- haven't strengthened sufficiently to earn another campaign in the top flight while Stoke, who came 13th in 2012-13, are unlikely to improve following the exit of long-time manager Tony Pulis.
Newcastle shouldn't be in this position, but with director of football Joe Kinnear bumbling his way through the summer transfer period the Magpies have done little else than sign Loic Remy on loan from relegated Queens Park Rangers.
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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 17, 2013 C7
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