The Premier League returns this weekend following another international break. While most teams use the time to work on shortcomings exposed in previous fixtures, the top clubs are stuck praying that their stars don’t pick up an injury. Furthermore, most top teams don’t even have a handful of first team members to train with during such breaks
The herd of Chelsea players has returned unscathed, bar Andre Schurrle who fell ill with the flu earlier this week. Though Chelsea’s Brazilian contingent travelled all the way to Singapore, most players did not go further than continental Europe. This bodes well for tired legs.
Chelsea was also given a boost this week in the form Ramires and Didier Drogba, both of which return to the squad after being sidelined since mid-September.
Manager, Jose Mourinho, has been predictable in his squad selection thus far, but if he wants his team to remain unbeaten, he will have to be careful of fatigue over the course of a full season.
Thibault Courtois was at the forefront of the growing concussion controversy two weeks ago, when it appeared he had been knocked out by the knee of Arsenal forward, Alexis Sanchez, but remained in the game. Ten minutes later he called for the trainer after bleeding from the ear, and was removed. Concussion tests came back negative, and he returned to action this week with Belgium. Look for him to return this weekend for Chelsea as well.
Chelsea’s defense has held clean sheets in their last three games and with each game the back four gains valuable time together. Cesar Azpilicueta, Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry and Gary Cahill have started all seven of Chelsea’s league games and there is no reason to believe they won’t all start on Saturday.
Azpilicueta and Ivanovic rank in the 10 in the Premier League in tackling statistics, having completed 18/19 and 21/23, respectively. Both also contribute going forward, with Ivanovic having already scored twice.
Terry is the only first team member who was not called out for international duty. The 33-year-old got some much needed rest and will undoubtedly lineup alongside Cahill against Crystal Palace.
The importance of Cesc Fabregas to Chelsea’s midfield cannot be overstated. He controls the pace of the game and is one of the Leagues best passers at a completion rate of 90%. Fabregas also has more assists than nine Premier League teams and only needs one more to pass Chelsea’s assist leader from last season.
Nemanja Matic is the perfect compliment to Fabregas. Matic sits in front of the back four and cuts out most attacks before they even materialize. With him sitting in that defensive role, the rest of the midfield is able to push forward in attack without exposing the defense.
In the attacking positions, Chelsea does not lack talent or depth. The likes of Eden Hazard and Oscar pick apart opposing defenses with their quick passes and darting runs into the box. The play of Hazard in particular has been impressive, though he recently stated he was not yet a top 5 player in the world and has much to improve on. It appears as though Hazard has listened to his manager’s criticism and his hard work is evident by his play.
With Schurrle recovering from the flu and Ramires only just returning from injury it is likely Willian will start on the right. It would not be surprising to see Ramires get around 30 minutes in the second half as Mourinho will hope to have him up to snuff in time for next weekends encounter with Manchester United.
Furthermore, Mourinho will be looking to get Oscar, Hazard and Fabregas some rest with another Champions League game coming up in midweek. John Obi-Mikel and Mohamed Salah are the perfect candidates to relieve the midfield stars if Chelsea has a comfortable lead in the second half.
Diego Costa has started his campaign with 9 goals in seven games. His runs are intelligent and he picks his spots smartly. Costa is incredibly efficient as well, having gotten his 9 goals from 16 shots on goal (22 total shots). Costa also netted twice for Spain during the break. Look for him to start and add to his goal tally.
Loic Remy is still waiting patiently for his chance, and may get some minutes in the second half. The Frenchmen also scored this week for his country and has shown in his few appearances for Chelsea, he is an adequate replacement for Costa. Drogba is also available, having returned from injury, but he is more likely to see the field against Maribor on Tuesday.