Because less players equal more space to pass and move

Can Conte’s Chelsea Retain their Premier League Title?

It’s nearly here you know. We are now inside one month until the football season commences across Europe’s finest divisions, and while there are plenty of questions about who will and won’t across the continent in 2017/18, it is the English Premier League title race that looks perfectly poised.

Can Chelsea retain their title? They stand as good a chance as any other side in the division, of course, but no team has retained the EPL title since Manchester United in 2008/09. Consequently, the odds are against the Blues.

And then we have the more recent phenomenon of champions. Both Chelsea and their predecessor Leicester City won the title without being in the Champions League; clearly, playing less games is a huge advantage in the modern game.

Antonio Conte’s men will have a lot more on their plate this season, so can they successfully defend their crown?

Chelsea (7/2)
The Blues will need to tear up the rulebook if they are to retain their trophy; we know that teams in the Champions League – and those attempting to regain the status of Premier League top dogs tend to come up short.

Antonio Conte will hope to have a more or less unchanged squad at his disposal for the forthcoming campaign, although one player he may have to do without is Diego Costa.

The Spaniard was photographed wearing an Atletico Madrid shirt and disparaging Conte in a social media post after being left out of Chelsea’s squad for their pre-season tour, and it seems almost inevitable that he has played his last game for the club.

Love him or loathe him, the swarthy frontman has bagged 52 goals in 89 appearances for the Londoners, and you don’t readily replace that kind of output with ease.

So step forward Alvaro Morata, another Spaniard who has never quite caught fire at Real Madrid or Juventus. But, he did notch 15 goals in 26 games last season (fourteen starts, nine substitute appearances), and so he at least knows where the goal is. There can’t be many players that have found the net against Barcelona, Real Madrid, Napoli, Inter, AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City, and that big game profile will at least stand him in good stead.

The capture of Monaco’s Tiemoue Bakayoko appears to be a good one. The midfielder completed more interceptions than any other in the Champions League, and his ability to break up play is eerily similar to that of club mate N’Golo Kante. The Blues may have the perfect shield to protect their back three this term.

About that 3-4-3 formation….it truly revolutionised Chelsea’s campaign in 2017/18. They were going nowhere prior to the switch in system, but a run of form reading W27 D2 L3 thereafter tells its own story. Assuming the novelty factor hasn’t worn off, that’s another string to their bow.

But the Champions League will place extra emphasis on what is a pretty thin squad by all accounts, and an injury to Eden Hazard, say, or Marcos Alonso leaves the Blues woefully short of quality in key areas. They will have their work cut out retaining their trophy, put it that way.

Manchester City (2/1)
Of all Chelsea’s challengers, it is perhaps Manchester City that will provide the sternest competition and they are, indeed the bookies’ favourites. They need a major overhaul, that’s a given, but Pep Guardiola has already begun that process by replacing Alex Kolarov with Spurs’ Kyle Walker. Bids for Monaco’s Benjamin Mendy will surely be followed through to completion.

Those signings are timely because the Citizens were awful at the back last season, conceding 13 more goals than second-placed Tottenham (and scoring six less too). They need Vincent Kompany to stay fit, it really is as simple: their form when the club captain returned read W10 D5 L1, with just eleven goals conceded in those sixteen.

Is there an over-reliance on Sergio Aguero’s goals? Possibly, but City remain one of the most exhilarating teams to watch on their day, and if Guardiola can sort their defence out they may just win the Premier League title at a canter.

Manchester United (4/1)/Arsenal (12/1)
Two legendary rivals will be hoping their new frontmen can fire them to glory. Manchester United have opted to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goals with, well, Romelu Lukaku’s goals: the burly Belgian bludgeoned 25 goals in 37 appearances for Everton last season.

But like Chelsea, the introduction of Champions League football to Old Trafford is likely to upset the applecart somewhat, and while Jose Mourinho was able to shuffle his pack in last season’s Europa League, the continent’s premier competition is an altogether different proposition. You’d expect them to be clinging to a top four finish.

And what about Arsenal, who sans Champions League football will be hoping the French flair of Alexandre Lacazette can net the goals required to get them back amongst English football’s elite.

Olivier Giroud, who is more than capable as a battering ram striker, never really fit into the Arsenal style of play, so it will be interesting to see how dynamic the Lacazette-Alexis Sanchez pairing is.

There are still question marks about the Gunners defensively and in midfield, where they lack genuine quality, but an absence of Champions League football could be a blessing in disguise: a top three finish awaits.

Tottenham (10/1)
After another brilliant campaign in 2016/17, is there a ceiling to Tottenham’s progression? Can they maintain their level, improve upon it or regress to their mean in 2017/18?

They are so well organised by Mauricio Pochettino that they rarely look like getting beaten, and while they could perhaps do with another creative spark in the final third to take the pressure off young Dele Alli’s shoulders, Spurs remain there or thereabouts.

Two questions remain: what happens if Harry Kane’s goals dry up? And, perhaps more pertinently, can they shake off their Wembley hoodoo? Playing at English football’s HQ is a considerable gamble given that they lost two of their three Champions League matches there last term.

A certain regression this season is likely.