PAT NEVIN: BLOSSOMING BLUES
Another Chelsea legend returns this week as Pat Nevin files his first column of what he anticipates to be a hugely exciting campaign...
Jeepers, I remember the days when pre-season friendlies were roughing it down at Aberystwyth in Wales or a little jaunt out to Brentford to get the old muscles moving.
Going west now means a rather longer trip, especially as it started out in the Far East for the current squad. All in all it was a pretty successful build-up to the season, though the cliché still holds that the results in these games stand for little or nothing once the season really gets started.
The fact that Jose got to test his team against the likes of Roma, AC Milan, Inter and Real Madrid will give him a real feel for who he thinks is best suited for the season's attack on a variety of trophies. With the return of De Bruyne and Lukaku suitably improved and experienced alongside the additions of Michael Essien, Andre Schurrle, Marco van Ginkel and Mark Schwarzer, there appears to be something approaching an embarrassment of riches to choose from. There may of course be the odd extra player to come in but for me that looks awfully like a squad that is capable of slugging it out with the very best anywhere in world football.
Last season was one I thoroughly enjoyed but I suspect, like many others, this could be one of the most interesting and entertaining seasons in Premier League history. Clearly Man City and United are going to be up there again, but I have to say I will be surprised if Chelsea find themselves off the pace this time around. Maybe even more importantly I suspect this group will only get better as the likes of Mata, Hazard and Oscar are only likely to become even more influential as time goes by.
It is the beginning of the season so there is always hope, but I suspect the clichés will be rolled out about taking every game as it comes. That being the case the fixture computer has once again been kind to Chelsea at the start. A couple of home games that are eminently winnable against Hull and Villa could really allow the team to settle very quickly. That is not to say they will be easy, Aston Villa in particular appear to have acquired intelligently over the summer, but with the right attitude it could be an early boost and hopefully six points out of six.
Anyone who has been watching Chelsea TV and enjoying the pre-season games will possibly be none the wiser about who will be in the starting line-up come Sunday afternoon. This is often portrayed as a negative by some, who question whether or not the manager actually knows what his strongest team is, but I do not think that is the case with Jose at all. He has chopped and changed to such an extent that very few players will be comfortable that their names will be among the first 11 at the weekend and that will quite simply keep them on their toes and keep them voraciously hungry.
If you get the nod in the first game you know fine well that you will have to be at something approaching your very best if you want to stand a decent chance of staying in the team. From the others point of view, if you are not starting then you will be bursting for your chance, even if it is as a substitute. Coming on as a sub for the last half-hour in this team will need an explosion of energy and skill to get the approval of the boss. Any player under Jose Mourinho who does not have the right attitude and displays a 'petted lip' if he isn't a regular, might as well pack his boots and get out. I suspect there will be no divine right to a game for anyone at all and I suspect the players know that already. It really is one of the top benefits of having a great squad and a great manager.
Among the most common questions I am asked these days in the media, okay, the most common question by miles, is who I think will win the Premier League. With all respect to the likes of Spurs and Arsenal I really do think it is a three-horse race and it is impossible to predict, certainly I don't think it would be wise to do so anyway at least until the transfer window closes. One extra player can make a difference, just think back to the Robin van Persie effect last season. I would however predict one thing; no one will run away with the title with the quality that is around in the upper echelons of the league.
Another hot topic is who is going to be the premier Leagues star individual performer this this time round. Last season's candidates such as Benteke, Bale ( if he is still around) and Van Persie will of course be in the running, but Chelsea have any number that could step up to the plate. Would you be surprised if Mata, Oscar or David Luiz was in the running for Premier League Player of the Year come next May? I wouldn't and I would be even less surprised if Eden Hazard was in that elite clutch by the end of the campaign.
Maybe this more than anything else is why I am so up about the season to come. How many other teams, including United and City, have so many players who have the chance of blossoming into the league's brightest star?
So with the best manager still in the business at the helm, who is famed for building teams from great individual players, not always the easiest skill, I am not saying Chelsea are going to win the league, but I certainly wouldn't bet against us. Relax, sit back and enjoy the show, I know I am going to.
PS The quiz will be back next week with the usual prizes I am glad to say. Is there no end to the things you can look forward to!