By Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
With league matches taking center stage again from this weekend until the first week of October, it comes as a welcomed news that none of our Internationals will be returning with anything but jetlag – none more so than Willian who played twice for Brazil and recorded a sublime goal and an assist for his troubles. Hazard should be in with a massive chance ofstarting our match against Leicester City at the weekend after amassing a combined ninety-seven (97) minutes for Belgium against Gibraltar and Greece helping them to qualification for next year’s World Cup in Russia, as they are the first team from Europe to be assured of a place. Even though he will be serving the last of his 3-match suspension at the King Power Stadium in one of five 3pm Premier League kick off on Saturday, Gary Cahill got a much-needed game time under his belt as he lasted the duration of both England matches against Malta and Slovakia. Antonio Rudiger, Victor Moses, N‘Golo Kante and Alvaro Morata were also involved in matches for their respective countries with the latter continuing his goal scoring exploits with three goals over two games and an assist to boot. I was particularly impressed with Victor Moses’ displays for Nigeria against Cameroun in a much more advanced position than the one he’s taken up for Chelsea in recent times. He was a constant threat to the Camerounian defense and an attacking outlet for the Super Eagles with a goal and an assist to his name. I’m sure Antonio Conte would have been impressed with his performances for Nigeria. Thibaut Courtois recorded some eye-catching saves against a rampant Greek side especially in the first half helping Belgium secure their place in Russia next summer with two 90 minutes showings. Deadline day signing, Davide Zappacosta also got in on the act with a man-of-the-match showing in Italy’s 1-0 victory over Israel on Tuesday night having missed their earlier demolition at the Santiago Bernebeu due to him being in London to put pen to paper for his move to Stamford Bridge. Of our outfield players on international duty over the past week or so, only Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen and Michy Batshuayi did not taste any action for their respective countries having been left on the substitutes’ bench throughout.
In all, Antonio Conte should be happy for the performances of his charges on international duty once he gets past his rage for the Belgian national team for including Hazard, who’s yet to feature for Chelsea’s first team since the FA Cup final at Wembley in May.
TRANSFER WINDOW REVIEW
A lot has been made of our activities (or lack of it) in the transfer window with a large chunk of the British media rating our transfer business fourth behind Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool, but I think that takes a little bit of pressure off Antonio Conte and his team with majority of the pundits predicting a two-horse race for the title between City and Mourinho’s United, who’re yet to drop a point or concede a goal in the first three matches of the season.
Mourinho seem to know exactly what his team needed to turn them into title contenders from their abysmal sixth place finish last season and he went to the market to plug those holes. He brought in Victor Lindelof from Benfica, Romelu Lukaku from Everton and Nemanja Matic from Chelsea, in what was a transfer coup of some sort. United couldn’t have started the season in a better way than winning their first three games without conceding a goal while putting 10 past the trio of West Ham, Swansea and Leicester City but that isn’t to say they are going to have it all their own way in the race to the Premier League title. If anything, I think they just happened to have a fairer fixture list than most and for them the season is just about to start with a tricky trip to the Bet365 Stadium on Saturday followed with the visit of Everton next Sunday.
Liverpool conducted their transfer business without any fuss, bringing in former Chelsea wing Mohammed Salah from Roma for a club-record £35m, Andy Robertson from Hull City, Dominic Solanke from Chelsea (for a fee that’s to be decided by a tribunal) and the deadline day arrival of Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain. They have responded with 7 points from their opening three games which included a 4-0 whitewash of a sorry Arsenal side.
Of Manchester City’s many problems last season, their inability to put away their chances and their leaky defense and goalkeeping issues top the list and Pep Guardiola went to the market purposely to plug his leaky defense and address the goalkeeper issue with the big money transfers of Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo following the arrival of Ederson from Benfica and Bernardo Silva from Monaco . They have two wins and a draw from their first three fixtures of the season.
The less said about Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal team the better. One could have been tempted to think that with the way last season panned out for them, with them failing to make it to the UCL for the first time in 20 years, new faces will be fighting with themselves for attention but the contrary has been the case with just two new arrivals in free transfer Saed Kolasinac and club record signing Alexandre Lacazette. If results from their first three fixtures is an indication, with just one win and two losses, then Gunners fans are sure to be in for one hell of a season if you factor in the fact they will be playing on Thursdays and Sundays from now till December at least due to their ‘demotion’ to the Europa League
Chelsea has not met the expectations of many in the transfer window but they haven’t performed that badly all things considered. After losing Nathan Ake, Asmir Begovic, Nathan Chalobah and Nemanja Matic to Premier League rivals we brought in Antonio Rudiger, Willy Caballero, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Danny Drinkwater on transfer deadline day to replace the departed members of the squad.
Contrary to what has been written in the papers that our team looked paperweight compared to the other top four contenders, I think the Chelsea board did well enough to replace those we lost and we now even have backups for the wingback position, a luxury we didn’t have for the whole of last season. of those that left Stamford Bridge this summer only Nemanja Matic and Diego Costa (Yes because I consider him an Atletico Madrid player already even considering his inclusion in our Premier League squad) were in our starting eleven week in and week out and I think of them have been adequately replaced with Tiemoue Bakayoko (or even Danny Drinkwater) and Alvaro Morata.
While I agree we might be low on numbers in the squad I think the quality of our squad has improved considerably compared to last season and the most important aspect of this transfer window for me and the aspect I’m most happy about is the inclusion of Charly Musonda, Andreas Christensen and Kenedy to our squad, because I think they have a genuine chance of quality gametime, a fact already underlined by Christensen having been involved in all of our three matches so far this season even starting and finishing our game against Spurs at Wembley, performing admirably against Harry Kane.
In my honest opinion, I think what the media and pundits have done with their analysis is make Chelsea the underdog for the title and that seem to suit us better with the pressure off. Antonio Conte and his charges can go about their business without any pressure and see where the season ends up for us come May 2018.
AND THERE’S THE DIEGO COSTA CONUNDRUM
As we all know Diego Costa has refused to report back to Chelsea since the end of last season owing to the fact that he was told by Antonio Conte that he was surplus to requirements via a text message. He has remained in his home town of Lagarto in Brazil “keeping fit” because he felt he was disrespected by the coach. He has huffed and puffed and even threatened legal action with Chelsea FC replying in kind. All through the fiasco, he has insisted on a move back to Atletico Madrid even with other teams showing interest in the embattled striker, but a deal wasn’t agreed with the Spanish giants in time before the close of the transfer window, hence he has been included in Chelsea’s Premier League squad but not in the Champion’s League (perhaps because they don’t want him cup-tied ahead of his ‘sure’ return to Spain in January)
Reports making the rounds on Wednesday was that Costa was spotted in London having dinner with some of his Chelsea pals an indication that maybe there’s a resolution to the long-standing standoff in the offing but I seriously doubt we’ll be seeing Diego Costa in a Chelsea shirt ever again because his relationship with the coach and the board has damaged beyond repair. The earlier this is put to bed the better it’s going to be for the team as a whole.
Thanks for taking the time to read and remember to Keep The Blue Flag Flying High!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: PA Archive
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