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Spotlight: Chelsea

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The best team from 2016/17 may be the best team for game week 5 and the following weeks.

Leicester City v Chelsea - Premier League
Proven quality at a great price
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Chelsea finished the 2016/17 season as champions and one of the most reliable fantasy sides. Such is the way of football that the champions became one of the first big side under pressure in the 2017/18 season.

It all started with an emotional summer transfer window. Big summer target Romelu Lukaku was poached under their noses by title rivals Manchester United in a showing of role reversal from previous seasons. The big Belgium hitman was expected to replace star forward Diego Costa, and it was a small shock to see the change in destination.

Next up, the club agreed to sell midfield dominator Nemanja Matic, also to Manchester United in a move more surprising than the Lukaku situation. Matic had been a huge part of Chelsea’s two titles in three seasons and is a player very much in his prime. Lukaku may well strengthen United’s title bid, but Matic does without question. In addition, the club also sold Nathan Ake, Juan Cuadrado, Asmir Begovic, Christian Atsu and Natheniel Chalabah.

In response, Chelsea signed Antonio Rudiger, Alvaro Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Davide Zappacosta and Danny Drinkwater, who hasn’t seemed to capture the fans’ imaginations.

After a window where the fans and manager voiced concerns, the opening day defeat by Burnley at Stamford Bridge was a sensational result. It spawned doom and gloom headlines from the English media, and phone-ins were full of the chance of Conte leaving!

Fast forward 3 Premier League games and all is well in blue colours. Chelsea have beaten Tottenham, Everton and Leicester City in a row and sit 1 point behind league leaders Manchester United. The champions have undoubted quality and the side currently has a rhythm to their play that makes them a set of players that any fantasy football fan must consider.

Game week 5

At first glance, a matchup against rival title contenders Arsenal could put you off the blues players, but it shouldn’t do so. Under Arsene Wenger’s management, the Gunners have had major problems with any side who approach the game in a physical way, are excellent on the counter attack and dangerous on set plays. Chelsea for a number of years have been very good in all of these areas, hence they often give Wenger nightmares. The Arsenal side that beat Chelsea came into the cup final on a winning streak and in a decent state of mind. I don’t see that being the case in game week 5. They have looked short on self belief, and the showing at Liverpool was shocking. They were also very unconvincing at Stoke and there is great value in Chelsea players for game week 5. The following information can help reinforce that view.

Chelsea

  • The blues have won 16 of their last 18 home games.
  • They have scored at least 2 goals in their last 7 home games.
  • Chelsea have conceded just 8.5 shots per game at home this season.
  • Only Liverpool, Huddersfield and Stoke have completed more tackles in the league this season.

Arsenal

  • The Gunners have conceded 29 shots on their goal in the two away games at Stoke and Liverpool.
  • Arsenal average 13 shots per away game, only West Ham have had fewer.
  • Having said that, only Manchester City have completed more successful passes away from home this season, but nobody in the league have completed more unsuccessful short passes In the league than Arsenal.
  • Arsenal have been dispossessed an average of 13.5 times in away games, only Huddersfield and Palace have been more often.

Much of that data is from a small sample, but matches the impressions you get watching the team in an eye test.

The upcoming weeks

The champions’ next 6 fixtures are Arsenal (h), Stoke (a), Man City (h), Palace (a), Watford (h) and Bournemouth (a); not a scary list. I don’t see any of those sides preventing the champions scoring. Along with goals, there are some very strong chances of clean sheets in that fixture set. We do need caution however, as between the Arsenal game and following the Bournemouth game Chelsea also play Nottingham Forest in the League cup, Atletico Madrid, Roma, and Roma again in the Champions League. Conte has repeated the line that they play 7 games in 21 days and rotation is likely. The League cup side is certain to see most of the starting 11 rested, but guessing where else and who will get a warm spot on the bench is tricky.

So far this season, six players have played in all the league games: Antonio Rudiger, Cesar Azpilicueta (Dave), David Luiz, Marcos Alonso, N’Golo Kante and Thibaut Courtois (Five defensive minded players and a keeper). The evidence is that Conte is already rotating his options and the strongest play may be to take up these options.

Of those six, three catch my eye. “Dave” played every minute of every league game in 2016/17 and has already returned 1 clean sheet and 2 assists this season (19 FPL points). Luiz has a clean sheet and a goal (18 FPL points). Alonso has 1 clean sheet and 2 goals (24 FPL points). All of them offer much better value in FPL than any of the 7m forward and midfielders.

Of the trio, it’s Alonso we all want in FPL and Togga, and here is why: Despite being listed as a defender, he plays further forward than the midfield, even ahead of the centre forward in much of the game. Only Kante has made more tackles, only Morata had more shots on goal, and only Morata has scored more goals. Alonso is one of the very few players who can realistically offer the holy trinity of clean sheet, assist and goal in the same game. Note - it’s still a shame Fantrax incorrectly considers him a midfield player, denying him clean sheet points.

In midfield the water is muddy. Kante has played all 360 minutes, but you have to feel he will not repeat last week’s goal scoring glory for a few months to come.

Eden Hazard is back, but Conte is ever so gently easing him into the starting 11. Playing just 12 minutes of Premier League so far, it was a minor surprise not to see him given an hour or so in the 6-0 hammering of Qarabag, but he did get a 32 minute run-out. We must assume he will continue to be given limited game time over the next 2 or 3 weeks, so Hazard is one to watch rather than select outside of Togga where you can wait for the lineups.

Cesc Fabregas has seemed to have won over Conte. Right now I think Cesc is 1st choice over summer signing Bakayoko. Cesc has played 249 Premier League minutes so far, but had he not received a red card in stupid circumstances against Burnley, he may have made the 360 minute list. The Spaniard is my pick right now. He is a gamble but will set you back just 6.9m in FPL, and 6.40m in Fantrax, and nothing at all in Togga with its unlimited budget.

In attack there is only one option. Diego Costa is waiting for the January transfer window, and Batshuayi is clearly not ready for a weekly spot in the Premier League. Chelsea are reliant, perhaps over-reliant on Alvaro Morata. He got a midweek rest in the Champions League so will be fully fit for the arrival of Arsenal. While he has looked unconvincing at times, there have also been moments of quality from him early in his Chelsea career. Further, against Leicester in particular, there were visible signs of connection with Fabregas. With Morata’s clever runs, you need a player with vision and quality of pass, and Cesc has always had that.

Pre-season I felt Morata could disappoint over the season, and he may yet. Still, right now his numbers are good, his fixtures are good, and playing centre forward for the league’s best team makes him a great option moving forward.

Recommendations

With no obvious competition for their starting places, Alonso and Morata are great picks for FPL and Togga. In Fantrax I’d avoid Alonso which is a real shame.

As a Utd fan I think the injury to Paul Pogba is a bigger blow to the side than is being reported. He has linked defence to attack in transition, and he is one of the few players who grows stronger as the game is played. Silly haircut or not, he is an on-field leader and will be missed. Here are bold words: I can see a Cesc-supplied Morata outscoring a Lukaku sans Pogba. I think at least that Morata will get more chances.

Behind them, any Chelsea defender works in any format, so my hunch (and gamble) is to take a chance on Fabregas in FPL, Fantrax and Togga.

From there it’s take-notes-time on any patterns Conte shows us. Let’s see if we can catch those one week specials in Fantrax/Togga.

Stall

How do you see Chelsea moving forward? Do you have or are you considering blues in your squads? Tell us in the comments below...