Pitchside

How will Chelsea line up this season?

Pitchside

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Jose Mourinho recently applauded Chelsea for the “fantastic job” the club’s staff had done in concluding their transfer business by July 19, ostensibly at least.

Rumours persist of a move for Atletico Madrid centre-back Miranda, and at least one player will still leave the club to comply with regulations regarding squad size and foreign players, but there is no doubt Chelsea have moved quickly and decisively to bring their team together.

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Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa were the headline captures, from Barcelona and Atletico Madrid respectively, while Filipe Luis is also a superb acquisition from the same club as Costa, and youngster Mario Pasalic joins from Hadjuk Split.

With Kurt Zouma, Oriol Romeu and Thibaut Courtois also returning from loan spells, Mourinho has plenty of options at his disposal – but how will Chelsea line-up this season?

CESC FABREGAS: A NO. 8 OR A NO. 10?

The key issue affecting Chelsea’s team regards Fabregas and how he will be used by Mourinho. The Spain international learned his trade in a deep role for Arsenal from the age of 16 but eventually moved higher up the pitch and shone in an attacking remit in his final two seasons in the Premier League, scoring a total of 18 goals and claiming 24 assists across those two campaigns. This evolution continued in La Liga, where he regularly played in an attacking role for Barcelona, and for his national team, where he was used as a False Nine during Euro 2012.

However, his £27m return to England led to suggestions Fabregas could revert to a deeper role, with Mourinho last season going all-in on No. 10 Oscar to the extent that he sacrificed the popular Juan Mata to give a more prominent role to the hard-running and diligent Brazilian.

Chelsea are well stocked with forwards, so the natural assumption was that Fabregas, who scored a free-kick in Wednesday's friendly against Vitesse, would slot in alongside the bullish Nemanja Matic (as seen in the diagram below) and prompt passing moves and make late runs from deep, performing the role previously filled by Frank Lampard. This was the position he was asked to play in when making his debut in a friendly win over Olimpia Ljubljana.

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Note: We are assuming that new signing Luis will slot in straight away at left-back, that Courtois will replace Petr Cech and Costa will come into the attack, though we will deal more extensively with the striking positions later.

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However, in Wednesday night's 3-1 friendly win over Vitesse, Fabregas was handed the Oscar role and shone when playing off Costa. His final two years at Arsenal and time at boyhood club Barcelona have clearly given him a taste for an attacking position and putting him so close to the opposition box utilises his peerless through-balls to their most devastating effect.

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Oscar is a real favourite of Mourinho but, along with his Brazil team-mates, he had an awful World Cup campaign and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Fabregas will displace him in Mourinho's side. That would leave a vacancy in the deeper positions and one possible beneficiary of this would be 21-year-old Marco van Ginkel - rather than John Obi Mikel, Ramires or even Romeu - who had last season ruined by a serious knee injury but has been a very prominent figure during pre-season.

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Van Ginkel is a bit of a box-to-box player and his rounded talent gives way to a third configuration of the midfield: 4-3-3. Chelsea switched to this shape for the second half of their win over Olimpia Ljubljana and immediately looked a more cohesive unit, with Matic sitting behind a two of Fabregas and Van Ginkel and Mohamed Salah and Fernando Torres flanking Costa.

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Though 4-2-3-1 is likely to remain Mourinho's favoured formation, 4-3-3 could be utilised against more accomplished teams, giving Chelsea a more robust look and allowing them to dominate in midfield. This is how it would look in practice:

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What is clear is that Fabregas is a fine player capable of playing in numerous positions and his arrival gives Chelsea more flexibility, when last season they too often looked rigid and unimaginative.

DIEGO COSTA OR DIDIER DROGBA (OR FERNANDO TORRES)?

Okay, we can discount the third option as Torres has endured another difficult time in pre-season and Chelsea appear keen to flog him to keep their foreign-player quota from exceeding acceptable limits. Conversely, Costa has looked impressive, scoring against Ljubljana and having a hand in all three goals against Vitesse. It is safe to assume the £32m signing will be in Chelsea's first XI whatever shape the team takes.

Drogba, though, is another matter. His emotional return has certainly enthused Chelsea supporters but his is a waning talent and, as Ivory Coast suggested during the World Cup, perhaps his best input can come as an impact substitute. Still, there is a way that Drogba could be used in tandem with Costa, should Mourinho be open to it.

It is only in the past 12 months that Costa has developed a reputation as a striker of real potency. Prior to that he was accustomed to playing second fiddle to bigger stars such as Falcao and, notably, used to either play on the left of the Atleti attack or hover behind the Colombian in order to accommodate his team-mate's more predatory talents. Chelsea, then, could use Costa in a similar role if and when they want to play Drogba in his favoured role. This would most likely come in a 4-3-3 formation, as below:

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As for the other attacking positions, Hazard had a difficult World Cup and also developed a strained relationship with Mourinho towards the end of last season, but the Belgian is such a formidable talent that it is unthinkable he will be dropped. Willian was one of the few players left largely untainted by Brazil's implosion this summer and should start ahead of Andre Schuerrle, who despite having a fantastic World Cup, scoring three goals, retains the flavour of an impact sub.

WHERE DO THE LOAN RANGERS FIT IN?

Courtois arrives back at Chelsea following his loan at Atletico Madrid as possibly the most highly-rated keeper in world football - certainly along with Bayern Munich's Manuel Neuer - and with speculation that Petr Cech could join Paris Saint-Germain, it seems the Belgian is primed to take the gloves at Stamford Bridge.

However, there are two other former loanees who are back in the Chelsea squad and although they will not trouble the starting XI - at least not at the start of the season - Kurt Zouma and Oriol Romeu could be interesting options as back-ups. That is, unless Zouma does return for good and is not farmed out on loan again after spending the second half of last season at St Etienne following his transfer from the French club.

Romeu went on loan to Valencia, making 13 league starts, and the former Barcelona midfielder was awarded with a new Chelsea contract in July. He performs primarily as a defensive midfielder but, intriguingly, was involved in a very Barca-esque manoeuvre in pre-season when he slotted into a three-man defence in a 3-2 win over AFC Wimbledon.

Either way, Chelsea's second XI - which we could see in action in the League Cup next season - looks pretty strong.

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OUR CONCLUSION

Chelsea are certainly shaping up as strong title contenders but they will need Mourinho to shed the negativity which marked their campaign last season.

The addition of Fabregas will be key as it allows Chelsea to deploy a more nuanced midfield while Costa's hard work and pressing from the front will be instrumental to their efforts.

The big question is how to configure the midfield properly, but if Mourinho gets it right, it could well be Chelsea topping the table come May.

Tom Adams - @tomEurosport

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