The new Premier League season is two games old, and we are seeing some trends beginning to form. For Chelsea, that means as weak and mediocre as they were against Burnley on the opening weekend, they can equally live up to their billing as champions in the way they did when defeating Tottenham Hotspur. That hints at a topsy-turvy season that, with this being Chelsea, we shouldn't be surprised a...
The new Premier League season is two games old, and we are seeing some trends beginning to form.
For Chelsea, that means as weak and mediocre as they were against Burnley on the opening weekend, they can equally live up to their billing as champions in the way they did when defeating Tottenham Hotspur.
That hints at a topsy-turvy season that, with this being Chelsea, we shouldn't be surprised about.
It's going to be an intriguing campaign at Stamford Bridge. With the transfer window's August 31 closure upon us, Antonio Conte's squad doesn't feel complete. There are gaps in midfield, at wing-back and in attack that haven't been addressed.
It feels like things are balanced on a knife edge, with the days before the transfer window closes dictating which way they fall.
Then there is the ongoing narrative of tension between the manager and board, which has led to rumours Conte will be replaced by former Borussia Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel, as reported in German newspaper Bild (h/t the Daily Telegraph).
The battles that matter are on the pitch, though. It's where matches are won, and Chelsea have a few to consider, such as who will be the main striker at Stamford Bridge. Can Michy Batshuayi do enough to overcome Alvaro Morata?
While that's an obvious example, there are others at Chelsea that haven't been overly discussed heading into 2017/18. With that in mind, we take a look at some under-the-radar battles Blues fans should be monitoring, starting with a clash at the heart of defence.
Andreas Christensen vs. David Luiz
Scroll through social media platforms, and the debate about Chelsea's back line is about when Andreas Christensen is going to replace Gary Cahill as the third man in the central-defensive three at Stamford Bridge.
That argument is well off the point. That's not because Christensen isn't up to challenging the Chelsea captain but because fans are identifying the wrong player.
In the long term, it's David Luiz who should be looking over his shoulder.
The Dane's talents have long been apparent, and his two appearances this season have reinforced the notion he can be a defender for the long term in west London.
Conte started him in place of Luiz as the libero in Chelsea's rearguard against Bayern Munich in pre-season, repeating that against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium when Luiz was pushed into midfield.
Against Spurs, Christensen looked strong. There were some moments of concern—as there would be for any defender coming up against Harry Kane—but overall, he was assured.
That position is suited to Christensen's game. He reads things clearly as they play out before him, which influences his strong positional sense. And with his cultured play in possession, he has the attributes to get Chelsea playing out from the back in the way his manager demands.
In the same way it has worked for Luiz, playing centrally is ideal for Christensen to flourish. There is less opportunity for him to be exposed, with his responsibility more about mopping up and playing the ball out. The fundamentals of defending are left to others.
Luiz is still the main man in this scenario, but it doesn't mean Christensen isn't going to give him a fight this season. And that competition is only a good thing for Chelsea.
David Luiz vs. Cesc Fabregas
Chelsea's impressive victory over Spurs at Wembley changed everything we thought we knew ahead of 2017/18. And that means we're here discussing Luiz again.
From his battle with Christensen, we should expect the Brazilian to be competing with Cesc Fabregas at stages this season. The reason? Because his performance in that 2-1 victory over Spurs outlined a job Luiz can occasionally perform this campaign.
That could be good news for Christensen, but not so for Fabregas. While we're not expecting the latter to be starting every match for Chelsea, with just three central midfielders to speak of, he should still get plenty of game time.
Well, that was the impression until Luiz stepped up in his absence and helped marshal Chelsea's midfield at Wembley.
The Blues looked robust against Spurs, and for the crunch matches throughout this season, he has offered a solution for Conte's side—a physical one at that.
For instance, where Chelsea could be accused of appearing lightweight in central midfield, the Tiemoue Bakayoko-Luiz-N'Golo Kante combination showed them to be quite the reverse. So when they face sides like Jose Mourinho's giant midfield at Manchester United, Chelsea can match their physicality.
It's those battles that win titles. There are times when teams have to show a different face, one that isn't as easy on the eye. They have to scrap and win ugly, pumping chests as they stand up to be counted. That's what Chelsea did against Spurs; it's what they will have to do at other times as 2017/18 progresses.
For all his talents, that isn't a quality Fabregas brings, which has occasionally been a problem. It could be an issue that influences how much we see him now Luiz has shown himself to be a willing midfield general.
He has the physical edge, and we know he is more than adept in possession.
N'Golo Kante vs. Tiemoue Bakayoko
One swept the board with personal accolades last season, while the other carved out a reputation as a player for the future. What's certain is the next few years will be exciting times for Chelsea's midfield with Kante and new boy Bakayoko lining up together.
Let's not get too carried away, however, and expect them to become a partnership in the way Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele were in their prime. These players could well go head-to-head with each other for a starting berth this season and beyond.
Kante's qualities are undoubted, but we saw a hint of what Bakayoko is capable of against Spurs. With his power on the move, he gives Chelsea an option of playing a different way, which is only good news for Fabregas.
While we mentioned how Luiz may well be battling it out with the Spaniard when needs must, the latter must surely be licking his lips at the prospect of playing with Bakayoko. That Fabregas-Bakayoko duo has the potential to repeat what we saw from Nemanja Matic and Fabregas in 2014/15, when Chelsea bulldozed their way to the title.
It was the perfect balance of substance and skill back then, with Fabregas' craft complementing Matic's physicality and endeavour. Chelsea found themselves marauding their way through opponents, who were unable to match them in all areas. The problems came when Matic's form tanked and Fabregas found himself scrapping for possession too close to his own goal.
Bakayoko's dynamism hints at how Chelsea can rediscover the best days of Fabregas in a midfield two. Kante has the know-how when it comes to breaking up play and stunting the opposition, but Bakayoko is a specimen. Even when not fully match fit against Spurs, it was quite the sight watching him operate in both halves and impose himself.
Players like Bakayoko allow a man of Fabregas' attributes to be indulged. It could be beautiful.
Charly Musonda vs. Jeremie Boga
This is probably the most unexpected battle we could have predicted at Chelsea this season. And unless the Blues pull something out of the hat before the transfer window closes, it could be one of the most vital.
Charly Musonda and Jeremie Boga are going head-to-head to complete Conte's lineup. The winner will be named as fourth choice behind Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian, but as unfulfilling as that sounds, it does hint at progress at Stamford Bridge.
For too long, the club has allowed talented young players to leave, only to flourish elsewhere and become stars. It isn't by design this time, yet with a gap appearing in the squad, Musonda and Boga are well placed to take advantage and potentially break the mould.
So who's ahead of the other?
Musonda was given the No. 17 shirt earlier this summer, hinting at Conte's confidence in him to perform well for the first team. But after picking up an injury in pre-season, it's Boga who has been getting the game time. He even started the season in the lineup against Burnley—but his debut lasted just 18 minutes because of Cahill's red card.
That said, when Chelsea lined up against Spurs at Wembley, Boga wasn't even on the bench. Musonda was. It hasn't been confirmed whether Boga was injured or dropped, but either way, it's looking good for Musonda.
Whatever happens, both players have to step up. They need to instantly get the confidence of their manager that they can perform when the time comes, otherwise it cripples Chelsea in a season when they are back in the Champions League and looking to make an impression. They can't be carrying anyone.
Good form is more far-reaching too. Success for Musonda or Boga (even both) would mean academy players were beginning to make an impression at Stamford Bridge, which so few have in recent times despite the club's success at youth level.
AS Monaco's youngsters surprised many people across Europe last year, and it's about time Chelsea's did the same if and when the chances arise.