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Premier League 2016-17 season preview: Chelsea

International Champions Cup 2013 - Championship

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - AUGUST 07: Cristiano Ronaldo #7 of Real Madrid and Branislav Ivanovic #2 of Chelsea fight for a ball during International Champions Cup Championship match at Sun Life Stadium on August 7, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

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Following one of their worst seasons in recent memory, Chelsea will look to rebound from a 10th place finish last campaign.

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The Blues rid themselves of Jose Mourinho and, with the short bridge of Guus Hiddink, have chosen Antonio Conte to lead the rebuild. Most of last season’s stars are back, with Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois, Cesc Fabregas, and Willian all returning with a view at a return to the Champions League.

The Premier League title is always the goal for the Blues, but this season expectations may be tempered following last season’s debacle and the change at the helm. In addition, the preseason has been a struggle for the Blues. A loss to Real Madrid brought to light a number of defensive frailties, adding to the already uneasy feeling brought on by the early-summer friendly loss to Rapid Vienna.

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Still, this is Chelsea we’re talking about, and nothing short of a Champions League place will be acceptable. Roman Abramovich has brought down the axe for less.

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Chelsea will rebound because...the players are rejuvenated. There is little turnover, with the additions of Michy Batshuayi and N’Golo Kante the only real changes in the squad. All the weight lies on the shoulders of Antonio Conte, the man in charge of bringing new life and passion to the group on the field.

But the Blues will fall short if...things stay the same. This is all about changing as much as possible without changing much at all. The squad is very similar, yet the system will change completely. Kante will be enormously important to this team, and so will Batshuayi if Diego Costa leaves or plays a lesser role. Otherwise, the same players from last year have to jump from 10th to 4th or better, and if Conte can’t fit the pieces together properly, it won’t play out in their favor.

Best Possible XI
—– Courtois —–

— Ivanovic — Terry — Cahill — Azpilicueta —

— Kante — Matic —

— Willian — Fabregas — Hazard —

— Costa —

Transfers In: Michy Batshuayi ($43m, Olympique Marseille), N’Golo Kante ($37m, Leicester City)

Transfers Out: Nathan Ake (Loan, Bournemouth)

Last season: Chelsea was miserable out of the gates, losing seven of the first 12 matches, and never recovered. Jose Mourinho got the sack in December, and Guus Hiddink navigated the slow climb back to 10th at the end of the season.

Hungary v Belgium - Round of 16: UEFA Euro 2016

TOULOUSE, FRANCE - JUNE 26: Eden Hazard of Belgium slides on his knees as he celebrates scoring his team’s third goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between Hungary and Belgium at Stadium Municipal on June 26, 2016 in Toulouse, France. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

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Star Player: Eden Hazard - The Belgian was completely invisible for the first half of last season, a large reason why the team struggled in league play. He appeared to find his groove towards the end of last season, and much of Chelsea’s fortunes rest with him. Willian carried the attack last season, and it wasn’t nearly enough.

Coach’s Corner: Antonio Conte comes from the Italian national team, having just guided a squad with less talent to an impressive showing in Euro 2016. He often employed a 3-CB system with Italy, but it fit the personnel. Now, with an aging central defensive partnership, it’s likely Conte will have to change things up to fit the players at his disposal.

SK Rapid v Chelsea F.C.  - Friendly Match

VIENNA, AUSTRIA - JULY 16: Head coach of Chelsea Antonio Conte gestures during an friendly match between SK Rapid Vienna and Chelsea F.C. at Allianz Stadion on July 16, 2016 in Vienna, Austria. (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)

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PST Predicts: This is a very difficult one to call. Logic says nearly the same squad that finished 10th last season should finish around the same place, but these are players who all severely underperformed at one time and who play on a team that takes no prisoners. A return to Champions League play after a season in the dumps is incredibly difficult, and the defense has gone from a strength to a liability, so Chelsea may have to settle for 5th place, something which could cause friction but ultimately will earn Conte another go.

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