Chelsea head into the new season full of optimism, having appeared to have added the final pieces to the puzzle with their summer transfer business.
Diego Costa, Filipe Luis, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have all joined the club this summer; with Blues boss Jose Mourinho looking to the quartet to help the club improve upon last season’s third placed finish.
Mourinho constantly played down expectations last season, infamously dubbing his side the “little horse” in the Premier League title race, but in adding a midfield partner for Nemanja Matic and what he hopes will prove to be the elusive heir to Didier Drogba – as well as the Ivorian himself – he can have little excuse in what should be a big season for the Stamford Bridge outfit.
Drogba aside, Chelsea has become a graveyard for strikers in recent years with Fernando Torres and Andrey Shevchenko among the big-money forwards that Costa is following. The Spain international scored 27 league goals for Atletico Madrid last season and – despite a poor World Cup - picked up where he left off last year in his first game for the club.
Latching onto a pass from fellow newboy Fabregas, Costa fired home his first Chelsea goal in the 2-1 win over Olimpija Ljubljana.
The combination of Fabregas and Costa is one that fans have been waiting for and for which they have high expectations. While the pair are unlikely to come up against defences as accommodating as the Slovenian side, who gave Fabregas all the time in the world to pick out his teammate and then allowed Costa the freedom of the box to fire home, the goal does offer encouraging signs going forward.
Despite being widely panned by the Catalan crowd, Fabregas provided 13 La Liga assists last season. Chelsea often struggled to break down stubborn defences last season and saw most of their chances come from their wide players or on the counter-attack, making Fabregas a key player next season given that he will be providing much of the creative thrust towards feeding Costa.
Like Lampard before him, Fabregas will also be important in providing goals from midfield. Drogba and Lampard demonstrated a two-way partnership, with Lampard not only creating for his teammate but also popping up to finish from the chaos caused by Drogba's physical presence.
The early signs are that Fabregas can do the same. He scored eight goals last season in La Liga, making him Barcelona's highest scoring central midfield player.
Fabregas goals last season
Costa, for his part, is likely to be providing the chances for Fabregas as well as finishing off those created by his compatriot. Only two players created more chances for Atletico last season than Costa, whose willing running and physical presence ensured he provided more than just goals.
Of his chances created, over half came from within the box. In tandem with the fact that every one of Fabregas's goals came from inside the area - the only Barcelona player to have scored more than two goals without scoring from outside the box - and the signs look encouraging that a partnership can be struck up between Costa up front and Fabregas breaking from midfield. In a league without an obvious golden boot.
Costa chances created last season
Reading into pre-season friendlies can often prove fruitless, but there are already tentative signs that Fabregas and Costa could strike up the kind of partnership that has been missing since Drogba's exit. If they can, then Mourinho's little horse may just have a big say in next season's title race.
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- Cesc Fabregas
- Diego Costa
- Didier Drogba
- Jose Mourinho