Are Chelsea slipping into the Champions trap?
With the traditional curtain-raiser to the Premier League season taking place on Sunday, excitement builds ahead of next weekend's kick-off of the 2015/16 domestic campaign. As league champions Chelsea meet reigning FA Cups holders Arsenal at Wembley, might we see an indication of things to come over the next nine months?
Off the field, The Blues have been basking in the limelight of a return to glory under Jose Mourinho. However, as quick as Chelsea de-throned Manchester City last term, are we also starting to see fimiliar patterns emerging in West London, or are Chelsea set fair?
It took just 23 months for Mourinho to regain the Premier League crown at Chelsea, having rejoined the West Londoners from Real Madrid. Having finished third in the 2013/14 season, Mourinho then went to work on assembling a title-winning squad.
In came Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona - much to the chagrin of Arsenal fans everywhere - to partner Nemanja Matic, who was re-purchased from Benfica. That built the foundations of their successful campaign.
Diego Costa and Thibaut Courtois were the other major pieces of the jigsaw, brought in from then La Liga champions Atletico Madrid. Belgian Courtois was recalled from his seemingly endless four-year loan, whilst Costa was brought in for £32m. The Brazilian-born Spaniard's goals catapulted Chelsea into an un-assailable position in November, and whilst suffering the customary blip here and there, The Blues' unit was solid enough to get them over the line, at a canter.
Thus far this summer, Chelsea - as might have been expected - with such a strong squad have not made any real ventures into the transfer market, except for the addition of Radamel Falcao. There is not much need for recruitment. Or is there?
After Manchester City wrestled the league title away from their City rivals United, The Citizens went through a similar spell of market inactivity - to their detriment. An attacking unit consisting of Kun Aguero, Edin Dzeko, Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo (the latter departing for Valencia) together with David Silva, Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas, that spearheaded a championship winning season, was not bolstered - bar Wilfried Bony in January.
It was the defensive side of Manuel Pellegrini's sides' game that was addressed, with the additions of Fernando and Eliaquim Mangala from Porto. Neither was a resounding success. After Aguero was ruled out for a total of nigh-on three months, City's bite was somewhat smothered and their defense simply did not hold up sufficiently.
Chelsea now find themselves in a similar scenario, albeit with a better defence. Falcao's arrival may be important with Diego Costa's unpredictable leg injuries, but the rotated attacking similar five of Willian, Oscar, Eden Hazard, Juan Cuadrado and Ramires could leave Chelsea - as it did with City - a little stale. In the case of Oscar, who has been linked away from Stamford Bridge for some time now, the Brazilian's impact could be less sure than it was in the first part of last term.
The Fabregas-Matic partnership is likely to drive Chelsea forward again, but all it would take is an injury to one of the two, or a defender to be struck down and Mourinho's plan could be forced to shuffle his pack, which in his second term at Chelsea, the Portuguese has been reluctant to do. Mourinho may yet make further additions to his squad, particularly in the light of Filipe Luis' return to Estadio Vicente Calderon, but they will unlikely be in the forward department.
History tells us that retaining the Premier League crown in the modern era is a feat. Indeed, since World War II, only six sides have won back-to-back English top-flight championships and only one manager and team have, since Chelsea's 2004-2006 side. Furthermore, the last team to retain the Premier League was back in 2008/9. The task is real for Chelsea Football Club.
That said the individual in charge for Chelsea's last consecutive success.....? Jose Mourinho.