Can Chelsea defend their Premier League title next season?

Date published: Tuesday 30th May 2017 2:26

Source: Premier League via Twitter

Despite dominating the Premier League standings en route to a memorable title victory, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte will have been disappointed with the way his side finished their 2016/17 campaign. Defeat to Arsenal in the FA Cup final at Wembley ended the Blues’ chances of the league and cup double, and the side looked flat in their season finale, being forced to settle for the runners-up spot following their 2-1 defeat.

Conte will now start planning for the 2017/18 campaign, where the main focus will be on defending the Premier League crown that they are backed at odds of 33/10 with 888sport.com to retain. The 47-year-old will also have to negotiate a European campaign as his side are back in the Champions League after a year’s absence.

It would be a surprise if the Italian was to make too many changes to his starting XI or squad this summer. The Blues have, as the final league table suggests, been the best team in England by some distance. They were in pole position at the top of the standings with months to go in the season due to consistently strong performances from October onwards.

A switch to the 3-5-2 formation was the catalyst in Chelsea’s unbeaten stretch in the season. Conte will almost certainly begin the new campaign with the same makeup to his side. His back three have delivered for him, relishing the challenge set for them. In midfield, Eden Hazard looked right back to his best again. N’Golo Kante joined last summer from Leicester and the Frenchman has been a rock for his side, which led to the defensive midfielder picking up the PFA Players of the Year Award for the 2016/17 campaign.

The one area Conte will look to strengthen this summer is in the final third of the pitch, in order to take away some of the pressure on Diego Costa’s shoulders and to give them multiple options for the four competitions they will be competing in. Michy Batshuayi hasn’t quite had the impact many thought he would in his debut season in England, and Chelsea have been linked with Everton striker Romelu Lukaku, who could be set for a return to Stamford Bridge. The Toffees forward scored 25 goals last season. If he can repeat that kind of form for Conte, the Blues will be even stronger when they return to the Premier League in August.

Source: Conor Kelly via Twitter

Conte can expect the challenge to be much stronger from his rivals next season. Manchester City have already started splashing the cash with the acquisition of Monaco midfielder Bernado Silva for a reported £43 million. That is unlikely to be their last big name signing, however, as they are thought to be interested in picking up Benfica goalkeeper Ederson Moraes and highly rated French striker Kylian Mbappe.

Manchester United have also been linked with a number of big name players in the transfer window, including Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann. Their victory in the Europa League final was a huge for the club as they can now offer Champions League football again at Old Trafford.

Tottenham fell just short last season in their Premier League title bid. They are expected to keep a large number of their squad together so they will be competitive again, while their north London rivals Arsenal could benefit from no Champions League football on their schedule.

The fixture list for the 2017/18 is set to be released on June 21, with the opening games scheduled to take place on August 12.

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