Title success should usher in new era for Chelsea but Jose Mourinho must address squad issues

Jonathan Wilson explains how Chelsea thoroughly deserve their title success this season, but should they plan on maintaining their dominance, a reboot of the squad may be necessary.

Chelsea are on the verge of a fourth Premier League title, but a lack of squad rotation as shown at times this season. Jamie McDonald / Getty
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Trophies can mark the end of eras, or they can mark the beginning of eras.

Often, as Manchester City keep proving, teams lose hunger after a title. As Alex Ferguson always said, the real test of a side is whether they can retain their title.

Chelsea, who would seal the Premier League with a win against Crystal Palace on Sunday, will surely face sterner opposition next season. Not all their rivals can remain in transition, but this feels like a side still on the upswing of the cycle.

Last season, Chelsea struggled to break down sides who sat deep against them and packed the defence, so they bought a creator in Cesc Fabregas and a muscular poacher in Diego Costa, effectively dealing with the deficiency.

Only Sunderland and Arsenal have stopped Chelsea from scoring in the league this season, and at the Emirates Stadium last weekend Chelsea were quite happy with a goalless draw.

This season, the problems are less obvious. The biggest issue is probably the size of the squad; or rather, the size of the squad that manager Jose Mourinho trusts.

Only 12 players in the Chelsea squad have started more than 10 matches this season. Of those, 10 have started 25 matches or more.

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Mourinho has stuck to a tight core, eschewing the usual wisdom about rotation and, while that may have had benefits in terms of team spirit and tactical cohesion, it has also led to fatigue.

By Mourinho’s own admission, Chelsea have had to adopt a more “strategic” approach since the turn of the year as they have had to cope with weariness and a loss of form.

Given how well Andre Schurrle and Mohamed Salah have done at Wolfsburg and Fiorentina, respectively, it is hard not to wonder whether one or both of them might have been retained. Equally, one wonders whether any of the players who have helped Chelsea to successive FA Youth Cups will ever make it into the first team.

This, perhaps, is part of the effect of Financial Fair Play. There is a perceived need from clubs to sell fringe players while they still command a profit, while the academy becomes less about producing players for the first team than to be sold to raise money for the purchase of established stars.

Whatever the reason, the point remains that Chelsea would surely benefit from a slightly larger core.

Petr Cech, it seems likely, will leave. A goalkeeper of his quality is unlikely to be happy with a place on the bench, and so there likely to be need of a new reserve keeper.

Didier Drogba, 37, has looked his age at times and it seems probable he will move into more of a coaching role, so there is space for a third striker to challenge Loic Remy as back-up for Costa.

The churn of Kevin De Bruyne, Salah and Schurrle suggests Mourinho still is not entirely happy with his attacking midfield options, and Juan Cuadrado has not made much of an impression since arriving in January.

Looking to the longer term, John Terry has had an excellent season, but he is 34 and it may be time to start thinking about a replacement.

It may be Kurt Zouma, who has done well both at centre-back and in central midfield this season, but it would be no great surprise were Chelsea to bring in a more experienced stopgap to help manage that transition.

The only real disappointment this season has been in European competition. While Chelsea would expect better than an exit in the last 16, it was only on away goals, and a season that has brought a league title and the League Cup cannot be thought of as anything but a success.

Mourinho always wins the title in his second season at a club, and soon he will have done so again.