Burnely – Jose Mourinho’s belief that Chelsea are better equipped to challenge for the Premier League title faces an immediate test when his side travel to Burnley in their season opener on Monday.
Last season Blues boss Mourinho maintained Chelsea were not ready to launch a sustained title bid and he was proved right when his players faltered in the final stages and eventually finished third.
Key to Chelsea’s failure was their inability to overcome teams from the bottom half of the table, with away defeats at Aston Villa and Crystal Palace proving particularly costly.
The visit to Burnley will present a similar challenge as Sean Dyche’s fired-up side are determined to start the new campaign in a positive manner after unexpectedly securing automatic promotion from the Championship last season.
Mourinho last year accused some of his players of lacking character when confronted by the kind of test Burnley will present.
But with his squad strengthened by arrival of Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas, Filipe Luis and the return of Didier Drogba, the manager is confident Chelsea will prove more resilient this time around.
“My squad is very good, not perfect, but it’s very good,” Mourinho said.
“The squad has experience, it has characters and personalities, it has people with ambition. We covered many positions. I’m very happy with the squad.”
Costa will make his competitive debut at the head of Chelsea’s attack following his £32 million arrival from Atletico Madrid, while former Arsenal midfielder Fabregas – back in England after a spell at Barcelona – will slot into the midfield and be expected to replace the attacking threat of the now departed Frank Lampard.
Drogba is back at Stamford Bridge two years after leaving following the club’s 2012 Champions League final triumph and Mourinho expects the Ivory Coast forward to recover from an ankle problem in time to make the trip.
“I think he can play Monday, I cannot say now yes for sure, but normally I think he will,” Mourinho said.
Mourinho must decide whether to keep faith with Petr Cech, Chelsea’s goalkeeper for the last 10 years, or start with Thibaut Courtois, the Belgium international who is back at the club after spending the last three seasons on loan at Atletico Madrid, with Courtois favourite to get the nod.
Burnley have signed eight players during the close-season to supplement their squad, but they remain among the lowest spenders in the top-flight.
Striker Lukas Jutkiewicz is their most expensive signing at £1.5 million from Middlesbrough – a stark contrast to the huge sum spent on Costa by Chelsea.
“There will be a vast gap in resources available, that’s the reality of it,” admitted Dyche.
“But look at what you’ve got, not what you’ve haven’t. We haven’t got that, so there’s no point moaning about.
“We have to focus on what we’ve got and use it wisely.”
Crucially, Burnley have managed to retain the services of forward Danny Ings, 22, whose 21 league goals last season were a key factor in their promotion.
He is set to partner Jutkiewicz in attack with Sam Vokes, who scored 20 times last season, a long-term injury absentee.
Dyche has added experience to his squad in the form of Matt Taylor from West Ham, Steven Reid from West Bromwich Albion and Stephen Ward from Wolves.
And the Clarets will hope they can repeat their shock win over Manchester United in their opening home game in the Premier League in 2009-10 – their last stay in the top division.
“Never say never and wasn’t it Cardiff who got the three points off Man City early last season? I don’t think many would have been expecting that,” added Dyche. – Sapa-AFP