Fans complained that Chelsea’s style of attack wasn’t exciting enough last season, but manager Jose Mourinho and his players shrugged all the way to the English Premier League championship. And the Blues are favored to defend their title as the 2015-16 season gets under way this weekend.
Mourinho strongly defended his team’s simplistic approach.
“Everyone speaks about teams playing fantastically well because they ‘had great ball possession,’ ” he said. “It looks like the goals aren’t important. They conclude a team that scores as many as we do is boring, but a team with 70 percent of the ball who don’t score isn’t. Maybe, when my grandsons play, football will be a game without goals, and we’ll just enjoy people passing the ball. But when football is played without goals, you will say it’s boring. You will say bring the goals back. For me, it’s still about putting the ball in your opponents’ net and keeping it out of your own.”
Hard to argue.
Other than getting Radamel Falcao on loan, Chelsea didn’t make any big offseason acquisitions but still remains the team to beat with a lineup that includes Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Cesc Fabregas.
The biggest question is who will challenge the Blues?
Will it be last season’s runner-up, Manchester City, which acquired Raheem Sterling from Liverpool? Man City had the talent to win it last year but underachieved.
Or will Arsenal find its way to the top with the addition of veteran goalkeeper Petr Cech? The Gunners have consistently reached the Champions League over the past decade but have fallen short of the EPL crown in recent years. Could this be their year?
Liverpool fans are still trying to forget that embarrassing 6-1 loss to Stoke City at the end of last season, a loss made worse by the fact that it was the sendoff game of legendary captain Steven Gerrard, who was headed to Major League Soccer to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Stoke scored five first-half goals in that match, three of them in an eight-minute span (Carli Lloyd pace). Hard to believe an exciting team that scored 101 goals in 2013-14 could fall that hard and finish in sixth. But that is what Liverpool did, and players are motivated to turn things around.
And then, of course, there’s Manchester United — always a threat. The addition of experienced 31-year-old German Bastian Schweinsteiger and young talent Memphis Depay of the Netherlands could just be the two pieces that were missing from Louis van Gaal’s squad.
No matter who winds up winning the title, let’s hope there’s a closer race than last season.
One thing we know for sure: The battle to avoid relegation at the bottom of the table this season will be fiercer than ever. The EPL recently signed a humongous TV contract that kicks in next season, so the three teams that drop stand to lose a lot of money.
▪ Giovinco makes big splash: He might be only 5-4, but Italian import Sebastian Giovinco (nicknamed “Atomic Ant”) is making a big impression on Major League Soccer. The former Juventus forward scored a hat trick over a nine-minute span for Toronto FC in a 4-1 win over Orlando City on Wednesday, the third-fastest hat trick in league history. In doing so, he took over the league scoring lead with 16 goals. He is one ahead of the Columbus Crew’s Kei Kamara. Giovinco, who plays on the Italian national team, also has 10 assists so far this season.
▪ Remarkable rookie: Orlando City rookie Cyle Larin, a quiet Canadian, tied the MLS rookie scoring record last week when he scored two goals against Columbus in a 5-2 win. The No. 1 draft pick from UConn has proved he was a wise choice with 11 goals over 17 games.
▪ MLS attendance: The Seattle Sounders continue to lead the MLS in home attendance with a per-game average of 41,324. Orlando City, in its inaugural season, is No. 2 at 33,346. NYCFC is third with 28,961, Toronto is fourth at 23,978 and San Jose is fifth with 23,627. The overall league average is 21,089.
MLS: East — D.C. (41), N.Y. Red Bulls (33), Toronto, Columbus, New England (31). West: Vancouver (39), Dallas (38), Los Angeles (37).
On the tube: Sunday — Arsenal vs. West Ham (8:30 a.m., NBCSN), Stoke City vs. Liverpool (11 a.m., NBCSN), Olympique Lyonnais vs. Lorient (3 p.m., BeIn Sport USA), Sao Paulo vs. Corinthians (3 p.m., GOL-TV), L.A. vs. Seattle (4 p.m., ESPN).