Premier League 2023-24 preview No 7: Chelsea

Guardian writers’ predicted position: 5th (NB: this is not necessarily Jacob Steinberg’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)

Last season’s position: 12th

Prospects

What to expect from Chelsea as they embark on a second year under the ownership of Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital? The answer is nobody knows. Last season was a disaster and there is no guarantee that Chelsea are going to glide back into the elite. While they had to cut the size of their bloated squad, they have lost a lot of experience this summer and have replaced it with a lot of unproven young talent.

Yet perhaps a fresh start is what Chelsea need. Mauricio Pochettino has taken over as head coach and oozes authority. The Argentinian did an outstanding job at Tottenham and Chelsea were right to appoint him. Pochettino is one of the best coaches in the world and will surely make them better if there is no interference from above.

Expect Chelsea to play with far more intensity. No European football means that Pochettino will have a lot of time to work on the training ground and he will be able to focus on developing the youngsters at his disposal. There should be a vibrancy to the football. Fans will be intrigued to see how Lewis Hall, Ian Maatsen, Nicolas Jackson, Carney Chukwuemeka, Noni Madueke, Andrey Santos, Levi Colwill and Mykhaylo Mudryk fare under Pochettino.

The worry will be that Chelsea have been too revolutionary. They have sold top internationals to some of their top-four rivals and still lack reliable goalscorers. A lot could depend on whether the France forward Christopher Nkunku settles after his £58m move from RB Leipzig. Completing a deal for the Brighton midfielder Moisés Caicedo would be a boost.

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The manager

Chelsea did not want to rush after sacking Graham Potter in April. They took their time over the appointment and chose well by settling on Mauricio Pochettino. The former Tottenham manager knows the Premier League inside out and is undoubtedly an elite coach. Having taken Spurs to a Champions League final and won the league at Paris Saint-Germain, Pochettino will trust that his methods will work at Chelsea. Tough but charismatic, the Argentinian makes his teams fitter, plays attacking football and has a strong track record of improving young players. Chelsea may lack experience but that could work in Pochettino’s favour. He will have the freedom to develop the team.

Leading the shirt sales

Enzo Fernández is yet to find consistency since Chelsea broke the British transfer record to sign him from Benfica in January. The £106.8m midfielder has offered flashes of class, however, and his talent is not in doubt. Fernández was crucial to Argentina winning last year’s World Cup and was named the best young player at the tournament. The 22-year-old is an excellent passer and he could thrive under Pochettino, who is likely to focus on adding more dynamism to the youngster’s game. “He is still young and needs to learn about the Premier League,” Pochettino says. “Now he knows what it is to be a Chelsea player. We are going to help.”

Enzo Fernández

Enzo Fernández was crucial to Argentina’s World Cup-winning campaign in 2022 and was named best young player at the tournament. Photograph: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Folk hero

Mason Mount has gone, sold to Manchester United after failing to agree a new deal, so fans will be looking to another academy product for inspiration. They see Reece James as one of their own and the 23-year-old will be desperate for a strong run of form after struggling to stay fit last season. Chelsea are a much better team when James is in peak physical condition. Like his England colleague, Trent Alexander-Arnold, he is so much more than a right-back. James has been Chelsea’s biggest attacking threat at times and they will be stronger if he avoids injury.

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One to watch

There is understandable excitement around Levi Colwill after the defender’s impressive year on loan at Brighton. Colwill was excellent for Roberto De Zerbi’s side last season and it is not a surprise that Brighton tried to sign him again. However, Chelsea never had any intention of selling the 20-year-old, who was outstanding when the England Under-21s won the European Championship, and he signed a new six-year contract on Wednesday. With Wesley Fofana injured and Kalidou Koulibaly sold to Al-Hilal, there is room for a newcomer in Pochettino’s defence. Colwill, who is quick, strong, positionally aware and good on the ball, is ready to establish himself at Chelsea.

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