Swansea City-Chelsea Preview
Make no mistake, Chelsea are the hunted as they begin their title defence in the Premier League.
And while his players might not be in top form just yet, Jose Mourinho certainly is heading into Saturday's lid-lifter versus Swansea City at Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho's third title with the London squad was a near wire-to-wire methodical march, with Chelsea also capturing the League Cup last season. There was little roster turnover for Chelsea - Didier Drogba departed for the MLS, clearing room for Radamel Falcao in hopes the Colombian striker can re-discover his pre-injury form, but the departure of goalkeeper Petr Cech across town to Arsenal raised eyebrows.
And after Cech backstopped the Gunners' 1-0 victory over Chelsea to win the Community Shield at Wembley on Sunday - Mourinho's first defeat to Arsene Wenger in 14 lifetime matches against Arsenal - it may have served notice to "The Special One" nothing will come easy this time.
Mourinho, who quickly set a flashpoint this preseason by tweaking Real Madrid manager Rafa Benitez's wife after she criticised him, created another two after not shaking Wenger's hand post-match and derisively noting the Frenchman's team left "their philosophy in the dressing room" by playing a counterattacking style similar to, well, Chelsea.
''In this moment I don't think I am the champion,'' Mourinho said. ''Saturday starts that fight for the points.''
Mourinho, though, still has a star-powered roster fully capable of being the first team to repeat as league champions since Manchester United reeled off three straight titles from 2007-09. Diego Costa returns as Chelsea's focal point on offence - he scored 20 goals in just 24 league matches last season - but the hamstring injuries that plagued him resurfaced this summer, leaving him questionable for this match.
''Last season I had to live and contend with injuries,'' Costa said. ''But I've worked to prevent it occurring. I have to be careful this season so I can do the best possible.''
Eden Hazard - last season's player of the year - will again partner with Cesc Fabregas in midfield. The Belgian had 19 goals across all competitions and was the most fouled player in the Premier League last season.
Fellow Belgium international Thibaut Courtois is again between the sticks, with Asmir Begovic now deputising. And veteran John Terry returns for his 18th season in Chelsea blue, anchoring the centre of the back line which shipped a league-low 32 goals after playing all 3,420 minutes in 2014-15.
Mourinho, though, has been trying to pry John Stones from Everton during the transfer window, noting his current five full-time defenders "are not enough" given Chelsea's title aspirations both domestically and in Champions League.
Swansea City are trying to build on their eighth-place finish last season, ending with a club-record 56 points but barely missing out on Europa League qualification. The Wales side started fast last season, buoyed by a historic win at Old Trafford over United to open the campaign, and manager Garry Monk is embracing the challenge of trying to deal Mourinho just his second home loss in 99 league matches (76-21-1).
"We are under no illusions of how hard a task it will be," Monk told the team's official website. "We are determined to try and improve on what we did last year but we know it will be very difficult. But we have a fully-fit squad, we'll prepare the way we always do and hopefully put on a good show."
Monk's biggest offseason acquisitions were Portuguese forward Eder and Ghanian striker Andre Ayew, who came over from Braga and Marseille, respectively. They will try to mesh with holdovers Gylfi Sigyurdsson, Jonjo Shelvey and Ki Sung-Yueng and add firepower to an offence which finished with 46 goals - the fewest of any team in the top half.
Swansea started brightly in last season's corresponding fixture, getting an own goal from Terry, but Costa had a hat trick to power Chelsea's 4-2 victory. The Blues have won five straight league matches between the teams by a 13-2 aggregate.