Chelsea's Premier League season gets underway on Monday evening with a fascinating match against newly promoted Burnley at Turf Moor. The Blues are odds-on favourites to beat the Clarets, but Jose Mourinho will be taking nothing for granted as he prepares his players for the trip to Lancashire.
With the exception of Ramires who is suspended, and fitness concerns surrounding Didier Drogba and Andre Schurrle, Mourinho has the pick of an expensively assembled squad from which to choose his starting XI -- a scenario which in the build-up to game has created suspense and intrigue aplenty and given the Chelsea boss much to think about.
The key talking point is the dilemma Mourinho faces over which goalkeeper to select: Step forward Petr Cech and Thibaut Courtois. Cech has been the undisputed Blues No. 1 for the past decade and at 32 years of age is still at the top of his game, Courtois, 10 years his junior, excelled on loan at Atletico Madrid where he played a starring role in Los Rojiblancos' La Liga triumph this past season. "It is not easy," said Mourinho, who will delay advising the players of his decision until Sunday. "For Chelsea it is a great situation. For me as a manager thinking in a pragmatic way, it is to have the best goalkeeper on the field."
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While the Cech versus Courtois debate has taken centre stage, further forward Mourinho has additional selection posers. The recent signing of Filipe Luis from Atletico Madrid gives Cesar Azpilicueta competition for the left-back berth. Despite being naturally right-sided, Azpilicueta made the position his own last season, and Mourinho must decide whether to retain the Spain international in that role, field him at right-back or bench him. It's a decision that will determine whether Branislav Ivanovic starts or not. While the versatile Serb can play on the right or centre of defence, it's unlikely he will be given the nod ahead of Gary Cahill or captain John Terry for the season opener.
Central midfield will likely see Cesc Fabregas handed a full debut and deployed in the double pivot alongside Nemanja Matic, although it's quite possible that during the game Fabregas might be pushed forward to play in the hole behind his fellow debutant, striker Diego Costa. Oscar, who was today handed the No. 8 shirt once belonging to club legend Frank Lampard, looks set to start in that support role flanked by Eden Hazard and either Willian or Schurrle, with the German World Cup winner possibly being given the first hour to impress.
"I want to win against Burnley -- that is the first step," said Mourinho at Friday's prematch news conference. "To win against Burnley will be very hard. We are title contenders, but if you are expecting me to say we are going to win the Premier League, I cannot say this."
Clarets manager Sean Dyche will be looking to upset the odds but is under no illusion about the task facing his team. "For sure it's a tough challenge," said Dyche who is referred to as "Ginger Mourinho" by Turf Moor diehards. "They've got a fantastic manager, a fantastic club and a fantastic team as well as amazing power in the market."
For the visit of Chelsea, Dyche is expected to stick with the same defence that won Burnley promotion back to the top flight with keeper Tom Heaton protected by a stable back four of Kieran Trippier, Michael Duff, Jason Shackell and Ben Mee. In midfield, David Jones and Dean Marney look set to be given the unenviable task of shackling the likes of Hazard and Oscar, with Scott Arfield and Michael Kightly set to start in the wide positions. Up front, Dyche will be hoping that Danny Ings can replicate the form that saw the England under-21 player score over 20 goals for the Clarets last season. Partnering with Ings will be Southampton-born striker Lukas Jutkiewicz, a 2.25 million-pound summer signing from Middlesboro who impressed in preseason, netting six goals.
With a sellout crowd expected at Turf Moor, Mourinho and Chelsea can expect a hostile reception, and Dyche is certain to set the Clarets up to have a go at the Blues, rather than playing a containing game. Notwithstanding the fact that Burnley will have the home advantage and will be buoyed by last season's success, it's hard to see anything other than a comfortable victory to nil for the London club, with Costa likely to be among the goals as he sets out to justify his 32 million-pound price tag.