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Chelsea's title defence hinges on Costa fitness, Falcao form

By The Rainbow
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Chelsea regained the Premier League trophy with such ease that Jose Mourinho felt his team’s achievement did not get the recognition it deserved.

But as rival fans directed “boring” chants at Chelsea last season, their own teams were doing little to inject excitement in the pursuit of the title. From the first weekend of the season Chelsea was on top and stayed there until collecting the trophy for the first time in five years.

Surely it cannot be as straightforward for Chelsea again? That is likely to depend on how long striker Diego Costa stays injury-free and whether newcomer Radamel Falcao is more prolific in front of goal than during his insipid season at Manchester United.

The Colombia forward is getting a second shot at proving himself in the Premier League on loan from Monaco as he fills the void left by Didier Drogba’s departure.

“Very good player,” is captain John Terry’s assessment of Falcao. “Playing against him last season was excellent. His movement, his strength, his finishing’s been different class.

“Because he came a little bit late maybe the fitness may take a little bit longer, but he’s looking sharp already and it’s great to have him here.”

Falcao should be getting a chance to reprise his strike partnership with Costa from their Atletico Madrid days, if the Spain international’s hamstrings are more durable in 2015-16.

“Last season I had to live and contend with injuries,” said Costa, who managed to score 20 goals in the 24 Premier League games he played in his first season at Chelsea. “But I’ve worked to prevent it occurring. I have to be careful this season so I can do the best possible.”

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Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas takes the ball downfield during his team’s English Community Shield  …

As Chelsea kicks off its title defense on Saturday against Swansea, here are some things of things to know:

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Chelsea’s manager Jose Mourinho is seen behind the Premiership Trophy as it is displayed on the  …

Captain John Terry played all 3,420 minutes of the league campaign last season. Not bad for a 34-year-old center back who lost his guaranteed starting place before Mourinho returned to take charge in 2013.

There is a reliance on Terry, though, with Branislav Ivanovic, Kurt Zouma, Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta the only other first-team defenders in the squad. Chelsea is still pursuing John Stones but Everton is unwilling to part with the 21-year-old Englishman in the final month of the transfer window.

“Five is not enough. That’s obvious,” Mourinho said. “We cannot go to the Premier League with five defenders. That’s our weakness.”

If Arsenal provides a greater threat this season to Chelsea, Mourinho could soon regret allowing long-standing goalkeeper Petr Cech to move across London after 11 years at Stamford Bridge.

The first sign of the 33-year-old Cech’s value to the FA Cup winners came on Sunday with a symbolic victory over Chelsea in the Community Shield.

Asmir Begovic joined from Stoke to deputize for first-choice goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Eden Hazard was Chelsea’s star last season and topped the player of the year voting by his fellow professionals and journalists.

The winger, though, pays the price for his trickery on the pitch — being the most fouled player in the league. And the Belgian no longer wants to be the target of such physicality.

“If the referees can protect me, it would be good for me because they know now that I get a lot of kicks,” Hazard said. “I just want to play, to dribble, to do some skills.”

While determined to win back-to-back league titles with Chelsea as he did in 2005 and 2006, Mourinho craves a first European trophy with the west London club.

An abject Champions League campaign ended last season before the quarterfinals at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain, delaying Mourinho’s bid to become the first manager to win European football’s top prize with three different clubs after successes with Porto and Inter Milan.

Mourinho is irked that the Premier League does not help Champions League participants with more favorable fixture scheduling.

“One day when England has only three teams in the Champions League people wake up,” Mourinho said.

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