The season has ended. Let the forgetting begin!
While the Copa America is still going on in the USA, world football’s eyes are now firmly on the European Championships. Since the tournament’s introduction in 1960, the competition has successfully attracted huge audiences — the 2012 edition was watched by a global audience in excess of 300 million people. It is the second most watched football tournament behind the World Cup.
Six Chelsea players will be representing their countries, and hoping to put a dispiriting Premier League campaign behind them. The tournament represents a clean slate for the Chelsea six: Spain’s Cesc Fabregas, Cesar Azpilicueta and Pedro; Belgium’s Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois, and England’s Brave Gary Cahill.
In addition, new Chelsea manager Antonio Conte will be leading Italy in his final act as national team manager. Italy are perennial favorites for any tournament they enter, but this squad seems to be lighter on talent than most recent editions. Can Conte make them perform above their apparent skill level? Should be a good test.
vs. Czech Republic (and Petr Čech!)
When: June 13, 2016, 14:00 BST; 9am EDT
Where: Stadium Municipal, Toulouse
When: June 17, 2016, 20:00 BST; 3pm EDT
Where: Allianz Riviera, Nice
When: June 21, 2016, 20:00 BST; 3pm EDT
Where: Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux
Cesc Fàbregas (106 caps, 15 goals)
In similar fashion to several squad players, the Spaniard enjoyed a revival under Guus Hiddink’s guidance – yet the extent of this turn around wasn’t enough to ensue meaningful change. Throughout the 2015-16 campaign the 29-year-old failed to rival the heights he had achieved in his first season with the club. His assist totals, just to take an example, dropped from 18 to 11 in the league, with a matching decline in compatriot Diego Costa’s goalscoring output. That partnership was key to Chelsea’s title win in 2014-15 and a big reason for our struggles in 2015-16. (Costa had to miss out on Euro 2016 due to another hamstring injury.)
Having enjoyed an improved second-half to the season, and scoring against South Korea in preparation to the tournament, Fabregas should enter the competition with a renewed sense of confidence. He is likely poised to operate in an advanced number-ten role, a position he has occupied on numerous occasions this season.
On his day, Fabregas is one of the best visionaries in the game; his understanding of the game is astute, and his ability to execute a pass is almost unrivalled. He has testified his importance to the national side repeatedly (over 100 caps before age 30) and he could play a vital role in Spain’s defence of the title once again.
Pedro (58 caps, 17 goals)
There was considerable excitement associated with Pedro’s arrival at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea had successfully beaten Manchester United to the signature of a three-time winner of the Champions League, and a player who had excelled for both Barcelona and Spain. The Spaniard’s debut seemed to have built the foundations of a prosperous career with Chelsea — the 28-year-old scored and provided an assist in a 3-2 victory at West Brom — yet despite the initial promise, Pedro failed to consistently perform.
Pedro is yet another player who seemed to implode amidst the chaos of Mourinho’s turbulent reign. Aside from the goals he scored against West Brom and Walsall, Pedro failed to certify his position in Mourinho’s team. There’s no disputing that adapting to a new environment is difficult, and took Pedro until Hiddink's reign to start coming to terms with the physicality of the Premier League. Pedro ended his debut season with 8 goals in 38 appearances — his worst tally since the 2008-09 season.
Pedro has proven to be an instrumental figure for his national side over the years, but his role at Euro 2016 could well be indistinguishable from the latter years of his Barcelona career, an impact substitute.
César Azpilicueta (15 caps)
Since his £7m move to Chelsea in 2012, the Spaniard has distinguished himself as one of the most competent full-backs in the Premier League. However, as most in the squad and in what was once recognised as the most rigid defence in England, he failed to emulate the successes of previous seasons in 2015-16.
Despite the woeful season that Chelsea has endured, the former Marseille defender has been included in Vincent Del Bosque’s team, although he is likely to be behind both Juanfran (on the right) and Jordi Alba (on the left) in the pecking order.
vs. Italy (and Antonio Conte!)
When: June 13, 2016, 20:00 BST; 3pm EDT
Where: Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon
vs. Republic of Ireland
When: June 18, 2016, 14:00 BST; 9am EDT
Where: Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux
When: June 22, 2016, 20:00 BST; 3pm EDT
Where: Allianz Riviera, Nice
Thibaut Courtois (37 caps)
When discussing the world’s best goalkeepers it is difficult to look beyond Thibaut Courtois, who, despite the dip in the quality of his performances last season, remains amongst the world’s elite. Gianluigi Buffon agrees.
He did endure a season to forget without a shadow of a doubt however. Courtois conceded 38 goals in all competitions for example; he conceded three less in almost one-thousand minutes more of football in 2014-15, not to mention his record during his years behind Atlético Madrid’s staunch defence.
Regardless, Courtois is the clear first-choice for Belgium ahead of Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet. When the 24-year-old is at his very best, there are not many players in world football who can rival his abilities.
Eden Hazard (Captain; 65 caps, 13 goals)
Very few players possess the talent to make the beautiful game appear simple as Eden Hazard so often can. He is a beautifully gifted technician, his adroit footwork, seamless movement and bewildering low sense of gravity forms the components of one of the most accomplished players in the game.
For most of 2015-16, Hazard was the embodiment of Chelsea’s collective downfall, but towards the closing stages of the season we were reminded of his true talent. His goals against Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool were two of the best moments of the season, and a sincere reminder that the club should use every power it possesses to ensure that the Belgian remains at Stamford Bridge next season.
Belgium are reliant on Chelsea’s maestro in almost equal measure as the Blues; his significance to the national side is exemplified by Marc Wilmots’s decision to award the 25-year-old with the captaincy.
After a disappointing World Cup in Brazil, great things are expected from Belgium. This could be Eden Hazard’s opportunity to testify his game-changing abilities on the international stage.
When: June 11, 2016, 20:00 BST; 3pm EDT
Where: Stade Vélodrome, Marseille
When: June 16, 2016, 14:00 BST; 9am EDT
Where: Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens
When: June 20, 2016, 20:00 BST; 3pm EDT
Where: Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne
Gary Cahill (Vice-captain; 43 caps)
The last four and a half years no doubt exceeded Gary Cahill’s wildest expectations at the time of his transfer to Chelsea from Bolton. Almost 200 appearances and having won almost every major trophy available to him, Cahill has also established himself as an England stalwart and successful vice-captain.
In the common refrain, Cahill’s 2015-16 was rather horrendous, wherein his defensive deficiencies were often exposed. But in the right system and with the right center back partner, Cahill's consistency, nose for goal, and experience can be vital towards sustained success.
Roy Hodgson picked a technically gifted, especially from an attacking perspective, England side, but defensively, they aren’t so assured. There will be considerable reliance and challenge placed on the shoulders of Gary Cahill as England navigate the threats posed by the likes of Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Marek Hamšík.