THE dawn of another Premier League season is now upon us, with no shortage of tantalising questions weighing heavily on some of the country’s biggest clubs.
Manchester United will be wondering whether, after another shrewd yet conservative summer, they are strong enough to prevent bitter rivals Manchester City establishing an era of domestic domination.
Arsenal are still waiting to see if their most impressive transfer window in recent memory is sufficient to convince wantaway captain Robin van Persie he can fulfil his sky-high ambitions in north London after all.
Liverpool, meanwhile, are desperately hoping new boss Brendan Rodgers can bring more than a dash of continental magic — in philosophy if not in personnel — to an industrious but limited group of players and create a side of real substance.
But it is at Stamford Bridge, more than anywhere else, where the questions reign supreme.
When the “Miracle of Munich” made Chelsea Kings of Europe for the first time in their history back in May, the triumph provided a fitting conclusion to the most successful era in the club’s history. In the months that followed, the challenge was to lay the foundations for another which could match or even surpass it.
Roman Abramovich has put his mind — and his wallet — to the task. Around €80 million has been splashed out to bring a handful of bright young talents to supplement a squad already bolstered by €230 million worth of signings over the past two years.
Lille golden boy Eden Hazard was persuaded to shun the rest of the continent’s elite in favour of a move to west London, and was swiftly joined by his younger brother Thorgan. Internacional playmaker Oscar put pen to paper before his virtuoso displays at London 2012 could spark a bidding war, while Marko Marin also arrived from Werder Bremen.
At the same time, the gradual culling of the old guard continued. Didier Drogba, his Blues legacy secured beyond doubt after his Allianz Arena heroics, left for China and Shanghai Shenhua, while Jose Bosingwa and Salomon Kalou were also eased out of the door.
In terms of the raw numbers, this summer is only slightly above average when placed in the context of other transfer windows in the Abramovich era. But in reality it represents the most drastic transformation of the team since the Russian first opened his cheque book in 2003.
Plenty to be excited about, then. But also plenty of room for uncertainty.
The departure of Drogba, coupled with the arrivals of Hazard, Oscar, Marin and Juan Mata before them, has moved Chelsea away from the direct, powerful, ruthless winning machine which reached its height of efficiency under Jose Mourinho and closer to an equally deadly but more thrilling entity which will satisfy fans, neutrals and owner alike. In theory, at least.
For it is Roberto Di Matteo who must make this ideal a reality. The man who united a lost dressing room and won the Blues their first Champions League last term must now succeed where predecessor Andre Villas-Boas failed and oversee a revolution in style while maintaining the stability of results and trophies.
To do so would arguably constitute an even greater feat than any he has achieved so far, even armed with considerable resources. Both Hazard and Oscar have the ability to light up the Premier League.
But a source of greater anxiety to Di Matteo will be Fernando Torres. For the first time since his €60m move, the Spaniard is indisputably “the man” at Chelsea.
Tomorrow: Fulham v Norwich, Arsenal v Sunderland, QPR v Swansea, West Brom v Liverpool, West Ham v Aston Villa, Reading v Stoke City all at 16:00 and Newcastle v Tottenham 18:30
Sunday: Wigan v Chelsea 14:30 and Manchester City v Southampton 17:00
Monday: Everton v Man United 9:00
Wednesday: Chelsea v Reading 20:45