LONDON (AP) – With new manager Andre Villas-Boas staying out of the transfer market, Chelsea embarks on its bid to wrest the Premier League title from Manchester United with the same aging squad that underperformed in a trophyless campaign last season.
Hired in June as a replacement for the fired Carlo Ancelotti, the 33-year-old Villas-Boas brings freshness and dynamism to a London club that appeared stale and in need of reinvigoration.
However, despite having money to spend under billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich, the Portuguese coach has brought in just two signings - backup goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois from Belgian side Genk and unheralded midfielder Oriol Romeu from Barcelona - choosing instead to sit tight and assess the merits of the players he inherited.
There are concerns that key players John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba - all 30-somethings - are entering the twilight of their successful careers, but Villas-Boas is prepared to keep faith in a trio that has been the backbone of the team for the past seven years.
''These are players who deserve this respect from me,'' Villas-Boas said. ''These players have won a lot but still have hunger for success.''
Terry, Lampard and Drogba are sure to remain influential members of the dressing room but Villas-Boas, who has to deliver instant success to survive the ax from the demanding Abramovich, needs other high-profile players to step up.
One of those is Fernando Torres, who scored just one goal in 18 games after his 50 million pound ($81 million) transfer from Liverpool in January.
With a full preseason under his belt, much is expected of the Spain striker.
''I haven't forgotten (how) to score goals. I will score,'' Torres said.
Whether to start Torres on his own or play him alongside Drogba was a quandary that proved beyond Ancelotti, who was fired at the end of his second season in charge despite winning the league-FA Cup double in his first year. It is a dilemma Villas-Boas needs to solve quickly if the goals are to flow this season.
A lack of creativity in midfield is also a concern for the new manager.
Heavily linked with a raid on former club FC Porto for Portugal midfielder Joao Moutinho, Villas-Boas has also been unsuccessful in a summer move for Tottenham playmaker Luka Modric, indicating his desire to add some imagination to that department.
With Michael Essien not set to return until the start of 2012 because of a knee injury, John Obi Mikel is likely to assume the holding-role duties and will look to impose more of an influence than he did last season.
Not only is there pressure on Villas-Boas to bring immediate silverware to Stamford Bridge, he must do so in stylish fashion - just as he vowed the week after he took over.
''It's not just a question of winning, but winning with a certain flair,'' Villas-Boas said. ''Everyone likes attacking football ... Our philosophy is that it should be an entertaining game for the fans.''
Chelsea finished nine points behind United last season and Villas-Boas believes Alex Ferguson's side is the team to beat again this season.
''I think Man United as the titleholders will be a reference for everybody but you can see the amount of activity Manchester City have had in the market. It's pretty clear they have a title objective as well,'' he said.
''Liverpool did more or less the same, Tottenham want to get back into the top four so they'll be challenging and Arsenal are always a threat.''
With such fierce competition at the top of the league, winning the title will be harder then ever this season and it is a tough baptism for Villas-Boas, who was bought out of his contract at Porto by Abramovich at a reported cost of 13 million pounds ($21 million) and returns to a club where he was a scout between 2004-07.
However, he showed last year at Porto - where he won the league, cup and Europa League in an unbeaten season - that he is a coach of rare quality.
And after the glory years of Jose Mourinho, Villas-Boas' mentor, Chelsea fans will hope another golden era is just around the corner.