Guardian writers’ predicted position: 1st (NB: this is not necessarily Paul Doyle’s prediction, but the average of our writers’ tips)

Last season’s position: 3rd

Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 19-10

This season José Mourinho has no excuses. Last term he could legitimately claim that his club was in transition, although his incessant insistence that Chelsea could not win the league still seemed ill-judged – after all, every other team in the league looked incomplete too.

When Chelsea whacked Tottenham Hotspur 4-0 in early March, they stood top of the table with nine games to go and had control of the title race: to have then surrendered it by losing to Aston Villa, Sunderland and Crystal Palace (and drawing at home to Norwich) left Mourinho looking not quite a specialist in failure but at least a little inadequate. A third successive season without silverware for him would give a greater ring of truth to the chant that the Portuguese is not special any more. But it could be Mourinho who is crowing at the end of this season because he appears to have made good use of the summer, repairing most of the flaws in last season’s side.

Mourinho has always built his teams on an iron spine and his strengthening of this team’s backbone began in January, when the club swallowed its pride and re-signed Nemanja Matic. The Serb immediately gave Chelsea the dominant central midfield presence that they had lacked since the departure of Michael Ballack, the dwindling of Michael Essien and the injury to Marco Van Ginkel. With Matic available from the start of the campaign, Cesc Fábregas joining and the fit-again Van Ginkel impressing in pre-season, there should be no sign of the void that sometimes appeared in the middle of Chelsea’s midfield last term.

It will be especially interesting to see exactly what the arrival of Fábregas means. At times last season Chelsea were at their most attractive when they had three schemers flitting behind a lone striker but there was always the sense that such frippery was against Mourinho’s nature and the arrival of the ex-Arsenal captain may herald a return to a version of the 4-3-3 that he has previously preferred. A central trio of, say, Matic, Oscar and Fábregas could ensure midfield dominance against most opponents.

Having said that, it was surely the character more than the shape of his side that alarmed Mourinho most as the young attacking midfielders suffered from inconsistency, with Oscar fading towards the end of the season and Eden Hazard, though at times spellbinding, still unable to prove decisive as often as demanded. There was a recurring flakiness about Chelsea that must have enraged their manager, who seemed impotent to prevent relapses. If Mourinho’s management works as it is supposed to, Oscar and Hazard, as well as André Schürrle, Willian, Ramires and Mohamed Salah, should all become even better this time around.

Chelsea’s biggest problem last season was, of course, their lack of a deadly striker. Mourinho was unable to stimulate improvements from Fernando Torres, Demba Ba or Samuel Eto’o and that, along with occasionally negative tactics, explained why Chelsea failed to score in 21% of their Premier League matches. The manager has to make his club’s £32m investment in Diego Costa work. On the face of it, the Spain international looks the sort of centre-forward Mourinho adores, a spearhead who can also serve as a bludgeon; a proper killer.

Didier Drogba has been lured back to provide first-hand tuition. Mourinho seems to view Romelu Lukaku as too skittish for his tastes and the huge fee offered by Everton makes the sale logical but, unless another striker joins in August, Chelsea will be as worryingly dependent on Costa as West Ham were on Andy Carroll. The Spain international has to hit the ground running and avoid injury.

While Costa is obviously crucial, there is also an onus on Mourinho to further harness the creativity within his squad, as his strikers’ bluntness was not the only reason why Chelsea often toiled against teams who sat deep against them: no one had a better record than Mourinho’s men against sides in the top half last year but six sides recorded more points against teams in the bottom half, with Chelsea winning just 13 of 20 matches.

If Chelsea do figure out how to score more then the league could be theirs for the taking, as there is no reason why they should not again have the tightest defence in the league. The return-to-form of John Terry was one of the great boons of the club’s last campaign and Mourinho will no doubt hope that the former England captain can prolong his solid partnership with Gary Cahill, though if the years finally wear Terry down there are plenty of other options, including Branislav Ivanovic or the highly promising youngsters Tomas Kalas, Kurt Zouma and Kenneth Ormeru. The full-back berths look secure too, as César Azpilicueta, immaculate on the left last term, could shift across to accommodate new signing Felipe Luís.

As to who should play behind them, Mourinho must choose between two of the world’s best goalkeepers. Petr Cech has proven to be one of the best recruits of the Roman Abramovich era and has done little to suggest he is in urgent need of replacing – and yet the brilliance of young Thibaut Courtois means Mourinho would be entitled to give Cech the Iker Casillas treatment, albeit in a way that does not contaminate the dressing room. Leaving out either of these goalkeepers seems wrong, yet in a sense it is a decision that Mourinho can only get right, since the result is an excellent goalkeeper between the posts.

If Mourinho starts banging on about little horses again this season, he will be talking out of his ass.