Amidst the national and global confusion over quarantining and social distancing guidelines, the Premier League returns to our television screens this weekend.
With summer spending limited for some clubs due to the financial implications of COVID-19, Chelsea and Roman Abramovich have taken full advantage and their business has fans licking their lips ahead of the 2020/21 campaign.
Whilst Jurgen Klopp has bemoaned the spending spree Chelsea have embarked on this summer, Liverpool’s use of the Coutinho money draws very similar parallels to how Chelsea have spent the Eden Hazard money here.
Whether the spending angers rivals or not, Chelsea have conducted outstanding business in the transfer market, and that can’t be disputed. A title challenge may just be out of reach this season, but the Blues should be closing the gap to frontrunners Liverpool and Man City, whilst pulling away from the likes of Tottenham and Arsenal.
The opening game of the Blues’ Premier League season is a trip to the Amex to face a Brighton side who may well be buoyed by their own shrewd summer business.
Three points are essential, and Frank Lampard will be hoping to get a head start on the two Manchester clubs who both don’t play on the opening weekend.
Likely Line-Up vs Brighton
The deal for Edouard Mendy hasn’t yet been completed, so it will almost certainly be Kepa Arrizabalaga in net for the Blues against the Seagulls on Monday night.
Despite having the worst save percentage in the entire Premier League last season, Willy Caballero will be 39 by the end of September and therefore it’s likely that Kepa will be given the chance to fight for his place in the starting XI.
With Ben Chilwell still slightly suffering with the heel injury he picked up against Crystal Palace in July, and currently working his way back to fitness, Reece James on the right and Cesar Azpilicueta as a left-back may well be the duo of choice for the opening few weeks of the season.
Both will be fighting for the right-back spot once Chilwell returns to match fitness, but James impressed in the friendly against Brighton a few weeks ago, and his attacking prowess might have nudged him ahead in that particular race.
Excitement surrounding Thiago Silva has been palpable, and his defensive nous will surely help fix Chelsea’s leaky defence to an extent. However, due to his participation in the Champions League final and travel restrictions, he will only begin training with the first-team over the weekend and hence won’t feature on the opening day.
Therefore, Kurt Zouma, who was viewed as the most reliable centre-back at the club before Silva arrived, will be partnered by one of Andreas Christensen or Antonio Rudiger.
Fikayo Tomori’s potential loan move to Everton is currently in the works and Ethan Ampadu has already left for Sheffield United for the season, leaving one of Christensen and Rudiger as the most likely partner for Zouma against the Seagulls.
N’Golo Kante looked back to his best on France duty last week and his transformation into a No. 6 in Lampard’s 4-3-3 system, replacing Jorginho post-lockdown in that role, looks set to continue this season, starting with the game against Brighton.
Mateo Kovacic will miss the game due to a one-match suspension from his red card in the FA Cup final, so it will be between Jorginho and Mason Mount for who starts alongside Kante and Kai Havertz, and it totally depends on whether Lampard opts for a 4-3-3 (Mount will start) or a 4-2-3-1 (Jorginho will start).
Chelsea fans, start getting excited. Havertz has reportedly impressed hugely in training since his move from Bayer Leverkusen, and Lampard is keen to give him a role from the off against Brighton.
Christian Pulisic has made a far quicker recovery from the hamstring injury that he sustained in the cup final than the club anticipated and he is back training and is likely to feature; possibly from the start, most likely off the bench.
With Hakim Ziyech still struggling with the knee injury he picked up in the pre-season friendly against Brighton a few weeks ago, Callum Hudson-Odoi will be rewarded with a place in the starting XI, playing in his slightly less favoured right wing slot.
Pulisic has no match fitness so it’ll highly likely to be new signing Timo Werner starting on the left, with Olivier Giroud hoping to maintain his end of season form through the middle.
Werner formed a deadly combination with Leipzig target man Yusuf Poulsen last campaign, notching 28 goals and eight assists in the Bundesliga, and Lampard will hope that this can be replicated with Giroud this campaign.
Chelsea Season Prediction
At the moment, it’s incredibly difficult to fully understand how this new-look Chelsea side will gel together and function as a squad, rather than as individually talented players.
That’s the hard task Lampard will have in the early weeks of the season, and Liverpool’s visit to Stamford Bridge in matchweek two should provide us with a far greater understanding of Chelsea’s capabilities this season.
That being said, I envisage a third-place finish for the Blues, with the gap to the top two minimised to less than 10 points. Along with perhaps a cup victory, that would be deemed a successful season, and one that can be built upon in 2021/22.
Timo Werner will hit the ground running, and Kai Havertz could well be a contender for signing of the season if he is able to replicate the form he showed at the back end of last season for Bayer Leverkusen