Saturday, 23rd August, 1500 hrs UTC
Stamford Bridge, London
It is finally back and back in some fashion. The opening weekend of the Premier League saw some very hard-fought matches as seen in the fact that the only team to score more than goals on the opening weekend were the Blues, one of them already possibly a Goal of the Season contender as they cruised to a 3-1 comeback win vs newcomers Burnley and their Ginger Mourinho. Meanwhile, Leicester had a very difficult fixture versus Everton though it proved to be an unexpected draw, with the Foxes equalizing at the very end through Chris Wood.
Only two home teams (Arsenal & Liverpool) managed to win on the opening weekend – both snatching 2-1 wins vs Crystal Palace and Southampton, respectively. If anything, this should give Nigel Pearson and his side some joy because otherwise, it is looking all Chelsea as the Blues, fresh off of that dominant showing at Turf Moor will be looking to entertain their fans with a kind of football that looks set to dazzle as well as provide victories.
Team news and tactics
Their last match – though Jose would not confirm it himself – perhaps cemented the hierarchy at Chelsea as far as goalkeepers go; move over Petr Cech, there’s a new kid in town. 199cm-tall Thibaut Courtois found himself starting a professional game for Chelsea for the first ever time though he has been registered as their player since 2011. 3 seasons on loan at Atletico Madrid have helped him blossom into one of the best goalkeepers in the world and undoubtedly the best of his age group. Whether Cech will be content to be rotated occasionally is something yet to be seen as Jose said his ‘number one’ choice of Courtois was ‘only for the match and not the season’. But he did compare this to the dilemma of 2004 between a fan favorite experienced goalkeeper and a 22-year-old youngster – and we all know who established himself as #1 in that case and if Cech’s Chelsea career must come to an end because of Courtois, it will be for the greater good of leaving Chlesea’s posts in the large hands of a top-class keeper for the next 10 years.
The dilemma for Mourinho, however, still persists at fullback positions. He went with the exact same defence that was so hard to break down last season – Ivanovic and rightback-playing-at-leftback Azpilicueta. However, Chelsea have signed Filipe Luis – one of the world’s best leftbacks last season at Atletico and it will be interesting to see if he gets a home debut for the Blues. Ivanovic was involved in all 3 goals v Burnley but was suspect defensively, getting turned too easily too often. Azpilicueta does offer more on his natural flank though he does not have the physical presence and set-piece threat of the big Serb. Ivanovic was Chelsea’s most used player in the league last season but Mourinho also said a ‘team of 11 Azpilicuetas could win the Champions League’, in awe of the Spaniard’s passion and commitment on field. Of course, as Mourinho said, the first few starting XIs of the season are not conclusive.
In other positions, the players should be the same as the game v Burnley. Cesc Fabregas – Man of the Match in that 3-1 win – will start and consolidate his partnership with another big Serb, Nemanja Matic in midfield while Costa will definitely look to add to his goal tally already and endear himself further to the Stamford Bridge faithful. Behind the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard, Oscar and Hazard look set to start. Hazard is this team’s golden boy but Oscar is more vital to the functioning of the team. The new No. 8 offers a flexibility in midfield that allows Fabregas to play that little bit more naturally. On the right side, World Cup winner Schurrle struck a fantastic understanding with Cesc in his ability to run beyond the defence, but Jose could give Willian a start and assess him before deciding on a first choice right winger.
There are no injuries in the Chelsea first team while Ramires returns from suspension.
Possible lineup (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Terry, Luis; Matic, Fabregas; Schurrle, Oscar, Hazard; Costa
Finally back in the top flight after a decade down under, Nigel Pearson’s Foxes will have their confidence quite high after that last-gasp draw vs ex-Chelsea striker Lukaku’s Everton at the King Power Stadium last week. However, it came at a price. Midfielder Danny Drinkwater was forced off with an injury less than 40 minutes into the match. The 24 year old played 3812 minutes in the Championship for Leicester last season and is definitely their most influential players, having been votes the Championship’s Player of the Year for 2013/14 too. In Drinkwater’s absence, 31-year-old Dean Hammond could be drafted into central midfield. Hammond also replaced his fellow Englishman vs Everton when Drinkwater got injured.
The one to really look out for, for Leicester if they are to get anything from the Blue’s near-impenetrable fortress at the Bridge, is winger Anthony Knockaert. The Frenchman is Leicester’s answer to an Eden Hazard: exciting, dynamic, young and an easy-on-the-eye matchwinner. The 22 year old can play on both flanks just as easily and with Marc Albrighton – returning from injury – on the other flank, Leicester’s primary source of threat to the Blues will come from out wide.
Also returning from injury is one of the club’s top scorers from last season – Jamie Vardy. However, the club splashed a record fee of 8 million on Argentinean Leonardo Ulloa and the big centre-forward should pair David Nugent up top. Along with Danny Drinkwater, Matty James is also out with a shin injury sustained in training as well as Matthew Upson who once upon a time scored for England in the World Cup Round of 16.
Teams like Leicester City were what frustrated Jose Mourinho’s side last season and though they have added key attacking players, Leicester could yet frustrate Chelsea, as they have a potent team, though it looks highly inexperienced on paper.
Possible lineup (4-4-2): Schmeichel, de Laet, Morgan, Moore, Konchesky; Albrighton, King, Hammond, Knockaert; Nugent, Ulloa.
Player to Watch out for
Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea)
After announcing his return to the Premier League in outstanding fashion vs Burnley, Cesc Fabregas will look to produce a similar, if not better performance on his home debut for the blue team in London. The deal happened very quickly and it took the ex-Arsenal captain only 20 minutes of Jose Mourinho to convince him that Chelsea were the team for him. However quick it was, Fabregas seems the most important signing for Chelsea and could turn out to be the buy of the season. He has slotted in seamlessly back into the Premier League and in the Chelsea team, alongside Nemanja Matic but forming fantastic understanding with all of his teammates, which is spectacular given the number of days he has been at the club. Fabregas dictates the tempo of Chelsea’s play, forcing his teammates to be faster when needed and slowing it down when necessary. He has a spectacular set piece on him and has extremely quick thinking – as exemplified in the fabulous 2nd goal vs Burnley where he looked like he was going to shoot on the half volley but saw Schurrle making a run and produced a fine pass for the German to score. The Spaniard will look to add to his assist tally and possibly get on the scoresheet if possible and perhaps make Arsene Wenger regret that he passed on his old protege.
- Chelsea have won all of the last 6 meetings between the clubs in all competitions, the last one a 5-2 win in the FA Cup quarterfinals in 2012. Chelsea went on to win the cup that season.
- Fernando Torres ended his 24-game goal drought in the aforementioned fixture with a brace.
- This is Nigel Pearson’s 2nd stint at Leicester. In his first reign, he led the Foxes to promotion from League One to the Championship.
- Despite being only 27 years old, Cesc Fabregas already has 72 assists to his name in the Premier League. 70 of them came between June 2004 and May 2011. Chelsea legend Frank Lampard had the exact same number of assists in the same period too.
Chelsea 4-0 Leicester
Though the Foxes started relatively well vs Everton, this Chelsea side has an absolute plethora of attacking talent and with players like Fabregas, Hazard and Costa, have various styles in which they can pick a defence apart. Ultimately, the Foxes may have held the Blues from Merseyside to a draw, but away at Stamford Bridge and against the best defence in the league last season, it does not look a likely result vs the Blues from London. And if Jose Mourinho’s side are to really win the title as the hype suggests, these are the teams they need to dispatch with relative ease.