Chelsea’s attempt to hunt down Manchester City and claim their first Premier League title since 2017 begins tomorrow against Crystal Palace.
Stamford Bridge is expected to be almost full for the Blues’ top-flight opener; that it may not be is down to a delay in installing rail seating across the lower Mathew Harding Stand, as detailed here.
Thomas Tuchel will not find it easy to pick his starting XI as Chelsea’s Super Cup victory over Villarreal on Wednesday night came via penalties after 120 gruelling minutes in Belfast.
The Blues head coach admitted after the game several of his players had been “overused” and that having only two days to prepare for Palace was far from ideal.
Those who featured in Belfast would have yesterday to recover at Cobham. Today’s training session, meanwhile, will help Tuchel decide who is ready to take on Patrick Vieira’s side.
One player who will not feature is new signing Romelu Lukaku, whose move from Inter Milan was finally confirmed yesterday. Hakim Ziyech is also ruled out of the game after injuring his shoulder in the Super Cup.
With all that in mind, plus the varied fitness levels of the Chelsea squad, we asked our Chelsea reporters Adam Newson and Sam Inkersole to name the starting XIs they would go with for tomorrow’s game.
Good luck, gents.
It’s no exaggeration to state this may be the hardest team selection Tuchel faces this season. Quite simply, nobody in his squad will be 100% fit.
What is almost certain is that in goal – despite Kepa Arrizabalga’s penalty heroics in Belfast, will be Edouard Mendy. But now it gets tricky.
Kurt Zouma didn’t play the full 90 in Belfast so I expect he’ll start in the middle of the back three. Antonio Rudiger should be fit for the left-hand spot, meanwhile. At right centre-back, I feel it’s fair to keep faith in Trevoh Chalobah, who was hugely impressive in the Super Cup.
Reece James hasn’t played enough minutes to start against Palace and Cesar Azpilicueta dragged himself through an hour on Wednesday. So I envisage another runout for Callum Hudson-Odoi at right wing-back. If that’s the case it’ll be his 100th Chelsea appearance.
N’Golo Kante will have 90 minutes in his legs and I feel it will be Jorginho alongside the Frenchman, although he’ll not be able to complete the full game.
At left wing-back, I’d give Ben Chilwell the opening 45 minutes and then introduce Marcos Alonso at the interval.
Christian Pulisic undertook all of pre-season and didn’t play the full match against Villarreal so I think he should start on the right of the attacking three.
On the left, it’s between Kai Havertz and Mason Mount. And given the German was out on his feet by the end of the 120 minutes on Wednesday, I’d go with the academy graduate.
Through the middle should be Timo Werner, who struggled in the Super Cup but was replaced on the hour mark so should be fresh.
Adam’s Chelsea side: Mendy; Chalobah, Zouma, Rudiger; Hudson-Odoi, Kante, Jorginho, Chilwell; Pulisic, Werner, Mount
So, the Premier League is back and the nine-month slog for the players and managers gets underway. It barely feels like five minutes since Chelsea ended the last campaign with that glorious night in Porto.
But it is back down to the bread and butter. Pre-season is done, the Blues won the Super Cup in midweek and now Crystal Palace await at Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon in a very rare 3pm kick-off in SW6.
Thomas Tuchel admitted after the game in Belfast against Villarreal that some his players played far more minutes than he would have liked – Jorginho, Mason Mount and Andreas Christensen all made their first appearances of the summer.
At the other end of the spectrum, Thiago Silva, Emerson and Ben Chilwell didn’t play at all. Most, if not all of those mentioned, are unlikely to start on Saturday.
Romelu Lukaku, who completed his £97.5million club-record move from Inter Milan to Chelsea on Thursday, isn’t available as confirmed on the Chelsea official website on Friday morning.
The Blues have a friendly game against Weymouth on Sunday at Cobham where Lukaku could perhaps get a run-out.
So in terms of a team for Palace and ahead of a brutal run of games to kick off the season with, Tuchel has a few selection decisions to make. He won’t want to rush back his late returnees for pre-season with four games against the “Big Six” coming up in quick succession.
Hakim Ziyech will almost certainly miss out after suffering a shoulder injury against Villarreal in midweek, a very disappointing miss for a player who has been one of the Blues’ standout performers in pre-season.
120 gruelling minutes at Windsor Park could come into Tuchel’s thinking as well in terms of his team selection. It was good to get minutes under players’ belts but also, ahead of a new season, not exactly ideal.
With all that in mind, here is the team I think Tuchel will go with tomorrow but to say I am confident this will be what he picks will be the understatement of the season already.
Sam’s Chelsea side: Mendy; Hudson-Odoi, Zouma, Christensen, Rudiger, Alonso; Kante, Kovacic; Pulisic, Werner, Havertz.
Source by Football London