There is nothing quite like the opening day of a new Premier League season. The intrigue, the anticipation, the hope. It is all so palpable.
Chelsea’s top-flight campaign begins at Stamford Bridge against Crystal Palace this afternoon. A traditional 3pm kick-off feels the ideal way to start, although Thomas Tuchel would certainly not have grumbled had this fixture been pushed back to Sunday.
The reality is Chelsea’s players go into this game either under-cooked or overworked. Wednesday’s UEFA Super Cup Super Cup victory resulted in further silverware being added to the Blues’ trophy cabinet but at a cost of 120 minutes of match action and penalties.
“We have to be careful,” Tuchel explained yesterday at his pre-match press conference. “If the recommendation is for some to do 60-70 minutes, whom do we push to do 90? It is hard to predict the physical demands from tomorrow’s game and the decisions are not made yet.
“We will take our time and take the last decisions tomorrow. We have one more night, this is maybe the most important thing to have good sleep to eat good, drink good and overcome some difficult moments tomorrow physically.
“Will it be tough? Will we be tired? Of course. Is it a close match to the final? Yes. All the reasons are there but it is our demand to ourselves to overcome these obstacles and not complain about them.
“We want to be in the best shape possible and we will have in mind that this is not the same that we are in six weeks, but for tomorrow we want to reach the 100% possible to be able to beat Crystal Palace.”
Tuchel is not able to call on the services of club-record signing Romelu Lukaku for this game; the Belgian striker is currently in quarantine having arrived from Italy on Wednesday. Hakim Ziyech is also ruled out having injured his shoulder against Villarreal.
So who can Tuchel turn to start and overcome Palace?
Kepa Arrizabalaga was Chelsea’s hero in midweek; the Spaniard saved two penalties in the shootout against Villarreal to ensure the Blues’ lifted the Super Cup.
However, the world’s most expensive goalkeeper will almost certainly be on the substitutes’ bench for the visit of Palace with Edouard Mendy starting once again.
Kurt Zouma was brought off in the second half of Wednesday’s game and so will be ready to start in the middle of the back three once more. Antonio Rudiger should be fit to take his place as the left centre-back.
Who is used on the right of the defence is intriguing: Cesar Azpilicueta and Andreas Christensen are both available while Trevoh Chalobah produced a hugely impressive display against Villarreal.
If Chalobah is ready to go after playing 120 minutes on Wednesday, he deserves to keep his place in the side.
With Reece James not yet up to speed, Callum Hudson-Odoi should keep his spot at wing-back. On the opposite flank, Ben Chilwell may be handed his first start in a competitive game since the Champions League final back in May. The England international will not be able to play the full game, though.
With N’Golo Kante a doubt – Tuchel said the midfielder has “some issues” in his pre-match press conference – the pairing will have to be Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho. Whether both have 90 minutes in their legs is another decision for Tuchel to make.
Christian Pulisic didn’t start on Wednesday so should be fresh and ready for the Eagles’ visit. Timo Werner, meanwhile, is likely to play through the middle and the German will hope to have a bigger impact than he did in the Super Cup.
Who starts on the left is a quandary Tuchel must solve. Mason Mount has played just twice since returning from his summer holidays while Kai Havertz was out on his feet by the end of the 120 minutes against Villarreal.
Mount’s base fitness level is hugely impressive; he played more minutes than any other Chelsea player by a distance last season. And that may just sway Tuchel’s thinking when it comes to selecting his side.
Predicted Chelsea XI vs Crystal Palace (3-4-2-1): Mendy; Chalobah, Zouma, Rudiger; Hudson-Odoi, Kovacic, Jorginho, Chilwell; Pulisic, Werner, Mount
Source by Football London