It’s back! The Premier League returns and with it our detailed match preview, courtesy of club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton…
Top-class football, beguiling and capricious like the sea, is playing around us again. We’re about to take the deep plunge again, unsure if the water will be unusually cool for the time of year or surprisingly warm.
A season separated from the Winter World Cup begins with Chelsea under new ownership, the squad has changed significantly from last season. Still, of top-flight regulars, only Manchester United (2.13 points per game) has a better record than London’s opening-weekend average of 2.10. Saturday night’s win would mark a third straight win for the Blues, who have sent Brighton and Crystal Palace through the last two campaigns.
Our earliest league start ever (the previous being the Zola-inspired 4-0 win over Sunderland on 7 August 1999) begins at Goodison Park, an hapless hunting ground in recent years. It is the second visit there in six league games for the world champions.
Last season came at the height of the Toffees’ resurgence under Frank Lampard, the all-time great Chelsea player, as fans gave flares to greet the home-team manager. The winner came from the now departed Richarlison and the Blues have lost just three more away games in the league in the 28 played under Thomas Tuchel.
Chelsea squad news
Chelsea are aiming for their 20th win of 31 Premier League starters this season and two of their first three games involve opponents who finished four and three points above relegation last season.
As impressive as Chelsea are against our Blues colleagues at Stamford Bridge, their recent track record on Merseyside is unenviable and includes four straight defeats and five visits without a win. On the other hand, a long-overdue win would give hope to repeat last season’s success: 2016/17, when we became champions.
There are new faces and maybe more before the window closes on September 1st. Central defender Kalidou Koulibaly has already demonstrated presence, ball security and a sense of danger. Raheem Sterling has demonstrated the vision, fluidity and relentless pressing that can bring a cutting edge to the blues approach.
Dynamic Conor Gallagher has returned after a stellar loan season in Crystal Palace midfield. New midfielder Carney Chukwuemeka is another brilliant young talent to impress this season.
How much we should read about the two discreet teams who faced Udinese last weekend is debatable and it should be remembered that Ben Chilwell is still sidelined after a serious injury. A week of training and trading has passed since then.
Tactically too, Thomas Tuchel has briefly experimented with two centre-backs instead of the familiar three and Everton’s apparent lack of attacking options on Saturday could influence his deliberations there. Like all coaches, the Bavarian has the luxury of using five substitutes to change the game pattern. We may see more volatility in the game as a result, but the Blues are hoping that means fewer draws than the 11 recorded last season.
The preseason often mimicked the league campaign just past, with opportunities created but not taken. The Blues’ defense was comparable to last season’s two best but their goal tally was 20 goals behind Liverpool and Man City without establishing any standout attacking partners.
Sterling, prospering for the Citizens, could provide the missing link in that regard and Chelsea have scored more goals against the Toffees (293) in all competitions than any other club.
Everton finished 16th when Chelsea legend Frank Lampard replaced another former Blues manager, Rafael Benitez, in February. Six league wins, two draws and nine defeats later, the Merseysiders were secure.
His key moves have been restoring team morale and reviving a fractured fanbase which, despite the far less frenetic context, will no doubt provide rousing support during Chelsea’s recent visit.
The manager’s summer deals included the departures of Jarrad Branthwaite, Fabian Delph, Jonjoe Kenny, Cenk Tosun, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Richarlison and manager Duncan Ferguson, as well as Burnley centre-back James Tarkowski and winger Dwight McNeill and left-back Ruben Vinagre on loan from Sporting Lisbon , notable additions.
This summer, Ashley Cole has been tasked with improving one of the worst top-flight records for defending set pieces, with Tarkowski and long-absent Yerry Mina and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (if available) likely to help.
Lampard warned they would face another difficult season without further reinforcements, but the Toffees have burst from the blocks in the last two campaigns and have claimed three straight wins – most recently achieved by the club in 1993/94 – before quickly falling off the pace.
What the Merseysiders don’t want is a repeat of last season’s troubles, including the lengthy list of absentees. They are already facing a weekend without Salomon Rondon (suspended) and his fellow leading striker Calvert-Lewin.
First day of school
Chelsea’s season begins in a prime-time TV slot. The Blues won four of our five Saturday 5.30pm starts in all competitions last season, drawing the other – in Liverpool – with 10 men. However, the most recent was already in January.
The Londoners have won 18 of the last 23 league opening games and were undisputed champions of the game between 1999 and 2016, going 18 consecutive campaigns unbeaten. Since then we’ve won three and lost two, the last four of them away.
The last four Premier League opening games
2021 – Crystal Palace away – W 3-0
2020 – Brighton Away – W 3-1
2019 – Manchester Utd away – L 0-4
2018 – Huddersfield away – W 3-0
Flying out of the traps
Summer signing Raheem Sterling is one of just 10 players to score a hat-trick in the opening weekend of the Premier League and put West Ham to the sword three years ago.
The last Chelsea player to score in the opening game of the season on his league debut was Jorginho, who scored from the penalty spot in the 3-0 win at Huddersfield in August 2018.
Opening day goals by league debutants since 1992
Jorginho – Huddersfield – 2018/19
Alvaro Morata – Burnley home – 2017/18
Diego Costa – Burnley away – 2014/15
Deco – House Portsmouth – 2008/09
Claudio Pizarro – Birmingham native – 2007/08
Florent Malouda – Birmingham native – 2007/08
Juan Veron – Liverpool away – 2003/04
Bolo Zenden – Newcastle home – 2001/02
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink – West Ham House – 2000/01
Mario Stanic (2) – West Ham home game – 2000/01
Tore Andre Flo – Coventry away – 1997/98
Paul Furlong – Norwich home – 1994/95
Gavin Peacock – Blackburn House – 1993/94
Mick Harford – House of Oldham – 1992/93
The Goodison Curse
Chelsea were unbeaten at Everton between November 2000 and February 2010 and have won just three times in their last 14 league games at Goodison Park, most recently 3-0 in the 2016/17 title-winning campaign, sealed with an impressive second-half mark. The back and forth 6: 3 in 2014 – a meeting in August – and the brace of the current Toffees boss Frank Lampard in December 2012 at 2: 1 form the rare threesome.
In fact, after six of the last nine league games and four straight seasons, we’ve come away empty-handed. The Blues’ only worse Premier League sequence came on the Merseyside red side: losing six in a row at Liverpool between 1992 and 1997.
However, on the opening day of the 1919–20 season, the first game of the Football League after World War I, Chelsea didn’t give Chelsea much of a chance. The Pensioners (1914/15 19th) made headlines when they defeated the Toffees, pre-war champions of the league, 3-2.
Chelsea’s current bogeyman
Anfield – one win out of seven
Goodison Park – lost the last four
Old Trafford – nine without a win
A new era
This is the first game owned by the Boehly-Clearlake consortium – Chelsea FC’s fourth independent owner since 1905/06. The Pensioners started that inaugural season with a narrow defeat at Stockport but finished a respectable third place in the Second Division before earning promotion a year later.
Seven decades later, in 1982/83, Ken Bates’ full season as club boss began with debutant Bryan “Pop” Robson’s winner at Cambridge, but the campaign ended with the Blues finishing our all-time low in the league ladder: the 18th place in Division Two.
Roman Abramovich’s tenure began with a 2-0 win in Champions League qualifiers against Zilina in 2003/04, followed by an encouraging 2-1 win at Liverpool. Could Merseyside be the setting for the perfect start again?
Matchday One Premier League games
Crystal Palace v Arsenal 8pm (Sky Sports)
Fulham-Liverpool 12:30pm (BT Sport)
Bournemouth v Aston Villa 3pm
Leeds v Wolves 3pm
Newcastle v Nottingham Forest 3pm
Tottenham v Southampton 3pm
Everton-Chelsea 5:30pm (Sky Sports)
Leicester v Brentford 2pm
Man Utd v Brighton 2pm (Sky Sports)
West Ham v Man City 4:30pm (Sky Sports)