By, Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @Aryhorblublood)
VENUE: STAMFORD BRIDGE
First things first, welcome to the 2017/2018 English football season from yours truly. With that out of the way, let’s get down to the business of previewing Chelsea’s first league match of the season against The Clarets at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Preparations towards the start of this season hasn’t been as smooth as many of us hoped, with just three outfield players coming in, a pale figure compared to the number that left, but we should still be too strong for The Clarets come Saturday.
Funnily, this is one of the fixtures where Chelsea is still trailing in the overall head to head statistics with Burnley boasting 33 wins to Chelsea’s 23, but the good thing about this fixture for Chelsea fans is that we’ve never lost any of our meetings with Burnley in the Premier League era. As a matter of fact, we have come out with all three points in four of the six times we’ve faced the Turf Moor outfit with the remaining two ending with honours even. Another interesting stat about this fixture is that it’s yet to record its first scoreless stalemate in the Premier League era. This match also bodes well for the Chelsea because the last time we played Burnley on the opening day was during the 2014/2015 season and we all know how we steamrolled to the title that season. Hopefully, three points on Saturday will be the first on the long road to another league title come May 2018.
With the Community Shield and the Premier League being two different entities, Pedro’s red card on Sunday will not have any effect whatsoever on his inclusion for the season opener on Saturday which will be welcome news for Antonio Conte who is sure to be without two of his key contributors to last season’s title triumph in the injured Eden Hazard and suspended Victor Moses. It should be a straight forward lineup that takes to the pitch on Saturday. Judging by his performance on Sunday, I won’t be surprised if Pedro was to start from the bench (I think his fitness level isn’t up to scratch just yet having had his preseason disrupted by that injury against Arsenal in China) with one of Morata, Boga or Musonda taking his place on the left side of our attack while Willian takes care of things on the right. One of Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen will be drafted into the defense to fill in for the suspended Victor Moses either at WB or at RCB with Azpilicueta deputizing at WB. Kante and Fabregas looks set to continue their partnership in central midfield pending the return of injured new boy Tiemoue Bakayoko or the signing of Danny Drinkwater (or whoever) to help fill the vacuum created by the sale of Nemanja Matic to Manchester United. I think Michy Batshuayi did enough in the Shield loss to Arsenal to merit a start at the pinnacle of our attack.
UPDATE: Antonio Conte has mentioned in his Friday press conference that Pedro will not play due to an injury he picked up in the Community Shield
Last Five Matches: DLLWLW
Injuries: Eden Hazard (Ankle) – Out; Timoue Bakayoko (Knee) – Out
Sean Dyche will have almost a new look eleven from the last time they faced Chelsea with something of an exodus taking place at the Turf Moor outfit with four of their starting eleven in February, Michael Keane, George Boyd, Joey Barton and Andre Gray having moved on to pastures new. But they still have record signing, Robby Brady in their ranks along with the likes of Ashley Barnes and Tom Heaton. Dyche showed his astuteness in the transfer market by bringing in Jonathan Walters and Charlie Taylor from Stoke and Leeds respectively. In that game at Turf Moor back in February, Dyche set his team up in a 4-4-2 formation with his midfielders and defenders denying our forwards space to operate and looking to play the quick ball over the top to their front two of Andre Gray and Ashley Barnes whenever they had the ball. That worked very well for them in the end as they got a point for their trouble but he might be looking to do something different on Saturday given how horrendous their away form was last season. He still has the ruggedness of Ashley Barnes and the prowess of Brady in set piece situations, but how he sets his team up on Saturday will depend on what he thinks he can get out of the game, and I know Antonio Conte will be under no illusion about how difficult a fixture this will be.
Injuries: Dean Marney (ACL) – Out
Last 5 matches: WWDWW
Cesar Azpilicueta vs. Robbie Brady
Cesar Azpilicueta will surely have his hands full with Robby Brady go up and down that left flank if, as I expect, that’s where Sean Dyche decides to deploy him. He’s got a wicked left foot on him and with both Jon Walters and Ashley Barnes to aim for he’ll be looking to put in a cross at every opportunity he gets. If anyone can limit the impact of Brady though it’s certainly Dave.
Michy Batshuayi vs. Ben Mee
This is David versus Goliath in the making with the Burnley defender having at least two feet on Batman. But history has taught us time and again that size hardly matters in football and Michy more than held his own against a taller Per Mertesacker on Sunday. So, I guess we’ll see how Batshuayi fairs against the tall Ben Mee on Saturday.
David Luiz vs. Jon Walters
Jon Walters is a familiar foe to David Luiz and indeed most Chelsea defenders, and he has his fair share of goals against Chelsea. But on Saturday David Luiz must be focused on how to stop the fast and equally tricky Walters if we’re to protect our proud opening day record.
Antonio Conte will look to keep the long Chelsea opening day unbeaten run going when he send his team out to battle on Saturday against a new and refurbished Burnley side with one eye firmly on the trip to Wembley to face Spurs a week on Sunday. With Moses, Hazard and Bakayoko unavailable for this one we should still have enough in the tank to get the three points on offer and extend and make it nine wins and two draws in the last 11 opening day fixtures, the best record in the league. Until next week, Keep The Blue Flag Flying High Blues!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: A Stamford Bridge Too Far
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