With new campaign on the horizon, Chelsea are set to take on the Seagulls in their opening competitive game. The Blues have already faced Brighton in a preseason friendly, a match which saw a late penalty salvage a draw for the hosts after Timo Werner scored three minutes into his Chelsea unofficial debut. Frank Lampard fielded very different teams in each half and his potential XI for the first league game warrants an in-depth discussion.
Goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga started the first half against Brighton and was rarely tested during the 45 minutes in a fairly quiet performance. This could be considered a positiv,e considering the Spaniard’s poor 2019/20 season, which left uncertainty as to whether he will be Chelsea’s number one by the time the season begins. Willy Caballero was given the second half and the Argentine put in a solid display, saving a penalty from Neal Maupay. Rumours around the club suggest Chelsea will purchase a new goalkeeper, perhaps for competition with Kepa rather than a replacement. This follows claims that Chelsea have submitted a second bid for Rennes keeper Edouard Mendy. I think Lampard will opt to start Kepa. The new season brings about a fresh start and Lampard may have to persist with him, at least until a new keeper arrives at the Bridge.
The left-back position is perhaps more clear. Emerson Palmieri’s Chelsea career seems to be coming to an end as he continues to be linked with a move away from the club. Marcos Alonso was the preferred option for the friendly, despite a brief cameo from Ian Maatsen. The £50-million signing Ben Chilwell is still not fully recovered from an ankle problem and without having played for a while, let alone trained with Chelsea, he will likely miss out. This leaves Alonso as my choice at left back.
Perhaps the most intriguing decision Lampard will have to make is at centre back. The signing of Thiago Silva on a free transfer has no doubt strengthened the options at the back but the Brazilian now has to undergo a 14-day quarantine period. This means he could start training a few days before the game against Brighton, which makes it unlikely that Lampard would rush him. Tomori continues to be rumoured as one of the players who will leave on loan this window and Lampard failed to utilise him after injury towards the end of last season. For many, Kurt Zouma would and should be nailed down to start at Brighton. However, he was didn’t appear in the friendly and his future remains in doubt. Although Lampard gave Jake Clarke Salter a start in the friendly and aside from the assured display, I would be surprised if he doesn’t resort to an Antonio Rudiger/Andrea Christensen pairing against Brighton. Rudiger was, however, poor in the friendly and gave a penalty away just three minutes after being brought on.
The right-back spot will be another one to keep an eye on. Reece James was excellent in the friendly against Brighton and seemed to be one of Chelsea’s best players. Captain Cesar Azpilicueta was used at centre back alongside Rudiger, though this is a rarity in a back-four formation. Despite James’s stellar performance in the friendly, I expect Lampard to start Azpilicueta in the opening game to provide extra defensive cover. Having said that, James will no doubt be crucial for the remainder of the season.
One thing is for certain, N’golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic are more or less certain to play in the midfield against Brighton. Kante was excellent in the friendly, showing everyone his true qualities. Kovacic was recently crowned Chelsea’s Player of the Season for 2019/20 and provided a decent performance at the Amex. I expect Lampard to play a 4-3-3 for the first game and that leaves one spot. Ruben Loftus-Cheek was below par against Brighton and looked short of confidence yet again. With Mason Mount in quarantine and his participation in the first League game now in doubt, Loftus-Cheek might get the nod.
There is more clarity with the forwards. Callum Hudson-Odoi was the provider for Timo Werner’s first goal and despite a quiet display from the Englishman, he showed enough, and with a lack of options from the left, I think he will start. Werner was impressive as he scored but also looked keen to get involved in most of Chelsea’s attacks. His speed and awareness posed a threat to the Seagulls. The new signing is expected to start, though Olivier Giroud could be given the nod to continue where he left off from last season. Tammy Abraham is another of the players in quarantine and it is now unlikely that he will start. Hakim Ziyech was classy in his first appearance in a Chelsea shirt and his part in the goal, a long pass from the right wing to Hudson-Odoi, should not go unnoticed. Despite having to go off with a knee injury in the second half, he should be fine and I believe he will start against Brighton.
Injuries/Doubts: Christian Pulisic, Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori, Jorginho, Ross Barkley, Emerson, Michy Batshuayi
Possible XI (4-3-3)
Kepa Arrizabalaga, Marcos Alonso, Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, Cesar Azpilicueta, N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech
How do you think Chelsea will line-up on the opening day? Let us know in the comments below!