There’s plenty to discuss for club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton with the big kick-off just over 24 hours away…
Here we go again: ticket in hand, programme in pocket, hope in heart. All 20 teams on zero points, and only one a winner come May. Making up 30 points – the gap behind champions Manchester City last season – is routinely considered a daunting prospect. Optimists, however, will note that tally is one fewer than the distance to title winners Leicester in 2015/16, and we all remember what happened in the following campaign, in 2016/17. Chelsea have extraordinary powers of recovery.
The Maurizio Sarri era starts with Premier League match number 1001 for the club. It will be screened live in almost 150 overseas countries, from Andorra to Zimbabwe. Chelsea have managed 16 opening-day victories since the Premier League began in 1992/93. After last season’s shock start – the 2-3 home reverse against Burnley – Manchester United, with 17 wins, now have the best record.
The Blues will be determined to avoid a similar jolt, while the red cards shown to Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas in that match produced another unwelcome statistic: three of the last five players dismissed on the Premier League’s opening weekend have come from the Blues squad. (The other was Thibaut Courtois against Swansea in 2015/16.) The 6-0 at home to Roberto Di Matteo’s West Bromwich Albion in 2010 remains the biggest curtain-raiser victory.
Huddersfield shocked even themselves by winning 3-0 at Crystal Palace last season and have not come out worse from the opening exchanges in the top flight for 64 years. Their last defeat, when Blackpool beat them 3-1 at home, was at the start of the 1954/55 season. Ted Drake’s Chelsea kicked off that campaign with a 1-1 at Leicester but, come 23 April, were crowned champions for the first time in the club’s history.
Chelsea are seeking a fifth successive league win at Huddersfield.
— KEY STAT
Chelsea will be the biggest draw at the John Smith’s Stadium since girl band Little Mix trod the boards there. Concerns at damage to the pitch following that gig (no, not just the ‘Wings’) have been allayed – the local newspaper suggests a successful repair job has been made.
Last weekend meant more Community Shield disappointment for the Blues, who have not won the high-profile friendly since 2009, missing out on five occasions. Yet we have won the title three times over that period. Priorities.
No team since Manchester United in 2010 have used success at Wembley in August as the platform for a successful league title-winning campaign. Over the past 21 years only the Red Devils (three times) and Chelsea (twice) have done so.
Huddersfield’s campaign will again focus on staying among the elite. Premier League football at the John Smith’s Stadium was only retained last season with a 1-1 draw at the Bridge in the penultimate match. Their survival meant all three promoted sides stayed up for the first time since 2010/11, and only the third time since 1992/93.
Despite having recent experience of the top flight, this season’s new boys Wolves, Cardiff, and Fulham will do well to join the 47 per cent of promoted teams who have avoided an immediate drop back to the Championship.
However, statistics suggest it is almost as hard to reach the magic 37-40 points safety mark in the second season. Just one in seven promoted clubs have gone on to start a third consecutive Premier League campaign.
Chelsea and Huddersfield were both involved in moves ahead of the 12-week summer transfer window closing to inbound traffic at 5pm on Thursday. However, the disparity between the Premier League and other major European associations, which remain open to business till 31 August (18 August in Italy), means players could still leave after the English clubs’ unilaterally declared deadline. It is reported FIFA are looking to synchronise the closure to the same week in August next summer.
The next tranche of Premier League fixture changes for television coverage were announced on Tuesday. The Blues’ trip to Southampton will now start at 2.15pm on Sunday 7 October, and Manchester United are to visit the Bridge on Saturday 20 October, a 12.30pm kick-off.
Crystal Palace will come to west London for a 4pm Sunday match on 4 November, with another 2.15pm Sunday start for Everton’s visit on the 11th of the same month, and a 5.30pm kick-off at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday 24 November.
The Europa League’s Thursday night habit inevitably means further moves, and the Burnley away match will now be played at 1.30pm on Sunday 28 October. That means all four of the Blues’ opening post-European fixtures (three of them on the road) will be played off the back of minimal rest and preparation time.
Meanwhile, the qualifying rounds of the Uefa competition trundle on in the background. Chelsea will not know the full list of potential opponents until the second legs of the play-off round conclude on Thursday 30 August. The group stage draw takes place the next day, Friday 31 August.
As things stand, before the play-off round and with ditched clubs yet to parachute in from the Champions League, Chelsea’s opponents could be drawn from any of the following countries: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Rumania, Russia, Scotland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, and Wales.
THE BEST THAT CAN HAPPEN THIS WEEKEND…
An opening day victory for the fifth time in seven seasons.
Visit again later today to find out about the history involved between Huddersfield and Chelsea...