Two capital city clubs with a preference for the colour blue are pitted against each other this Saturday. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton resume after the two-week hiatus…
So where were we before we were so rudely interrupted by the international break? Ah, yes: Maurizio Sarri’s men are second in the table with a perfect record so far and, for the first time this season, about to encounter a team freshly installed in the Premier League.
Chelsea have lost just one of the previous 51 home Premier League matches against newly promoted opposition, a sequence that includes 42 Blues wins and eight draws. The most recent visitors to Stamford Bridge, Bournemouth, were also the last freshmen to taste victory on the Fulham Road, in December 2015.
Amazingly, after just four matches the Blues are eight points better off than in the corresponding matches last season. Can Sarri continue his immaculate inception to life in London with a fifth straight victory?
Maurizio Sarri is seeking to become the second Chelsea manager (after Carlo Ancelotti nine years ago) and fourth overall to win his first five Premier League games; the others are Pep Guardiola and Craig Shakespeare.
— Key stat
In the history of the Premier League, Arsenal (2004/05), Charlton (2005/06), Man City (2015/16, 2016/17), Man United (2011/12) and Newcastle (1994/95) are the only teams other than Chelsea to have won five in succession from the opening of a campaign.
It would be the fifth time the Blues have managed the five feat throughout our history, including before the Premier League era, after 1928/29, 2005/06, 2009/10, and 2010/11.
This weekend’s opposition Cardiff were the Championship’s form team in the second half of their successful promotion campaign, but they have found goals hard to come by at the start of their first top-flight season for four years. A 0-2 loss in the opening exchanges was followed by successive 0-0 draws, before they hit the net twice at home in a 2-3 loss to Arsenal.
In fact, over the past 15 seasons the only freshly promoted teams to have amassed fewer points than the Bluebirds’ two from the four opening league matches are Watford in 2006/07 and Reading 2012/13 with one, and Nigel Adkins’ Southampton with zero, also 2012/13.
Their coach Neil Warnock has never taken three points from a Premier League away trip in the capital, though he has backed his side to surprise one of the top-six sides this season. He also conceded, ‘it’s not going to be the Chelseas and Manchester Citys that determine whether we stay up.’
City and Tottenham are among their next three fixtures, but the Yorkshireman is determined to enjoy his time among the English elite, no matter the outcome in May.
Cardiff’s financial investment in the summer drew a contrast with big-spending new boys Fulham and Wolves. Warnock, who might have succeeded Bobby Campbell at the Chelsea helm in 1991, makes no secret of his preference for the ‘muck and nettles’ of the second tier.
A few months ago he was asked whether he would mind forgoing the Premier League after promotion and staying in the Championship again, and answered: ‘Yeah, it wouldn’t bother me at all.’
The Bluebirds’ elevation this year was the eighth of Warnock’s coaching career on various rungs of the English football ladder, starting with Conference side Scarborough in 1987. His last three Premier League experiences were at Sheffield United 2006/07, QPR 2011/12 and Crystal Palace 2014.
It is also occasionally asked why Welsh teams compete in English football, including the Premier League. The simple answer is that in the early 1900s, when the association game first began to rival rugby for popularity there, the league structure west of Offa’s Dyke did not exist.
Alongside Swansea and Newport, Cardiff, then known as Riverside, were among a contingent of Welsh clubs that joined England’s Southern League in 1909/10. The Bluebirds made the switch to the more popular Football League in 1920/21, and became Chelsea’s first ever Welsh opponents in that season’s FA Cup. When the League of Wales started up in 1992, the six clubs plying their trade in England were invited to join but refused, despite the gateway to Europe it presented.
(Newport’s sole visit was in the League Cup in Sep 1974.)
England’s goalkeeper and defenders were scolded this week when they slipped up while steadfastly playing the ball out from the back. The reason for attempting this is that it retains possession and can lead to more assured and incisive passing going forward, as long as the personnel are up to it.
Yet as more forwards press defences who play that way, there has been an upsurge in officials this season asking for goal-kicks to be retaken. Attackers often looked bewildered when pulled up for encroaching into the penalty area while the ball is still traveling across it, but ignorance is no defence against the law.
Number 16 in the FA handbook states that, ‘If an opponent who is in the penalty area when the goal kick is taken, or enters the penalty area before the ball is in play, touches or challenges for the ball before it has touched another player, the goal-kick is retaken.’ For clarity, the ball is in play only when it leaves the penalty area
Bottom club West Ham, who host the Blues next weekend, can be watched in the televised Sunday afternoon match at Everton. The Hammers have lost four league games from the start of a campaign for only the second time in their history.
It is cup action at Crystal Palace on Sunday for Emma Hayes’ team, which made a record-breaking start to the Women's Champions League campaign with the Blues’ biggest ever victory in the competition, 5-0 in Sarajevo against SFK 2000.
Following a couple of PL2 games, Chelsea’s development squad also face Welsh opposition next up in the Checkatrade Trophy. Last season’s semi-finalists, unbeaten in Group D after three games, are at Newport County’s Rodney Parade ground on Tuesday 25 September.
It is now one FIFA international break down, three to come this season: 8-16 October, 12-20 November, and 18-26 March 2019. The Africa Cup of Nations (January/February) and Asian Cup (January) will also require the services of some Premier League players.
Finally, today would have been the 62nd birthday of the late, great Ray Wilkins, who sadly died in April. At the dawn of his career, in October 1976, Cardiff manager Jimmy Andrews was effusive despite the young Chelsea skipper carving out the opener in a 2-1 win against the Bluebirds.
‘The Wilkins cross-field pass, the centre and the brilliant way [Kenny] Swain scored added up to a perfect goal,’ Andrews said. ‘My players hadn’t a look-in, and that’s how it should be with a perfect goal.’
THE BEST THAT CAN HAPPEN THIS WEEKEND…
Five alive – the perfect start continues.
Premier League fixtures
Tottenham v Liverpool - 12.30pm
Bournemouth v Leicester – 3pm
Chelsea v Cardiff - 3pm
Huddersfield v Crystal Palace - 3pm
Man City v Fulham - 3pm
Newcastle v Arsenal – 3pm
Watford v Man United - 5.30pm
Wolves v Burnley - 1.30pm
Everton v West Ham – 4pm
Southampton v Brighton - 8pm