2021/22 pre-season briefing part one: Growing from greatness

With the start of a new season just days away and Chelsea's men team hoping to build on the success of being crowned European champions, we begin to set the scene with club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistican Paul Dutton...

International football may have been a dirty stop-out again this summer, but for one rampant lion (as opposed to three) the European Cup did come home, and it is time for Chelsea fans to dream of glory yet again.

2021/22 is the Blues’ 87th season in the top flight, 30th in the Premier League, 106th overall, and second in defence of Europe’s greatest crown. That new gold star always puts a spring in the step but, equally, the continent’s champions are a team everyone wants to beat.

Thirteen of the 24 previous winners will compete for the Premier League crown this season (two fewer than last year). Chelsea finished 19 points behind the champions – a 14-point improvement on the previous season.

Building from the back

Only Manchester City had a better record in the top flight from the moment Thomas Tuchel took charge in late January. Poignantly, the 13 goals conceded by the Blues in that period was the best in the division by four.

A good defence is the prerequisite of a title challenge, and he has had a first pre-season and transfer window to further instil his principles. The Blues’ coach has had the better of Pep Guardiola in their three recent meetings, including that famous final in May. Can he now do the same over the course of the top-flight season?

Defeat at Villa Park in the final league game of 2020/21 brought an end to the Bavarian’s unbeaten start on the road in the top flight, though six victories and one defeat in nine games is still mightily impressive.

Overall in his 30 games Tuchel steered the Londoners to 19 wins and just five defeats, with 37 goals scored, 19 clean sheets and 16 goals conceded in all competitions.

Chelsea’s recent Premier League record:
2020/21 Fourth
2019/20 Fourth
2018/19 Third
2017/18 Fifth
2016/17 Champions
2015/16 Tenth
2014/15 Champions
2013/14 Third

The new normal

Crowds are at last permitted at Stamford Bridge and elsewhere, though we are not yet quite back to normal. Anyone attending games this season must show evidence of a low risk of transmitting coronavirus, either by showing an NHS Covid pass on the NHS app, or evidence of a recent negative test.

At the Bridge people will enter through new turnstiles, can watch replays on bigger, sharper screens, and may well be sitting in newly installed seats (some of them rail type) as the players run out onto an entirely renewed pitch.

The SISGrass playing surface comprises traditional grass and soil machine-stitched with soft, recyclable polyethylene yarn (as used at Cobham).

The summer has presented other challenges. Chelsea had more players representing their country at the Euros than any English rival, and they played the second most of any club, with five making it to the final. That was on 11 July, just as non-internationals were heading back to Cobham for pre-season.

Pre-season impressions

The staggered return meant Thomas Tuchel has come to know the broader squad better. Young strikers Armando Broja and Ike Ugbo did their future prospects no harm by netting in the friendly win at Bournemouth, while Kai Havertz and Tammy Abraham were straight off the mark in the win against Arsenal.

Hakim Ziyech has revelled in his first full, uninterrupted pre-season at the Bridge, netting a second-half hat-trick against Peterborough and a smart brace against Tottenham.

The personnel the Bavarian will register for the Premier League and Champions League are still to be finalised, with new arrivals on the cards. We have bid farewell to several significant Blues trophy-winners and youth prospects this summer, and the transfer window remains open until 11pm on Tuesday 31 August (the same as France, Germany and Spain).

The schedule has eased compared to last season. The Premier League is back to its usual mid-August start and will reach its climax on Sunday 22 May 2022. There are four sets of midweek fixtures (fewer than last season’s condensed campaign) but once again there is no winter break.

The return of the FIFA Club World Cup – possibly the only competition at any level Chelsea have entered and failed to win – will mean one or two fixtures shunted from their current slot in December.

How to watch Chelsea matches this season

It is rare that a Champions League-winner is not picked for television coverage over the opening weekend, but such is the fate of Thomas Tuchel’s men. Last season all matches were carried live as no spectators were allowed.

Opening televised games
Villarreal (N), UEFA Super Cup - 8pm Wed 11 Aug (BT Sport)
Arsenal (A), Premier League - 4.30pm Sun 22 Aug (Sky Sports)
Liverpool (H), Premier League - 5.30pm Sat 28 Aug (Sky Sports)

To see where those and other games can be viewed where you live, check the Premier League website’s television guide, updated through the season.

The Blues’ defence of the Champions League will be on BT Sport in the UK, and broadcasters around the world can be found here on UEFA’s website.

Chelsea TV’s game day programming is back on the 5th Stand app, Facebook Live and our official YouTube channel with three live shows: pre-match (starting 75 minutes before kick-off), half-time and post match. They will include the first team news, exclusive interviews and Chelsea-oriented analysis. During games the 5th Stand, Chelsea's official mobile app, will carry live audio and text commentary.

Back-to-back defending champions Chelsea Women can be followed through the FA Player app, which streams Women’s Super League matches live. Starting on 3 September, the WSL has a three-year deal with Sky Sports to broadcast a minimum 35 top-flight games live. Former Blues star Karen Carney is their lead analyst.

Keep your eyes peeled for part two of our Pre-Season Briefing where we will assess the competitions the Blues will compete in throughout 2021/22, upcoming regulation changes and more...

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