It is hard to believe the close season is basically behind us already. Is it me or does Porto and all that feel like it was just the other week? What has been heartening is that the pre-season games seem to have served their purpose well and we can look forward to the first ‘real’ game of the season with optimism. Plenty of players got enough minutes to have shaken off the cobwebs, if indeed there has been time for any cobwebs to form, so many having played for their countries in major competitions. On top of that, Thomas Tuchel has had a chance to look over every player on the books, and as we witnessed, that is a whole lot of players.
The team chosen in Belfast is still unlikely to be the go-to team for Tuchel a month into the season but it will certainly give a few pointers as to who has impressed. Especially for those who didn’t get as many opportunities last season or indeed weren’t even at the club last season. The squad will be trimmed obviously as the next few weeks progress and there may even be the odd big signing, but one or two ‘outsiders’ might just have caught the gaffer’s eye and this is when we really find out.
It is not only optimism but also excitement and belief that the players should have right now. If you are European champions, it adds an entire new layer of belief in the group going forward, especially for the younger players who were regularly involved on the road to Porto. For the likes of Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Christian Pulisic, they will now know that the sky is officially the limit. All of these players will improve year on year and that is before you get to the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James. They will feel like they are at the start of a journey, even though they have Champions League winners’ medals.
Another medal on Wednesday night will just pile on another layer of confidence, but Villarreal will be anything but pushovers, even if they ‘only’ won Europe’s secondary competition. Winning is a habit and winning trophies is a particular habit that is less difficult to form when you have done it before. So, another pot would do very nicely indeed.
I find it incredible to think that although they have been a few months apart, by Wednesday night three of our past five competitive matches will have been cup finals. That experience is incredibly difficult to replicate and extremely valuable for that reason. If you play in each of those, the expectation is that you will then know how to cope with them going forward and be able to bring your best form to the table instead of being affected negatively by the occasion. Win or lose, this is a positive game to have.
The Super Cup is also arguably the best game you could get as a final warm-up for the new season. It provides quality opposition, serious competitiveness that isn’t always there in friendlies and another chance of a celebration. It is also a night to savour as you do not often get the chance to bring this particular trophy home.
The other joy is that there will be fans in to see the game. For all the excitement of this match and the players on show, maybe it is the fact that it heralds the chance of something like normality returning to the game for fans that is most important. I have been lucky over the past year-and-a-half to get to attend many of the games, but it can never be underlined often enough how much is lost without the Chelsea fans being in there to spur the players on. I get the feeling that the boost our players will get from having our fans backing them in a full stadium, is at least as great as any club and probably more than most.
Listening to the Blues fans at the recent friendly at the Bridge against Spurs was special, and there is plenty more to come in terms of vocal support. I know Thomas Tuchel as well as a few of the players are as excited about that noise, as they are about the football itself. Actually, the noise they made down at Bournemouth the week before was extremely impressive too, other than the moment they spotted me in the commentary box and demanded that I started the next chorus of ‘We know what we are.’ I couldn’t let them down of course, and didn’t, but it was tough to work that into a live commentary!
The point is Chelsea fans are always keen to support their own, even if they are getting on a bit and haven’t played for the club for a few decades. So when they back our current team in numbers I can tell you from experience, it gives you the most incredible lift. A classic example was when Timo Werner missed a couple of opportunities in pre-season. Were there groans? Absolutely not! The entire Chelsea contingent just sang his name to encourage him to score the next time.
Even if you cannot get to the games, if you’re a Chelsea fan from another part of the planet, you must agree that watching the matches on TV or listening on radio is so much better when the real fans are in there providing the atmosphere. The importance of the fans has never been clearer in the history of football. I just hope that our next triumphs, be it in the Super Cup or next year, will see the fans able to celebrate with the players and the players celebrating with the fans. They deserve it, but more importantly, you deserve it, for waiting this long and for being so loyal.