Pre-Match Briefing: Chelsea vs Crystal Palace

A new Premier League season is upon us and it's a capital affair to kick things off for Chelsea...

Straight after smashing it in Belfast on Wednesday, the champions of Europe have the Glaziers in on Saturday. For Chelsea, remarkably, it will only be the third time in six competitive matches that a trophy is not at stake.

The hard work starts here, though. Any team that claims the Champions League crown instantly becomes a scalp the rest are desperate to claim.

Still, faith can move mountains and the togetherness, fortitude, and winning mentality this team and coaching staff have engendered will now have an audience.

Super Cup celebrations!

The Chelsea squad celebrate with the Super Cup!

While our global fanbase will still be able to savour each game live as usual, the reopening of stadiums means an end to blanket TV coverage in the UK. 

Seventeen of Thomas Tuchel’s opening 19 Premier League matches were staged behind closed doors. He can now seal the bond initiated with celebrating Blues fans in Porto and Belfast at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea are targeting an eighth successive league win against Crystal Palace for the first time.

photo of Key stat Key stat

Team news

The sensational return of Romelu Lukaku has come too late for involvement in the opening exchange this weekend, but the statement of ambition is clear. Coincidentally, his last appearance in royal blue was in the 2013 edition of the Super Cup.

Even before the show of unity and purpose in Wednesday’s success against Villarreal, though, this first pre-season at Chelsea has been an instructive one for Thomas Tuchel. He has warmed to some previously unacquainted squad players and entrusted Trevoh Chalobah with a start in Belfast. The Academy graduate was arguably the Blues’ man of the match.

Likewise the players will be impressed that his unforeseen substitution of Kepa Arrizabalaga for number one Edouard Mendy for the shoot-out worked with such perfect execution in terms of tactics and morale. These are decisions and moments that build great loyalty.

The keepers' union

It is often said strong attacks win matches but strong defences win titles. If so, the foundations for a decent league campaign were laid last season: no team conceded fewer league goals than the Londoners’ 13 under the Bavarian, six fewer than title-winners Manchester City.

Nine clubs, however, scored more than the Blues’ 25 over the same period – a statistic our new Belgian, with a scoring record of around one every two games, will aim to improve. If he watched his boyhood club at all in 2020/21 he will have seen no problem with chance creation.

As positive as all this looks, the close season has presented problems. At times in Belfast, Villarreal looked sharper than the Blues, some of whom have only just returned to training and will need to be eased back into the team.

The Chelsea coach admitted he set out to win the Super Cup more than hand players helpful minutes, ‘overusing’ some who were not ready to play 120 minutes. Others who were instrumental figures last term are yet to feature at all, and a friendly against Weymouth has been set up for Sunday.

What a few months it has been for Kai Havertz. In May he joined Chelsea‘s elite group of Champions League final goalscorers, in June he became the youngest ever Blue to find the net in the European Championships, and this week he set up a crucial goal in another UEFA trophy success.

Unfortunately, though, goalscorer Hakim Ziyech looks set to miss the opening day through injury. That was his sixth goal of the summer and he has arguably been the standout performer of pre-season. Hopefully the Moroccan will return imminently and there will be no repeat of last season’s injury frustrations.

Ziyech's productive start to the game was cut short

Cesar Azpilicueta faced suspension after his straight red card at Villa Park on the final day of 2020/21, but this was quashed on appeal and the Spaniard is available on Saturday.

Changing Palace

Big changes have taken place over the summer at Crystal Palace. Necessarily, perhaps – their form over the final dozen games of 2020/21 was worse than everyone except West Brom and Fulham.

Under now-departed boss Roy Hodgson they fielded the oldest average starting XI, but potential is replacing experience under successor Patrick Vieira. The average age of the new arrivals is seven years lower than the many who have departed SE25.

Two of the new boys are Cobham-schooled: midfielder Conor Gallagher, on loan and ineligible this weekend and, in a permanent deal, centre-back Marc Guehi, who skippered England’s U-17 World Cup winners in 2017.

Gallagher featured in our pre-season game at Bournemouth

They are joined by teenage midfielder Michael Olise from Reading (struggling with a back injury), Denmark international Joachim Andersen (one of relegated Fulham’s centre-backs last season), and ex-Sunderland goalkeeper Remi Matthews.

It will be fascinating to watch as Vieira tries to blend them into the remainder of a squad that finished 14th last season, but which still has the attacking qualities of Wilfried Zaha, Christian Benteke, and Eberechi Eze (who is ruled out this weekend).

The former Arsenal midfielder spent 30 months in Nice’s dugout, though he was fired in December with the Cote d’Azur club lying 11th in Ligue 1 after a fifth successive loss across all competitions.

Critics reckoned Vieira inherited a side with flair but never quite found the formula to unleash it, so that Nice became very defensive-minded – a trait for which Hodgson’s Eagles were renowned.

The new Palace gaffer

Palace players have reported a new emphasis on playing from the back, keeping the ball, but moving it as quickly as possible to the ‘danger players’ upfront. The signs so far have been very promising. The Eagles are unbeaten in pre-season, winning four of their five matches and scoring freely.

How to follow Chelsea vs Crystal Palace

This match will not be broadcast live in the UK but you can check for coverage where you are here

As usual Chelsea TV’s build-up and teamsheet analysis will be on the 5th Stand app, Facebook Live, and the official YouTube channel.

First day of term

Chelsea have won 17 of the past 22 opening league games and were uncontested masters of the fixture between 1999 and 2016, going 18 consecutive campaigns without defeat. We have since won two and lost two, three of which were away from home.

Brighton 1-3 Chelsea (A) | Premier League Highlights

A winning start to 2019/20


2017 Burnley h L 2-3
2018 Huddersfield a W 3-0
2019 Manchester Utd a L 0-4
2020 Brighton a W 3-1

The Blues have never previously begun a league campaign against Crystal Palace and this is the first 3pm Saturday start to a season since Huddersfield away in 2018/19, a 3-0 victory. The most recent at the Bridge was the surprise 2-3 loss to Burnley the season before. More than nine months have passed since the Londoners kicked off in that time slot: the 3-0 win at Burnley on 31 October.

Each of the last eight English champions kicked off their campaign with an opening day victory, including Chelsea in 2014 and 2016. The last team to suffer defeat and still win the league were Man United in 2012/13.

Premier League title winners' opening day result
2020 CityW
2019 LiverpoolW
2018 CityW
2017 CityW
2016 ChelseaW
2015 LeicesterW
2014 ChelseaW
2013 CityW
2012 UtdL
2011 CityW
2010 UtdW
2009 ChelseaW
2008 UtdD
2007 UtdD
2006 UtdW
2005 ChelseaW
2004 ChelseaW

One down, five to go

Winning the Champions League opens access to almost as many goodies as a Wonka Golden Ticket. Apart from the three regular competitions – league and domestic cups – the victors are automatically invited to defend their crown the following season and enter two other competitions.

The FIFA Club World Cup, set for December in Japan, is still to come, but on Wednesday Chelsea secured the first UEFA title of the campaign, the Super Cup – another new acquisition for the Roman Abramovich era.

Yet more silverware

The Londoners are now the only club on the continent to have won each of UEFA’s four top trophies twice: the Champions League/European Cup, Cup Winners’ Cup, Europa League/UEFA Cup, and Super Cup.

Derby start

This is already the second London derby of the season (Arsenal travel to new boys Brentford the night before). In fact, Palace’s first four league fixtures are all-capital clashes. Throw in a trip to Watford in the Carabao Cup and the Eagles do not have to travel outside the M25 for a month.

Chelsea have had an exceptional record in derby matches over recent seasons, claiming local sovereignty again last season.

London head-to-head, 2020/21
1 Chelsea1071212222.2
2 Arsenal106318212.1
3 Tottenham103433131.3
4 West Ham10343-2131.3
5 Crystal P10145-1270.7
6 Fulham10046-940.4

A safe return to the Bridge

The pandemic is not yet over and protocols are in place to help ensure the safety of a full crowd at Stamford Bridge. Have your NHS Covid Pass or evidence of negative recent test handy to show stewards and allow more time than usual to reach your seat. Please note there is a new restriction to A4-sized bags only in the ground. You can find full details here

The Premier League has also produced a set of frequently asked questions on the return to stadiums here, including for supporters travelling away this season.

New Canoville landmark

Next March will bring the 40th anniversary of an historic moment for Chelsea: the first league appearance by a black player in the famous royal blue. During the summer the club renamed a suite in the Shed End in honour of that substitute at Crystal Palace: Paul Canoville.

Canoville in his playing days

This acknowledges the pioneering winger’s resilience in the face of horrendous racist abuse from our own supporters, as well as his remarkable legacy: black players and coaches have arguably gained more honours with Chelsea than any other English club.

In common with all Premier League teams, Blues players will continue to take the knee, not to support a political group but as a gesture against bigotry of any kind, which surely all of us can support.

Matchday memento

The matchday programme, packed with new features and information, can be subscribed to online again this season. Don't forget, the programme will be available at the Bridge on matchdays, or you can subscribe to the programme for the full season and have it delivered to your door. 

The first of the season features an exclusive eight-page interview with Thomas Tuchel, as he opens up on his methodology and his background in the game.

Premier League fixtures

Brentford v Arsenal 8pm (Sky Sports)

Man Utd v Leeds 12.30pm (BT Sport)
Burnley v Brighton 3pm
Chelsea v Crystal Palace 3pm
Everton v Southampton 3pm
Leicester v Wolves 3pm
Watford v Aston Villa 3pm
Norwich v Liverpool 5.30pm (Sky Sports)

Newcastle v West Ham 2pm (Sky Sports)
Tottenham v Man City 4.30pm (Sky Sports)

By club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton

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