The Frank Lampard era begins with a mouthwatering trip to Old Trafford, and club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton are ready for the new campaign...
Is the Premier League saving the best for last this weekend? Chelsea and Manchester United, the most successful English clubs of the past two decades, meet on the opening weekend for the first time in 15 years in the late Sunday slot. The fact the pair are the two brightest campaign-starters – United have won 18 of their 27 season bows, Chelsea 17 – is just one of the fascinating sub-plots to this clash of titans.
Football is often proof that dreams can be as powerful as facts. Sunday’s teams have coaches whose appointments were scented with romance, Frank Lampard and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer both having previously played for their respective clubs – the first ever competitive meeting between Manchester United and Chelsea where that has been the case.
Each was also instrumental in bringing their club Champions League glory (by coincidence against Bayern Munich): Solskjaer coming off the bench to score United’s winner at Camp Nou in 1999, and Lampard skippering the Blues to glory, thumping home a penalty in the shoot-out victory over the hosts.
For the Europa League champions, the next chapter in the chronicle starts with a coach who helped script much of its history over the previous 20 years, though he is about to start only his second year in the technical area.
Read: Manchester United v Chelsea - the numbers
The Mancunians’ prodigal son initially thrived at the helm vacated by Jose Mourinho last season, but the Red Devils failed to win any of their last five league games and slipped back to sixth.
We may read too much into the eventual outcome, but what a setting for the season’s opener.
Six points and a couple of rungs separated Chelsea and Manchester United last season, but the ramifications in Europe this campaign are massive. The Blues will contest the Champions League, the continent’s elite competition, while for the second time in four years the Red Devils must endure the arrhythmic Thursdays of the Europa League.
In terms of revenue the difference is remarkable: simply by reaching the Champions League group stage Chelsea will receive a basic €15.25m; Europa League group participants receive €2.92m.
Starting the Premier League well
A good opening result can be important. Over the past 15 seasons United were the only eventual Premier League champions to lose their initial engagement, in 2012/13. (They also did so in 1992/93 and 1995/96.)
After a promising start to the Solskjaer era, United closed the season with just eight points from the final 27 on offer, their worst defensive record since 1978/79, and the fewest home clean sheets in a league campaign for 56 years.
However high the transfer fee, their acquisitions of centre-back Harry Maguire and full-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka are understandable. Especially as Solskjaer must select Sunday’s 18 without the injured Eric Bailly, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, and Andreas Pereira, and with doubts over the participation of Alexis Sanchez and Paul Pogba.
The France midfielder and now-departed striker Romelu Lukaku were United’s leading scorers in last season’s campaign, accounting for 25 of the club’s 65 league goals. Marouane Fellaini, Antonio Valencia, and Ander Herrera, who all had their moments in red, have also left. No replacement forward has come in.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have allowed David Luiz to move across London, and will have to cope without the recovering Toni Rudiger, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek-Cheek, and Reece James.
The Blues have been embargoed from signing new players, but US national team star Christian Pulisic was recruited from Dortmund before the FIFA judgment came into effect, and a clause in Mateo Kovacic’s loan deal last season enabled the Blues to sign the midfielder permanently this summer.A group of hugely talented youngsters including returning loanees will also freshen up Lampard’s group. As a consequence, the last-day departure of David Luiz to north London still leaves the Blues with four available centre-backs plus Cesar Azpilicueta if required.
Some players will break new ground on Sunday. Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori could start for the Blues for the first time, while Pulisic and Mount may make their maiden bow - either potentially becoming Chelsea’s 23rd goalscoring debutant of the Premier League era.
Chelsea's Premier League goalscoring debutants
Super Cup and Champions League catch-up
Super Cup opponents Liverpool host Norwich City at Anfield on Friday night, so they will have a two-day advantage over Chelsea in preparing for Wednesday’s Uefa showpiece in Istanbul.
UEFA will share a total of just under £2bn among the 32 clubs participating in this season’s Champions League.
Lampard’s Old Trafford memories
Our all-time leading goalscorer will become the fifth coach to begin his Chelsea reign against the Red Devils. In his only previous experience of the Old Trafford dugout last season, Lampard led his Derby side to penalty shoot-out success in round three of the Carabao Cup after a 2-2 draw.
Quite apart from that 100 per cent record as a coach, the former midfielder has a well of happy memories as a Blues player at Old Trafford from which to draw, including five victories.
His first experience in royal blue was under Ranieri in December 2001, when Mario Melchiot’s early header from compatriot Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s corner consigned United to their fifth defeat in 14 top-flight matches, and they tumbled out of the top six. Current boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a late sub during that 3-0 victory.
Ahead of the League Cup semi-final second leg in January 2005, neither side had lost domestically since October. Didier Drogba baffled Gary Neville and set up Lampard to drive in the opening goal with his left foot. United, who had not lost a cup semi-final in England for 30 years, nor been defeated at home in the League Cup for nine, were beaten 2-1. You can watch the highlights of that win below.
In May the same year, a 3-1 win for the champions-elect secured the most points ever amassed in the Premier League, plus a record 29 victories, pipping United’s previous best of 28.
Four previous coaches have opened their Chelsea account by taking on United. None has won at Old Trafford.
MenLeicester, our first Premier League visitors next weekend, play at home in the earlier Sunday slot as a consequence of Wolves’ Europa League qualifier in Armenia the previous Thursday.
WomenChelsea Women’s history-making WSL-opener at Stamford Bridge against newly-promoted Tottenham on 8 September is sold out, but a waiting list is open in case of returns.
AcademyAndy Myers has been appointed new coach of the Development Squad, with Ed Brand stepping up to take charge of the Under-18s. Midfield icon Claude Makelele has also returned to Cobham as the Academy’s technical mentor.
The Video Assistant Referee system (VAR) will be deployed in the top-flight for the first time this season. While referees contend with voices in their earpiece from Stockley Park barking ‘DOGSO!’ (‘Denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity!’), supporters should see the process unravel before their eyes and ears on stadiums’ big screens. (Old Trafford and Anfield, by the way, have been granted exemption from that.)
Premier League rule changes and VAR in the 2019/20 season
The Blues have been involved in several VAR landmarks, including the first London derby to use the system (Chelsea-Arsenal, 2018), the first FA Cup final (Chelsea-Man United, 2018), first Community Shield (Chelsea-Man City, 2018), and first UEFA club final (Chelsea-Arsenal, 2019).
Referees’ chief Mike Riley has insisted the English version of VAR will as unobtrusive as possible, and nothing like its much-criticised use at summer tournaments, causing lengthy lulls in play.
Handball in England will also retain the ‘deliberate’ element. ‘Arms are part of the game and as long as you are not trying to extend your body to block a shot, then there is more scope so that we don’t penalise,’ Riley explained. ‘What we don’t want to create is a culture when defenders have to defend with their hands behind their back or where it is acceptable for attackers to try to drill the ball at their hand to win a penalty.’ (How that unilateral stance plays in the Champions League remains to be seen.)
We will be hearing a lot more about reviews of the Attacking Possession Phase (APP), or build-up move, where overlooked misdemeanours can be picked up. As we saw with the Harry Kane incident in the Carabao Cup semi-final, assistant referees are encouraged to let play continue when a player is possibly offside if they think a goal or penalty may follow.
The other key changes most fans will notice are that attacking players may not infiltrate a defending wall at free-kicks, and that the ball is in play the moment a goal-kick is taken. Watch out for teams being caught cold by these changes in the first few weeks.
Man United v Chelsea: when, where, team news
Kick-off: 4.30pmReferee: Anthony TaylorVAR: Stuart AttwellSuspensions: Man United – none; Chelsea – noneInjuries: Man United – Bailly, Fosu-Mensah, Pereira, Sanchez; Chelsea – Hudson-Odoi, James, Loftus-Cheek, Rudiger
Other Premier League fixtures
FridayLiverpool v Norwich 8pm (Sky Sports)
SaturdayWest Ham v Manchester City 12.30pm (BT Sport)Bournemouth v Sheffield United 3pmBurnley v Southampton 3pmCrystal Palace v Everton 3pmWatford v Brighton 3pmTottenham v Aston Villa 5.30pm (Sky Sports)
SundayLeicester v Wolves 2pmNewcastle v Arsenal 2pm (Sky Sports)Manchester United v Chelsea 4.30pm (Sky Sports)