It’s back! The Premier League returns and so does our detailed match preview, courtesy of club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton…
Top-flight football, as beguiling and capricious as the sea, is back lapping around our feet. We are about to take the deep plunge again, uncertain whether the water will be unseasonably chilly or surprisingly warm.
A season split by the winter World Cup begins with Chelsea under new ownership, the squad substantially changed from last season’s. Still, of the top flight’s regulars, only Manchester United (2.13 points per game) have a better record than the Londoners’ 2.10 average on opening weekends. Victory on Saturday evening would make it three in a row for the Blues, who dispatched Brighton and Crystal Palace over the previous two campaigns.
Our earliest ever league start (the previous being the Zola-inspired 4-0 thrashing of Sunderland on 7 August 1999) begins at Goodison Park, an unhappy hunting ground in recent years. It is the second visit there in six league games for the world champions.
Last season’s came at the height of the Toffees’ upturn under all-time Chelsea great Frank Lampard, with flare-wielding fans greeting the home team’s coach. The winner came from now-departed Richarlison, and the Blues have lost just three other away league fixtures among the 28 played under Thomas Tuchel.
Chelsea squad news
Chelsea are targeting a 20th victory from 31 Premier League season-starters and two of the opening three fixtures involve opponents who finished four and three points above relegation last season.
As formidable as Chelsea are against our fellow Blues at Stamford Bridge, the recent track record on Merseyside is unenviable, comprising four straight defeats and five visits without a win. On the other hand, a long overdue win would raise hopes of emulating the glory of the last season that was achieved: 2016/17 when we were crowned champions.
There are new faces and maybe more to come before the window closes on 1 September. Centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly has already shown presence, poise on the ball, and a sense of danger. Raheem Sterling has exhibited the vision, fluidity and relentless pressing that can add a cutting edge to the Blues’ approach.
Dynamic Conor Gallagher has returned after a stellar loan season in Crystal Palace’s midfield. Incoming midfielder Carney Chukwuemeka is another brilliant young talent liable to impress this season.
How much we should read into the two discrete teams who faced Udinese last weekend is open to question, and it should be remembered that Ben Chilwell is still being eased back after serious injury. A week of training and trading has passed since then.
Tactically, too, Thomas Tuchel has experimented briefly with two centre-backs rather than the familiar three, and Everton’s apparent lack of attacking options on Saturday may inform his thinking there. Like all coaches, the Bavarian also has the luxury of calling on five substitutes to change the pattern of play. We may see more in-game volatility as a result, but the Blues will hope that means fewer draws than the 11 recorded last season.
Pre-season often mimicked the league campaign just gone, with chances created but not taken. The Blues’ defence was comparable to the top two last season but the goals tally was 20 shy of Liverpool and Man City, with no standout attacking partnerships establishing themselves.
Sterling, prolific for the Citizens, could prove the missing link in that respect, and Chelsea have scored more goals in all competitions against the Toffees (293) than any other club.
Everton were 16th when Chelsea legend Frank Lampard replaced another former Blues coach, Rafael Benitez, in February. Six league wins, two draws and nine defeats later, the Merseysiders were safe.
His key moves were repairing the team’s morale and galvanising a fractured fanbase, which will no doubt offer rousing support, despite the far less frenetic context to Chelsea’s last visit.
The coach’s summer trading included the departures of Jarrad Branthwaite, Fabian Delph, Jonjoe Kenny, Cenk Tosun, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Richarlison and coach Duncan Ferguson, amongst others, with Burnley’s centre-back James Tarkowski and winger Dwight McNeill, and left wing-back Ruben Vinagre on loan from Sporting Lisbon, noteworthy arrivals.
This summer Ashley Cole was tasked with improving one of the top flight’s worst records on defending set-plays, to which Tarkowski and long-absent Yerry Mina and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (when available) might contribute.
Lampard warned of another difficult campaign without further reinforcements but the Toffees have burst out of the blocks in the last two campaigns, earning three straight wins – last achieved by the club in 1993/94 – before quickly falling off the pace.
What the Merseysiders will not want is a repeat of last season’s travails, including the protracted list of absentees. Already they face a weekend without Salomon Rondon (suspended) and fellow leading striker Calvert-Lewin.
First day of term
Chelsea’s season opens in a prime-time TV slot. The Blues won four of our five Saturday 5.30pm starts across all competitions last season, drawing the other – at Liverpool – with 10 men. The most recent, though, was way back in January.
The Londoners have won 18 of the past 23 opening league games and were uncontested masters of the fixture between 1999 and 2016, going 18 consecutive campaigns without defeat. We have since won three and lost two, the last four of which were also away from home.
Last four Premier League openers
2021 - Crystal Palace away - W 3-0
2020 - Brighton away - W 3-1
2019 - Manchester Utd away - L 0-4
2018 - Huddersfield away - W 3-0
Flying out of the traps
Summer signing Raheem Sterling is one of only 10 players to have notched a hat-trick over the Premier League's opening weekend, putting West Ham to the sword three years ago.
The last Chelsea player to net on his league debut in the opening encounter of the campaign was Jorginho, from the spot, in a 3-0 win at Huddersfield in August 2018.
Opening day goals by league debutants since 1992
Jorginho - Huddersfield - 2018/19
Alvaro Morata - Burnley home - 2017/18
Diego Costa - Burnley away - 2014/15
Deco - Portsmouth home - 2008/09
Claudio Pizarro - Birmingham home - 2007/08
Florent Malouda - Birmingham home - 2007/08
Juan Veron - Liverpool away - 2003/04
Bolo Zenden - Newcastle home - 2001/02
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink - West Ham home - 2000/01
Mario Stanic (2) - West Ham home - 2000/01
Tore Andre Flo - Coventry away - 1997/98
Paul Furlong - Norwich home - 1994/95
Gavin Peacock - Blackburn home - 1993/94
Mick Harford - Oldham home - 1992/93
The Goodison jinx
Unbeaten at Everton between November 2000 and February 2010, Chelsea have won only three times in the past 14 league trips to Goodison Park, the most recent of which was 3-0 in the title-winning 2016/17 season, sealed by a stunning second-half display. The see-saw 6-3 in 2014 – an August encounter – and current Toffees boss Frank Lampard’s brace in December 2012’s 2-1 make up the rare threesome.
In fact, we have left empty-handed after six of the past nine league visits and for four successive seasons. The Blues’ only worse such Premier League sequence came on the red side of Merseyside: six straight losses at Liverpool between 1992 and 1997.
That said, no one gave Chelsea much of a chance at Goodison on the opening day of the 1919/20 season, the first Football League match after World War One. The Pensioners (19th in 1914/15) wrote shock headlines by beating the Toffees, pre-war league champions, by winning 3-2.
Chelsea’s current bogey grounds
Anfield - one win in seven
Goodison Park - lost last four
Old Trafford - nine without a win
A new era
This is the first game under the ownership of the Boehly-Clearlake consortium – the fourth distinct proprietors of Chelsea FC since 1905/06. The Pensioners began that inaugural season with a narrow defeat at Stockport but finished a creditable third in the Second Division before gaining promotion a year later.
Seven decades later in 1982/83, the full season of Ken Bates’ stewardship of the club began with debutant Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson’s winner at Cambridge but the campaign ended with the Blues occupying our lowest ever rung on the league ladder: 18th in Division Two.
Roman Abramovich’s tenure kicked off in 2003/04 with a 2-0 Champions League qualifying victory against Zilina, then a heartening 2-1 success at Liverpool. Could Merseyside again be the setting for the perfect start?
Matchday One Premier League fixtures
Crystal Palace v Arsenal 8pm (Sky Sports)
Fulham v Liverpool 12.30pm (BT Sport)
Bournemouth v Aston Villa 3pm
Leeds v Wolves 3pm
Newcastle v Nottingham Forest 3pm
Tottenham v Southampton 3pm
Everton v Chelsea 5.30pm (Sky Sports)
Leicester v Brentford 2pm
Man Utd v Brighton 2pm (Sky Sports)
West Ham v Man City 4.30pm (Sky Sports)