The Premier League is back, and club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton are ready and waiting…
As Chelsea legend Ray Wilkins always observed, the greatest aroma in the world is freshly-mown grass – because it heralds the return of the football season. And what a blockbuster opener the Premier League has lined up for the Blues’ new head coach Mauricio Pochettino with the visit of Liverpool.
Both teams are in transition and looking for a kickstart after a disappointing 2022/23 campaign, and you might reasonably expect goals at both ends. Except, amazingly, the past six meetings across all competitions between these heavyweight rivals have been draws, and the four most recent ended with neither side troubling the scoreboard.
Nevertheless, Poch is aiming to become the first coach since Leicester’s Craig Shakespeare in February 2017 to open their account with a win against Liverpool.
The Argentinean and Chelsea both have a formidable record on the season’s opening weekend. Pochettino won five of his previous seven starts in this country, while Chelsea have won 20 and drawn six of the 31 previous Premier League openers.
Pochettino has already made his mark on Chelsea and the renewed energy, intent and imagination could be easy on the eye over the coming months. Pre-season saw more partnerships developing, more bodies arriving in the opposition box, better organised pressing, and tactics designed for players who make a difference.
He used the five unbeaten pre-season matches to assess and refine the squad he will take into his first Chelsea campaign. Among the players who completed the most minutes were Conor Gallagher (sometimes used in a high pressing role), goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, attacker Christopher Nkunku, and Ian Maatsen (again used in an advanced role with great success).
Unfortunately, Nkunku, the leading summer goalscorer with three and a key man in Pochettino’s dynamic style, will be out for a few months with a knee problem.
Chief summer assister (with three) Nico Jackson, a Swiss-army-knife forward, looks certain to lead the line against Liverpool, and it could be a busy Sunday for Mykhailo Mudryk. Elude the Reds’ initial press and they can be open at the back and flanks – the lightning Ukrainian’s domain – as Bayern showed repeatedly in a recent friendly. Raheem Sterling may figure against his former club on the right flank.
Young Brazilian Andrey Santos has mightily impressed but may have to wait for a debut, with Enzo and Gallagher comprising the midfield against tough opening opponents. Poch has also voiced his approval of no.10 Carney Chukwuemeka’s can-opener movement on the edge of the box.
At the back, Malo Gusto looks an able rival to skipper Reece James at right-back, Levi Colwill is likely to partner Thiago Silva in central defence, and left-back Ben Chilwell has looked close enough to his athletic best to hold off Marc Cucurella. Benoit Badiashile and Wes Fofana are sidelined, and towering new defensive signing Axel Disasi may be given more time to settle in.
Incoming goalkeeper Robert Sanchez will push Kepa for minutes and livewire winger Noni Madueke and the versatile Trevoh Chalobah should soon be ready for some involvement following an injury-disrupted pre-season.
It will be interesting to see who is on penalty duty should that eventuality arise, as it has in three of the Blues’ previous five league openers.
Scouting the opposition – Liverpool
Pre-season can produce misleading portents, but Liverpool’s high-scoring summer warm-up matches echoed their final game of 2022/23, when they traded blows with relegated Southampton in a 4-4 draw.
The 4-3 loss to Bayern highlighted their much-discussed strength in attack and weakness in defence, especially in wide areas. Klopp blamed fatigue for a lack of concentration and poor decision-making, but saw encouraging moments where what he is planning came together.
It is all change in Liverpool’s midfield, with established names such as Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and James Milner departed (and Thiago Alcantara injured). Of those the Brazilian, Klopp’s most reliable defensive stopper and a guaranteed starter, is arguably the least-easily replaced. Curtis Jones appeared to be groomed for that role in pre-season.
The friendlies also saw debuts for key signings Dominik Szoboszlai, a left-sided attacking middleman who also takes free kicks, and former Brighton box-to-boxer Alexis Mac Allister, Enzo’s World Cup-winning teammate.
Klopp is set to continue his switch to a vogueish 3-box-3 formation with right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold handed a central midfield role, leaving the flank-covering more to the right centre-back, likely to be Ibrahima Konate, when counter-attacked. The box is completed by a forward dropping more centrally too, so Alexander-Arnold is less a wing-back now, more a deep-lying quarterback.
All three of the Reds’ front three – Luiz Diaz, Diogo Jota and former Blue Mo Salah – found the net against Bundesliga newcomers Darmstadt last Monday. Another possible starter, Darwin Nunez, has formed an effective understanding on the right with Salah, though the tactically-disciplined Cody Gakpo is likely to be selected against Chelsea.
How to watch Chelsea-Liverpool
This match will be covered live by Sky Sports in the UK. To find the relevant broadcaster where you are, see the Premier League’s broadcast schedule pages.
Chelsea TV’s worldwide matchday shows – including early team news, exclusive interviews and analysis – are on the 5th Stand app, Facebook Live, and the official YouTube channel.
Chelsea vs Liverpool – the history
For 73 years, 11 months and 17 days (until the 6-0 victory over Robbie Di Matteo’s West Bromwich on 14 August 2010) Chelsea’s greatest margin of victory on the opening weekend in England’s top flight was the 6-1 beating of Liverpool on 28 August 1937 at Stamford Bridge.
The Pensioners’ remarkable performance was the main item on Pathé’s newsreels that week. George Mills netted a hat-trick for Leslie Knighton’s team and a few weeks later the centre-forward completed a century of league goals – the first Chelsea man to do so.
Our only previous Premier League start against the Reds was equally memorable: the first domestic win under new owner Roman Abramovich in August 2003. The 2-1 victory at Anfield was secured by new signing Juan Sebastian Veron’s opener and a winner from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. (We had, of course, beaten the Merseysiders even more memorably on the last day of the previous season at the Bridge.)
Opening day highlights
Chelsea have won each of our past three opening Premier League matches. In 2022 we beat Everton 1-0 thanks to a Jorginho penalty won by Ben Chilwell. A year earlier there was a comfortable 3-0 at home to Palace featuring a Trevoh Chalobah sidewinder, and back in 2020 we won 3-1 at Brighton.
The Blues’ biggest ever Premier League win on matchday one came on 14 August 2010, when newly promoted West Bromwich were whacked 6-0 at the Bridge, Didier Drogba bagging a hat-trick. Nineteen months later the visiting head coach that day, Roberto Di Matteo, led the Londoners to Champions League glory for the first time.
Nothing quite measures up to the start of Chelsea’s second ever season, though. On 1 September 1906 Division Two Glossop were slaughtered by an amazing nine goals to two and ‘Gatling Gun’ George Hilsdon netted five times. The scoreline and the individual feat remain all-time Chelsea records for an opening day.
Dons in the Carabao
The Carabao Cup draw means south-west Londoners Wimbledon will visit Stamford Bridge in the week starting 28 August. The Dons beat Coventry 2-1 at Plough Lane in round one this week with two goals at the death.
This will be the Blues’ first round two League Cup match since Bristol Rovers were the visitors in August 2016. Michy Batshuayi scored twice on his first start to set up a 3-2 win.
Chelsea’s only previous meeting with Wimbledon in the competition was as defending champions in December 1998 at Selhurst Park, a 2-1 quarter-final loss. As London’s first winners in 1964/65, we have claimed the trophy five times.
The four successive 0-0s across all competitions between Chelsea and Liverpool equals the longest run of no-score games involving English top-flight clubs. The previous two instances were Everton and Liverpool, 1974 to 1975, and Arsenal and QPR between 1992 and 1994. No top-tier fixture has ever served up five on the trot.
New charter for the next chapter
As Reece James settles into his brand new role as club captain, the Premier League has published a new ‘participants’ charter’ for 2023/24, setting out standards of behaviour expected from coaches, skippers and players around matchdays.
The most visible changes will be the presence of only one coach in the technical areas, and a yellow card produced when two or more players surround a match official ‘in a confrontational manner.’ Last weekend’s Community Shield also saw yellow cards produced for kicking the ball away at a free-kick.
Don’t overstep the mark
Sadly, fan rivalries can spill over into bad behaviour including ‘tragedy chanting’ – offensive messages, chants or displays mocking disasters involving opposition clubs, including the deaths of Liverpool fans at Hillsborough in April 1989.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has issued new guidance to make it easier for authorities to ban and restrict travel of any supporters found guilty of such behaviour, and the Premier League is committed to supporting prosecutions.
Equally, back in January the FA announced that the ‘rent boys’ chant aimed at Chelsea fans is a breach of its rules and liable to incur a three-year banning order. Several people have also been identified and arrested by police for this homophobic chant. Surely there is enough to sing about in the many sensational moments from this fixture’s history without crossing the line.
Matchweek 1 Premier League fixtures
Burnley v Manchester City 8pm (Sky Sports)
Arsenal v Nottingham Forest 12.30pm (BT Sport)
Bournemouth v West Ham 3pm
Brighton v Luton 3pm
Everton v Fulham 3pm
Sheffield United v Crystal Palace 3pm
Newcastle v Aston Villa 5.30pm (Sky Sports)
Brentford v Tottenham 2pm (Sky Sports)
Chelsea v Liverpool 4.30 (Sky Sports)
Manchester Utd v Wolverhampton 8pm (Sky Sports)