Chelsea’s opening fixture of the Premier League season is fast approaching, with less than two weeks to wait until Frank Lampard’s men head to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United. There has, of course, been much debate about who should start and Frank will certainly have a selection headache.
Chelsea have had a mixed pre-season so far, having beaten the likes of Barcelona but losing to Kawasaki Frontale. Results, however, aren’t what’s important but individual performances and fitness certainly are. Lampard pointed out when he was appointed that everyone would have a ‘clean slate’ and the chance to impress in pre-season and some names have grasped that opportunity and deserve to start on the opening day.
Here’s my starting XI;
For me, this has to be the starting lineup for our opening game. Mason Mount has hugely impressed in pre-season and has arguably been our best player. The Englishman has scored 3 goals so far which makes him our top goalscorer and has demonstrated his technical ability through-out each game. Despite being just 21-years-old Mount excelled last season for Derby and understands Lampard’s system better than most – his goalscoring, pressing, passing and dribbling all have shone through despite limited minutes so far in pre-season while the team regularly rotates to regain fitness. I’d start Mount on the left to allow for Barkley to slot in centrally in this game, but expect him to come inside and create chances rather than running the wing.
Another big performer, surprisingly to many, has been Ross Barkley. The attacking midfielder seemed to have lost his way over the last two years or so but has been given creative freedom to express his clear talent by new manager Frank Lampard. Ross was quoted saying that the new manager has told him to ‘take risks’ and ‘express himself‘ in games this season. In the 2015/16 season Barkley picked up 7 goals and 7 assists which is an impressive return from midfield, especially as a 21-year-old and having increased freedom will only help him to improve his numbers. Again, he has displayed an eye for goal with beauties against both Barcelona and Reading in pre-season and has a new energy, belief and confidence to his game. Throughout the season Mount and Barkley will probably compete against each other for the attacking midfield role but due to injuries they should both start this game.
The midfield pivot is a hotly talked about area of the field for Chelsea this season and we’ve seen Kovacic and Jorginho link up fairly well so far, particularly against Barcelona. However if N’golo Kantè is fit then he has to start. There’s no player quite like him and he’s undoubtedly world class at what he does, providing energy and ball-winning quality in midfield which will allow The Blues to launch counter attacks as well as prevent the opposition. He’s yet to feature in pre-season due to an ongoing knee problem sustained at the end of last year but he looks like he could return on time to feature at Old Trafford, in which case there’s no doubt that he starts.
Next to Kantè, I’d start Jorginho. I think both himself and Kovacic can do an excellent job in that position but away to Manchester United we can expect to be up against attacking football and I believe Jorginho probably offers more defensively than the Croatian. His vision and passing cannot be doubted but his ability to make interceptions and tackles is hugely underrated and that could be key in the midfield battle at Old Trafford.
The only other massively debated position is the striker. I’ve opted for Batshuayi, he’s been solid in pre-season and doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. So often last season Chelsea fans grew frustrated, shouting ‘shoot!’ only for the player to attempt a simple pass instead. The Belgian forward always has his eyes on the goal and boasts an impressive goalscoring record, averaging a Premier League goal every 112 minutes – which is better than Harry Kane (117 minutes). Olivier Giroud and Tammy Abraham are both contenders for this position and solid cases can be made for both, but I think Michy is the best forward we have going into this game.
Every other position effectively picks itself. Fans are buzzing to see new £57M man Christian Pulisic make his competitive debut and he’s been bright in his short appearances so far. Pedro definitely still offers something but shouldn’t be starting ahead of the American and Willian isn’t yet ready to feature. The fullbacks are obvious – Reece James hasn’t recovered from injury yet so the captain Azpilicueta is nailed-on to start this game and Emerson is leaps and bounds ahead of Marcos Alonso. Kurt Zouma and David Luiz complete the back line, combining ball-playing ability with pace and strength should be key for Chelsea in holding off United’s attack. World record breaking goalkeeper Kepa undoubtedly starts, which doesn’t need explaining.
Thats my side to face Manchester United on the opening game of the Premier League season. Agree? Disagree? Let us know @TheChelseaEcho.
Chelsea’s Premier League season kicks off on 11th August, followed by a trip to Istanbul on the 14th to face Liverpool in the UEFA Supercup.
Written by Dan Barker | @danbarkzr