Sunday August 13th, 4.30pm. One of English football’s most enduring rivalries. Stamford Bridge is the venue. Chelsea, under their new manager Mauricio Roberto Pochettino, entertain Liverpool.
As openers go this is right up there as one of the very best of the weekend. Both are among a very small band of clubs thought likely to be able to challenge Arsenal and Manchester City for the top spot, and both have claimed titles in the present era.
Liverpool finished fifth last term, 22 points behind winners Manchester City. Chelsea were, by their standards, dire. 12th was all they could manage, a further 23 points back. Both will be hoping for better in ’23/24.
‘Poch’ can call upon summer signings Nicolas Jackson and Axel Disasi but Christopher Nkunku is injured. Benoit Badiashile is recovering from a hamstring problem, while Wes Fofana is absent after having knee surgery. Kepa Arrizabalaga will apparently keep his place between the sticks with recent acquisition Robert Sanchez waiting for his chance.
Dominik Szoboszlai and World Cup-winner Alexis Mac Allister are set to make their Liverpool debuts while Thiago Alcantara and Stefan Bajcetic are thought to be short of a gallop after recent injuries. Jurgen Klopp has an enviable record against Pochettino-managed sides, and will hope that trend continues. I have my doubts, however.
Chelsea to beat Liverpool @ 9/5
Chelsea have endured a turbulent few years. A change of owner. Seemingly dozens of new players coming and going. Massive lows in terms of form and consistency, or lack thereof. And now the former Espanyol, Southampton, Spurs and PSG coach Pochettino is at the helm, looking to steady Todd Boehly’s expensively-acquired and refurbished ship.
Sunday is a crucial match for me. That critical ‘you only get one chance to make a good first impression’ moment; for Poch, for his new side, for the club as a whole. For the last thick end of 20 years they’ve become used to winning. Had huge players. One particular Portuguese manager who not only HE thought was Special. We all did. For a time. This is step one in a quest to recover some of that stardust.
As for Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp has arguably lost a little of his own ‘aura’ in the last couple of seasons. He’s been incredibly successful, and is universally admired. But Mane and Firmino are gone. Is his rock, Virgil Van Dijk, showing signs that he’s merely a damned fine player now and not super-human? Will all the experience lost with the above departures, exacerbated by losing Milner and Henderson too, take its toll?
Klopp is in the position all great managers find themselves in. Can he rebuild – re-invent another successful wheel. His engine room is much-changed, but defensively, are they all that?
Chelsea for me can examine that defence to the max, roared on by the Bridge faithful.
First team to score – Chelsea @ Evens
Given that I’m nailing my colours to the Blues’ mast it’s hardly surprising I’m thinking that Chelsea at even money are a decent bet to score first. All the momentum hinted at above can be brought to bear upon the Liverpool goal, especially early doors, testing out the heart of the Merseysiders’ rearguard.
Jackson is a 22-yr-old with the world at his feet. Chelsea’s new boy could pick no better stage than this if he’s thinking of opening his PL account. Meanwhile the likes of Raheem Sterling will be wondering if he can impact this would-be brave new world. He’ll be keen if he gets the chance, especially against one of his old clubs.
Liverpool’s away form last term was poor – something Klopp will hope to address sooner rather than later. Mouth-watering stuff, epic Sunday afternoon entertainment in prospect, and a chance to pop down some markers. Pour yourself a cold one, and lap it up. The match, that is. What a cracker we have in prospect.