A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s opening day match away to Manchester United.
Chelsea, under the stewardship of former player Frank Lampard, kicked off their 2019/20 Premier League season with a trip to Old Trafford. This might be a heavyweight matchup of the 2 most successful sides during the Premier League era, but these are slightly different times for both clubs.
There are 2 other teams currently dominating at the top of the league. Meanwhile Chelsea and Manchester United are both attempting a restructuring and rebuilding program as they work towards reducing the gap to Manchester City and Liverpool.
And so this new season brings about a different feel for both clubs. They are now managed by relatively young managers and their first team squads are sprinkled with quite a few talented youngsters.
Manchester United finished the end of last season woefully short of form and Ole Gunner Solskjaer clearly has a rebuilding project to do to return the team back to where they are used to being.
Meanwhile, Frank Lampard will have less pressure on him for the results his team achieve, with a remit of trying to maintain the club at a decent level while they endure a year of not signing new players.
Add to that the departures of Eden Hazard and David Luiz, while an injury list that includes Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Willian, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Antonio Rudiger, the new boss needed to look further in to his squad as he picked his first Chelsea starting line up.
N’Golo Kante was also deemed not fit enough to start, so Mateo Kovacic lined up next to Jorginho. Kurt Zouma started in defence with Andreas Christensen, while Frank opted for Tammy Abraham in attack, supported by Ross Barkley, Pedro and Mason Mount.
With only 1 recognised wide player, it appeared that Frank was aiming to flood the middle of the pitch. It meant that newest signing Christian Pulisic had to wait for his debut, but the manager had him available as a potential impact substitute in case his side’s play went a little flat.
While it was 2 youngsters who the club had loaned out to Championship clubs last season making their first Premier League starts for Chelsea, Ole Gunner Solskjaer was able to hand out debuts to 2 of his players.
The difference was that The Red Devils had spent over £100million on purchasing their talents. The world’s most expensive defender Harry Maguire and full back Aaron Wan-Bissaka were both included in a side that was without former Blues Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku. The first 2 were named amongst the substitutes, while the Belgian striker is now an Internationale player.
One of the biggest questions for Solskjaer will be how will his side replace Lukaku’s goals. But The Blues have a similar conundrum and almost straight away Abraham nearly solved it with a rasping shot that hit the post.
Chelsea started in the ascendancy, while the host’s only chance happened when Zouma’s wayward pass fell kindly for Martial who’s shot was comfortably saved by Kepa.
The Blues continued to dominate, but they were unable to take a deserved lead. That was punished after some poor passes deep within the Chelsea team allowed The Red Devils to advance in to the Chelsea penalty area. Kurt Zouma emphasised his shaky start with a clumsy challenge and Marcus Rashford was able to fire the penalty kick into Kepa’s goal.
This was harsh on Frank’s team. But this was only the start. The home side clearly increased in belief and stature, while the latter stages of the match saw The Blues capitulate and fall apart.
While the likes of Rashford, Martial and Lingard made the most of the space between Chelsea’s defence and midfield, Harry Maguire was able to lead a solid defence against anything that Frank’s side could muster.
And this emphasised the difference between both clubs. By being able to make such a large purchase to plug a clear hole in their team, Manchester United have added a top quality player to their leaky defence.
Along with his aerial ability and decent ball distribution, it was his calmness under pressure that his side did not add to their concerns with self-inflicted mistakes while under a torrent of early pressure from The Blues.
This influence proved it’s worth when the opposite could be said about Chelsea’s rear guard when they were under any pressure. So while the footballing governing bodies tie the club’s hands together, Frank will need to focus his thoughts on tightening up his team.
If he can successfully do this, and with the return of his long list of injured first team players, we may have the answer to maintaining success despite any bans.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue