The 2020/21 Premier League season is here, and closing out the opening weekend is Chelsea’s trip to Brighton.
The Blues had a decent season in 2019/20, finishing fourth in the league and securing Champions League football in a campaign largely considered transitional. But now, particularly after their business in the transfer window, the Blues are expected to bridge some of the gap between themselves and the top two.
Standing in their way on the opening weekend are Brighton, who will no doubt have plans of their own to move up the table as Graham Potter continues enhance his influence upon the team.
So, who will come out on top, and what else might happen at the Amex on Monday night?
1. Chelsea to get off to a winning start
Many will still remember how Chelsea opened their 2019/20 Premier League campaign by losing 4-0 to Manchester United, but the Blues do still boast a pretty decent record on the opening weekend.
Since Roman Abramovich took over in 2003, Chelsea have won 13 of their 17 opening games in a Premier League season, losing only two (though they have come in the past three seasons).
Chelsea also have a pretty decent record against Brighton since the Seagulls were promoted to the Premier League, winning five of the six games, scoring 14 and conceding just two.
Then there are the new signings Chelsea have made. Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, Thiago Silva, Ben Chilwell and Malang Sarr have all been brought in to Stamford Bridge over the summer and all except Sarr are expected to play a big role over the new season. Although not all will feature against Brighton, with Chilwell injured and Ziyech a doubt, there is an air of 2004/05 and 2014/15 about this Chelsea transformation, and both of those sides kicked off the campaign with a win. Chelsea are 4/6 with William Hill* to repeat that feat by beating Brighton on Monday.
Brighton have had a quieter window, but did bring in Joel Veltmann and Adam Lallana. While the side may continue to improve under Potter this season, it may be a tall order for them to start with a win over Chelsea.
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2. Timo Werner to hit the ground running
Despite knowing they would be kicking off their Premier League campaigns against each other, Chelsea travelled to the Amex to face Brighton in a pre-season friendly at the end of August. It gave Chelsea fans the opportunity to see what their new striker, Timo Werner, could do leading the line, and the German took just four minutes to open the scoring.
It was a relatively easy finish, tapping in from close range with just the goalkeeper to beat after Callum Hudson-Odoi’s mishit header from Ziyech’s cross fell to his feet, but Werner had to get into the position to score.
Although it won’t go down as an official goal or even his official debut (that should come against Brighton on Monday) it was a promising start for Werner in England. He carried that goalscoring form into the international break, netting in Germany’s 1-1 draw with Spain in the Nations League, a low finish following neat footwork to get space in front of the defender.
Chelsea fans can also find a positive omen in the goalscoring records of their past two marquee striker signings. In 2014, Diego Costa scored on his Premier League debut in a 3-1 win over Burnley in the opening weekend of the season and three years later Alvaro Morata did the same, again against Burnley albeit in a 3-2 defeat. Although Werner isn’t playing against Burnley, he is likely to join Costa and Morata, and he will be hoping to have a Blues career mirroring the former.
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3. Brighton to breach Chelsea’s defence
The pre-season friendly between Chelsea and Brighton was very much split into two parts, especially given each team changed their entire XIs at half-time.
Both enjoyed extended periods of being on top. For Brighton, that came in the second half, thanks to a mixture of adventurous attacking and Chelsea’s weakness at the back.
The Seagulls would eventually equalise from the penalty spot late on, having already missed one at the start of the second half, but they clearly had a gameplan to hurt Chelsea. And it’s something they can take into Monday’s game when it matters.
Brighton weren’t the greatest of scorers in the Premier League last season, with only four teams scoring fewer, and they haven’t improved their attacking line. But this is Chelsea they’re facing. The Blues had the worst defence in the top half of the table, conceding 54 goals in 38 games, the same amount as Brighton who finished a lowly 15th. For the pre-season trip to Brighton, Chelsea still displayed the lack of defensive stability that plagued them in 2019/20, with Antonio Rudiger and Ethan Ampadu the culprits for the penalties.
Then there’s the question of who will start in goal for Chelsea. Kepa Arrizabalaga or Willy Caballero? If it’s the former, all eyes will be on the Spaniard to see how he fares, having been linked with a move away from Chelsea over the summer.
Relevant William Hill odds:
- Both Teams To Score – Yes: 4/5
- Brighton to Score – Yes: 8/15
4. Chelsea to lead with a 4-2-3-1
Chelsea played in a variety of formations last season depending on the game and form, testing the likes of the 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-3 among others. In both league games against Brighton last season and the recent pre-season friendly, Chelsea lined up in a 4-3-3 or something very similar, but that may not be the case come Monday. Instead, a 4-2-3-1 could be the call largely due to absentees.
Starting in the friendly against Brighton, Ziyech had to come off with an injury, later revealed to be a “a little bit of a small twist” on his knee. A further update came in Frank Lampard’s press conference, where he ruled out Ziyech for at least the next “couple of weeks”.
They can work around his absence with a 4-2-3-1 formation. Any combination of the back four will do, but it is likely to consist of Cesar Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva, Marcos Alonso and possibly Antonio Rudiger. With Mateo Kovacic serving his suspension for a red card in the FA Cup final against Arsenal (another reason why the 4-2-3-1 may be used) Jorginho and N’Golo Kante will partner up in the deeper midfield roles.
Further ahead, no Ziyech could see Hudson-Odoi pushed over to the right and one of Mason Mount or Ruben Loftus-Cheek playing on the left, with new-signing Havertz through the middle. Werner, naturally, should lead the line.
5. Adam Lallana to feature heavily
Although Brighton have only made two signings so far, the acquisition of Adam Lallana looks to be a good one. Once a promising midfielder at Southampton, Lallana stagnated slightly at Liverpool, hampered by injuries and eventually pushed out by better attacking stars. But Lallana still has the ability to make an impact at Brighton.
😁 It’s official!
✍️ Albion are delighted to announce the signing of Adam Lallana on a three-year contract!#BHAFC 🔵⚪️
— Brighton & Hove Albion (@OfficialBHAFC) July 27, 2020
Lallana looked impressive in the pre-season friendly against Chelsea at the end of August and was arguably Brighton’s best attacking outlet before his half-time substitution.
Although he did not score or assist, Lallana constantly looked to bypass Chelsea’s defence with his passing whether it be from open play or set pieces. The Blues were particularly weak in defending the latter, and if Brighton are to break through Chelsea, expect Lallana to be integral.