Regular Friday night fixtures may be new to the Premier League, but they are hardly new to Chelsea. Well, modern Chelsea, maybe. According to the exhaustive records over at TheChels, the Blues have played 86 times in our history on a Friday night, which sounds like a lot until you realize that Chelsea are currently 75 matches shy of 5000 competitive fixtures played in total.
When was the last time Chelsea played on a Friday? Turns out it wasn't that long ago, as both the 2012 and the 2013 UEFA Super Cup matches were held on a Friday. Chelsea lost both, once because Radamel Falcao was an unstoppable force and once because we couldn't quite hang on against Bayern Munich or repeat the penalty shootout heroics from the Champions League final. I'm not sure when was the last Friday night match at Stamford Bridge, but the highlights package at the top shows one from 2002, a 2-2 draw against Manchester United, which was rescheduled due to police resourcing concerns over a clash with the Notting Hill Carnival. There was a similar story (insofar as police resources are concerned) for the lone Friday night game last season (Villa vs. United).
But this match is now part of the regular schedule of the new massive TV deal, and the second of twelve matches slated for the Friday night lights. Jurgen Klopp said that Friday night "is one of the best moments" to play football. Fans of high school American football would no doubt agree, as would fans of the eponymous TV show or movie (or book). Clear eyes, full hearts, and all that jazz.
The managerial dance-off on the sidelines will no doubt be worth the price of admission in and of itself, but when we add in the rivalry between Chelsea and Liverpool, and the high intensity, up-tempo style of both teams, we could truly be in for something special. Conte's Chelsea may be less concerned with picking individual fights than Mourinho's was, but there's far too much recent history and bad blood to simply ignore and wipe off the slate. Mourinho and Benitez may have started it, but it's continued through the years with Stevie G, and Luis Suarez, and most recently, Diego Costa and Martin Skrtel. The Slovak grappling artist may be gone, but Costa seems to be operating at the height of his powers, which does bode well for us.
And we'll need all the help we can get. Liverpool may be capable of losing to Burnley, but they are also capable of putting four past Arsenal and Leicester City. Playing up (or down) to the level of the opposition is no hallmark of a champion, but it does provide for plenty of entertainment and unpredictability.
At the end of the day, even though it's only matchday five, we're bound to learn something about this re-born Chelsea side under Antonio Conte. It's the first proper test for the manager and the newly re-motivated winners of the 2014-15 Premier League. The easier schedule of the early season may have resulted in three wins from four as well as the most shots taken and the least conceded in the Premier League, but lingering questions remain over the defense that seems unable to keep a clean sheet and an attack that often seems intent on wasting chances — especially as Liverpool, who are second in both of the aforementioned shooting statistics, have already faced Arsenal and Spurs away from home.
"We pay great attention to this game because Liverpool attack with two wingers and a forward playing very narrow in a line, and they put the full-backs very wide."
"They attack with five, six or seven players and this is difficult [to face], but there is a great possibility when you win the ball to find good space. When you are without the ball it can create many problems if you don't find the right solution."
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
Sounds like we have a plan. The trick, as always, will be the execution.