Seven games in twenty-one day. Hands up if you’re already tired of hearing about this on day one of the said twenty-one. But this is our reality. It used to our normality, but then we missed a season of European competition and we got used to the cushy schedule of once-a-week matches (barring any League Cup nonsense) and plenty of training-time in between. Combined with an excellent injury record, Chelsea were able to thus rely on a core group of 13-14 players basically all last season.
This season, we’ve already been through the wars. Three games in and we’ve yet to field the same starting lineup, due to both injuries and suspensions. In a way, that’s been excellent practice for the road ahead, which is fraught with the many dangers of squad rotations and ever-changing personnel.
This game may see yet see another change or two. Bakayoko might start in a 3-4-3 (he started in a 3-5-2 vs. Spurs). Hazard could be back. And there is another game closely following on Tuesday night, under the lights, back home at the Bridge, which will undoubtedly see more changes.
Two weeks of international duty and transfer shenanigans are over. The new season is now properly under way, and the work is just beginning.
Date / Time: Saturday, September 9, 15:00 BST; 10:00am EDT; 7:30pm IST
Venue: King Power Stadium, Leicester, England
Referee: Lee Mason — we saw Mr. Mason just twice last season, both at home, with Chelsea scoring four goals both times (4-2 v. Southampton and 4-3 v. Watford). Chelsea have lost just 3 of the 25 games he’s refereed for us in total.
Forecast: Rain, possibly heavy
On TV: none (UK); none (USA); Star Sports
Select 1 / HD1 Add On HD; elsewhere
Streaming online: NBC Sports Gold (USA); Hotstar (India); talkSport, Chelsea TV (int’l radio)
WTF is NBC Sports Gold: Basically, NBC moved all games that weren’t on their regular channels (i.e. NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, etc.) into a subscription-based service. (This is a subscription in addition to whatever cable/satellite fees you may be paying to get access to NBCSN in the first place.) These extra games used to be available on demand (“Extra Time”), but now they’ve been moved off cable and onto the Internet exclusively. The cost is $49.99 for the whole season of “Premier League Pass” and there is no other subscription option. The silly part is that the Gold sub is only good for games that are not on TV — that is, games that are being broadcast on TV are not viewable on Gold (but are available for streaming on the usual NBC Sports Live Extra service). What this boils down to for Chelsea fans is that you’re paying $49.99 for the handful of games (at least three (3!) but probably not much more) that will not be on any of the regular NBC channels (plus some other assorted soccer programming). That’s a really bad deal, but if you want to watch this game legally in the comfort of your own home (in the USA), it is your one and only choice.
Leicester City team news: Leicester remain largely the same team they were two years ago when they won the most surprising Premier League title ever, except in midfield where both N’Golo Kanté and now Danny Drinkwater as well play for Chelsea instead, with the latter joining last week and Kanté doing so last summer. Riyad Mahrez wanted out as well, but it didn’t happen for him despite almost pulling a Peter Odemwingie and showing up on some team’s doorstep begging to be let in. Mahrez is back with the Foxes and supposedly ready to give it his all.
City did make a few smart signings in the summer, including you Harry Maguire from Hull and Kelechi Iheanacho from Manchester City. Another big-money signing, Sevilla’s Vicente Iborra has been sidelined with a groin injury, joining former Chelsea defender (and three-time Premier League-winner) Robert Huth in the physio room. Deadline day loan acquisition Aleksandar Dragović* could feature as well, but Drinkwater-replacement Adrien Silva remains in FIFA transfer-limbo.
Leicester have a murderous opening stretch, facing Arsenal (A), Manchester United (A), Chelsea (H) and Liverpool twice (both H) in their first eight games in all competitions. Halfway through that stretch, they have two expected wins (Brighton, Sheffield United in the League Cup 2nd round) and two losses (Arsenal, Manchester United). They came within 10 minutes of beating Arsenal and hung tough with United for most of the game, so they won’t be making it easy for Chelsea either.
IVAN DRAGO-VIĆ? You might remember Dragović from scoring twice at Stamford Bridge, once for Dynamo Kiev and once for Chelsea, before Willian scored a most perfect free kick, in the 2015-16 Champions League group stage, as well as from the 2013 Europa League, when he played for FC Basel, whom Chelsea beat in the semifinals that year.
View from the enemy: Fosse Posse
Chelsea team news: Everyone except the suspended Gary Cahill is available, but those recovering from recent injuries (Hazard, Drinkwater, Bakayoko) may not be quite ready to start even if Conte wanted them to. Cahill is serving the final game of his three-match suspension, so he should be back next weekend as well. (Whether he gets his starting job back automatically is another question entirely however, since Antonio Rüdiger has done quite well in the meantime.)
Since giving up three goals to Burnley in the first 45 minutes of the season, Chelsea have conceded zero goals to opposition players. We did concede one to Michy Batshuayi but also scored six more in the correct goal. Basically, Chelsea have done almost as well as last season outside of that opening half against Burnley when everything that could’ve gone wrong, did.
Projected lineup (3-4-3):
Courtois | Rüdiger, David Luiz, Azpilicueta (c) | Alonso, Kanté, Bakayoko, Moses | Pedro, Morata, Willian
Previously: It was the first game after Spurs ended the record-setting 13-match winning streak, and it was the match for which Costa got dropped after the training ground incident. Chelsea wasted no time in getting back on the title-winning track with three goals to the good from Two-goal Marcos and Pedro.