After a turbulent summer at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea are finally about to get their 2018/19 season underway.
The delay in sacking Antonio Conte means that new manager Maurizio Sarri has only had a few weeks’ preparation with his new squad, while several high-profile players such as Eden Hazard, Willian and N’Golo Kanté still have question marks surrounding their future in west London. On top of this, they go into the new Premier League campaign with several key stars unfit for the new season due to their extensive participation in the World Cup over in Russia.
The Blues will certainly be behind in their season preparations compared to previous years when they take on Huddersfield Town on Saturday afternoon, here is how they are expected to line-up at the John Smith’s Stadium:
1. GK: Kepa Arrizabalaga
The sale of Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid was swiftly dealt with as the Blues paid an astonishing £71m for Athletic Bilbao shot stopper Kepa Arrizabalaga – a world record fee for a goalkeeper.
Despite the 23-year-old only signing for the club on Thursday, he is expected to start between the sticks for Sarri’s men against Huddersfield. Kepa will be hoping to get off to a good start to the campaign, and better the six clean sheets he achieved last season at Bilbao.
2. RB: Cesar Azpilicueta
Looking at the Blues’ pre-season encounters under Sarri, it is expected that Chelsea will return to a back four for the first time since the start of Antonio Conte’s reign at Stamford Bridge. This suggests that Cesar Azpilicueta will mostly feature in a right-back slot for the Blues this season.
The 27-year-old is about to take part in his seventh season at Stamford Bridge, and the Spaniard is closing in on 200 Premier League appearances for the Blues. And Azpilicueta – who did not feature for Spain during their dismal World Cup campaign in Russia – is expected to captain the side.
3. CB: Antonio Rudiger
Another player who had a difficult World Cup was Antonio Rudiger, who crashed out of the group stages in Germany.
After a tricky first season in England – in which the former Roma defender played 27 times in the league – the 25-year-old will be hoping to put in some effective performances to stamp down a regular spot in Sarri’s starting line-up.
4. CB: David Luiz
The Brazilian centre back was a forgotten man at Stamford Bridge last season, as the 30-year-old made only 17 appearances in all competitions for Conte’s Chelsea in 2017/18.
However, Luiz appears to have been given a new lease of life under Maurizio Sarri, and was given the opportunity to start over youngster Andreas Christensen in the Community Shield defeat to Manchester City.
Luiz will be hoping to rediscover some form at Stamford Bridge after failing to hold down a regular spot at Chelsea since the start of his first spell at the club in 2011.
5. LB: Marcos Alonso
Despite a change in formation, Marcos Alonso is expected to make the transition from left wing-back to left-back in Sarri’s new regime.
The Spaniard has been very close to ever-present for the Blues since his arrival to Stamford Bridge in 2016, and will surely keep his place in the starting XI over back-up option Emerson Palmieri.
6. CM: Jorginho
Jorginho joined the club alongside new manager Sarri in the middle of July and, as the new boss attempts to implement his tactics on this Chelsea squad, it is highly likely that the Italian midfielder will feature in most of Chelsea matches this season.
The 26-year-old had a better passing accuracy (89.5%) last season than any of Chelsea’s midfielders, and is expected to set the Blues’ playing tempo during the Huddersfield game.
7. CM: Cesc Fabregas
Extended breaks for N’Golo Kanté and new loan signing Mateo Kovacic following their World Cup exploits means that Cesc Fabregas is likely to start in the opening Premier League match against Huddersfield.
The Spanish playmaker was never really trusted by Antonio Conte, as the 31-year-old only averaged 19 Premier League starts by Chelsea’s former Italian coach. Some good early run arounds this season good cause a selection headache under Sarri.
8. CM: Ross Barkley
Chelsea’s lightness in midfield at the start of the season could also mean a start for Ross Barkley, whose career in a Chelsea shirt has yet to get going.
The former Everton midfielder only featured four times under Conte last season, with only half of them coming in the Premier League. Like Fabregas, the 24-year-old can insert himself into his manager’s plans with some exciting displays before Kanté and Kovacic are fit to start.
9. RW: Willian
After a summer of constant speculation over his future, it appears – at the time of writing – that Willian is set to stay at the club for the forthcoming season.
The Brazilian is one of Chelsea’s most consistent players, as the winger produces regular high-level performances, even during difficult seasons for the club. Abramovich and Sarri have done very well to keep him at Stamford Bridge, despite some approaches by Barcelona.
And Willan will be one of Chelsea’s main creative players at the top end of the pitch during the Huddersfield match.
10. ST: Alvaro Morata
After a great start to his career at Stamford Bridge, hitting Premier League 10 goals before the new year, Alvaro Morata struggled during the second half of the season, leading to many Blues fans losing faith in their £60m man.
But with Tammy Abraham too raw, Olivier Giroud not ready and Michy Batshuayi moving to Valencia on loan, Morata seems the only viable option up front for the Blues at the moment. A goal against Huddersfield could do a world of good for the 25-year-old.
11. LW: Pedro
Normally Blues fans would see Eden Hazard on the left of their three-pronged attack, but with Sarri unwilling to risk the Belgian due to his late arrival to pre-season after his World Cup exploits, it appears that Pedro will take his place.
The Spaniard was a reliable source of goals during pre-season, finding the net more times than any of his teammates. When (perhaps if) Hazard returns to the Chelsea starting line-up, then Pedro will compete with Willian for a wide spot in Sarri’s squad, so could do with a good performance against Huddersfield on Saturday.