It was back in April that Thomas Tuchel fired his first warning shot to Man City and Pep Guardiola regarding Chelsea’s 2021/22 Premier League title pursuit.
“From day one of next season we will hunt them, we will try to close the gap,” Tuchel told reporters. “We will aim to win the very first match and from there prepare for every match to win it. Then we will see how consistent we are and how good we are.”
Chelsea, the reigning European champions, now know where, when, and against who the hunt will start. At 3pm at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, August 14, the Blues’ opening game of the top-flight campaign will get underway. Crystal Palace will be the visitors.
It is on paper a favourable fixture. The Eagles will be under new management and very much getting to grips with a new tactical approach after the best part of four seasons with Roy Hodgson at the helm. And yet there is reason for concern.
Three days before Chelsea’s Premier League campaign gets underway, the Blues will be in Belfast to face Europa League winners Villarreal in the UEFA Super Cup.
The vast majority of the Chelsea players involved will not be 100% fit having returned late to pre-season training after representing their countries at the European Championships and Copa America respectively over the summer.
As a result, Tuchel is going to have to carefully manage his squad right from the off.
Those who have undertaken pre-season at Cobham and at the club’s planned training camp in Dublin – such as Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic – should be nailed on to start in the Super Cup and hopefully help clinch the trophy for only the second time in the club’s history.
But several other regulars may need to be eased back into the side and could only feature for 30 minutes against Villarreal or an hour at best.
The bigger problem arises after the Blues’ trip to Belfast, however.
The Super Cup final will not end until 10pm at the earliest – there is always the prospect of extra time and penalties – and that will mean the Chelsea squad don’t return home until the early hours of Thursday morning.
A recovery session for those who started will almost certainly place at Cobham later that day. For the rest of the squad, attention will very much turn to Palace.
Chelsea will have a little more than one day to prepare for the contest; the hope that the game would be selected for TV coverage and pushed back 24 hours was quashed yesterday
That is hardly ideal preparation for a Premier League season opener and especially not given Tuchel and his players will want to put down an early marker.
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It may sound a touch dramatic but Chelsea need to take three points against Palace as in the five games that follow that clash at Stamford Bridge, the Blues take on Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham and then Man City. They can’t afford to be chasing their rivals from day one.
Tuchel proved during the Blues’ relentless schedule last season that he needs very little time on the training pitch to instruct, organise, and structure his side. Given Chelsea are due to take part in six competitions during the 2021/22 campaign, he is going to have to do so again.
He’d have almost certinaly hoped, however, the need to do so wouldn’t have arrived before a ball had even been kicked in anger in the club’s title hunt.