A new era begins for Chelsea on Sunday as the squad travels to Old Trafford to face Manchester United for their first match of the Premier League season.
With a transfer ban likely in place for the duration of the 2019-2020 season and the departure of Eden Hazard over the summer, Frank Lampard takes charge of Chelsea for this season but with a different task than many previous Chelsea managers.
Because the club cannot strengthen through the transfer market, Chelsea have almost been forced to turn to members of the vast loan army and academy prospects to supplement the existing squad, fresh off of a season where Chelsea finished fourth and won the Europa League under the guidance of Maurizio Sarri.
This preseason, some of those players have given Lampard something to think about as he names his first squad on Sunday. Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham have impressed in preseason, as has Ross Barkley.
With Willian just returning to training after representing Brazil in Copa America and recovering from a small hamstring injury, Lampard will have a choice between playing a 4-2-3-1 with Pedro and debuting Christian Pulisic, who officially joins from Borussia Dortmund, or playing a form of a diamond that allows him to play both Mount and Barkley.
He will have to decide between Abraham, Olivier Giroud, and Michy Batshuayi at striker, but his decision at centre back has been made easier with the departure of David Luiz on deadline day. Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen are likely to start, as Antonio Rudiger is short of match fitness after returning from the knee injury that he suffered at the end of last season.
Although Chelsea are a team in transition, this may not be the worst time to play Manchester United since they have some of their own issues to deal with at the moment.
Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka were United’s main acquisition over the summer, shoring up a defense that lacked quality in the centre back position and needed a new face at right back.
Maguire’s arrival should help, but with the injury to Eric Bailly during preseason, one of Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling, or Phil Jones who weren’t particularly consistent last season.
Add question marks about their attack and goal scoring after the departure of Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan, and you begin to wonder what United will look like on Sunday afternoon. The long-running saga of Paul Pogba’s future can’t help either.
But it is still Manchester United at Old Trafford, and it will still be a good early-season test for a Chelsea squad that is still yet to forge its own identity. A win on Sunday will do wonders for their confidence. And coupled with a win midweek over Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup, there might just be cause for optimism for the upcoming season.