Frank Lampard has his first win as Chelsea manager. Now he looks for his first one at Stamford Bridge on Saturday when the Pensioners host promoted Sheffield United.
(Potential Starting XIs)
Chelsea (1-1-1) are clearly a work in progress, something that could prove either entertaining or disastrous in European play after learning their Champions League path Thursday. The Europa League winners were in Pot 1, and the result was a finely balanced group with home-and-away ties against 2019 surprise semifinalists Ajax, Spanish side Valencia and Ligue 1 club Lille starting next month.
“I think it is a very even group,” former keeper and current club technical adviser Petr Cech told Chelsea’s official website. “All the teams have a lot of quality and it is one of those groups where everybody can beat everybody so this makes it very interesting but we can be satisfied with the draw. We avoided long travel so that was one of the positives.
The group matches will mark Chelsea’s first competitive meetings with both Ajax and Lille.
Before play starts next month for Europe’s top club trophy, however, Lampard must find a balance between his side’s enthralling offence and substandard defence. The former overcame the latter in a 3-2 victory at Norwich City last weekend as Tammy Abraham opened his account with a brace on either side of halftime, including the match-winner on 69 minutes.
Recent England call-up Mason Mount scored Chelsea’s other goal, taking a short pass from Christian Pulisic and using his lateral pace to create a shooting lane and beat Tim Krul. Teammate and fellow midfielder Ross Barkley also earned a call-up to the Three Lions for their upcoming Euro qualifiers, with the 20-year-old Mount praised by national boss Gareth Southgate.
“I think Mason Mount has been one of the outstanding players in the league this season,” Southgate said. “We bought him into the squad last October, as much for the experience as anything. This time he is in on merit, as simple as that.
“He looks like threatening the goal every game he plays. I have watched him develop through England’s youth teams since 16 and he has been an outstanding player at every age group. He is not in off the back of three games at Chelsea, he is in off the back of a year in the Eredivisie which was outstanding and a very successful year with Derby and being a European Under-19 champion with us.”
Chelsea have shipped nine goals in their four matches thus far, though last weekend can partially be explained away by the absence of midfield engine N’Golo Kante through injury. Kante is again questionable for this match, but there is hope centre back Antonio Rudiger will at least be available for selection after playing a full 90 minutes with the Under-23 side last weekend.
The Germany international could displace either Kurt Zouma or Andreas Christensen in the first XI considering neither has stood out early. Up front, Pulisic is likely to remain a starter with Pedro likely out due to a hamstring injury suffered in warmups at Carrow Road.
Sheffield United (1-1-1) have had a positive start to promoted life and bounced back from a home loss to Leicester City over the weekend by defeating Blackburn Rovers 2-1 in the second round of the Carabao Cup on Tuesday. Richard Stearman and Oliver Norwood scored first-half goals for the Blades, who advanced opposite Sunderland following the League One’s side shock win at Burnley despite a choppy final 45 minutes.
“I take the blame for a disjointed performance because when you do make than many changes it’s not really the players to blame,” Blades boss Chris Wilder told the BBC. “We were also up against a very talented side that move the ball about very well. You get games like that when you don’t really have a rhythm about you.
“But we had to make the changes because everyone recognises that without doubt the bigger issue is Chelsea (in the Premier League) on Saturday.”
Wilder rotated 10 new starters into the midweek match after their 2-1 defeat to the Foxes, and his biggest selection dilemma for this contest is determining whether Oli McBurnie and Billy Sharp showed enough to start ahead of David McGoldrick and Calum Robinson to lead Wilde’s 3-5-2 formation.
Both McBurnie and Sharp have scored goals off the bench in league play, with midfielder John Lundstram accounting for the other marker. McBurnie was called up to Scotland’s national team for their upcoming Euro qualifiers versus Russia and Belgium.
These teams last met in the top flight in the 2006-07 season when Chelsea cruised to an easy double by a 5-0 scoreline. The Blues have won the last three Premier League matches between the teams after Sheffield United won the first three and did a double of their own in 1992-93.
Odds and Ends, per Ladbrokes
To Win: Chelsea 4/11; Draw 18/5; Sheffield United 15/2;
Both Teams to Score: Yes 10/11; No 4/5
Over/Under 2.5 Goals: Over 4/6; Under 11/10
First Goal Scorer Chelsea: Abraham 3/1; Batshuayi, Giroud 7/2; Mount, Pedro 9/2; Pulisic 11/2
First Goal Scorer Sheffield United: McBurnie 7/1; Sharp, Robinson 8/1; McGoldrick 9/1; Freeman 20/1
Anytime Goal Scorer Chelsea: Abraham Even; Giroud 6/5; Batshuayi 5/4; Pedro 13/8; Mount 7/4; Pulisic 21/10
Anytime Goal-Scorer Sheffield United: McBurnie 5/2; Sharp, Robinson 14/5; McGoldrick 16/5
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Chelsea 3, Sheffield United 1.
PREDICTED HALFTIME SCORE: Chelsea 2, Sheffield United 0.
PREDICTED FIRST GOAL-SCORER: Tammy Abraham
OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 4 PREVIEWS
Leicester City (1-2-0) vs. Bournemouth (1-1-1)
Manchester City (2-1-0) vs. Brighton and Hove Albion (1-1-1)
Newcastle United (1-0-2) vs. Watford (0-0-3)
Everton (0-2-1) vs. Wolverhampton (0-3-0)
(Frank Lampard photo courtesy Chelsea FC official Twitter account)