The opening game of a new season is always something of an unknown. There’s intrigue, excitement and several unanswered questions.
The biggest often tends to be regarding the starting XI. And that is why football.london decided to ask Thomas Tuchel at his pre-match press conference ahead of the UEFA Super Cup who was most likely to feature in his side against Villarreal in Belfast this evening.
It wasn’t easy for the German to answer, largely because he is working with a group of players at different stages of pre-season. Take Mason Mount, Reece James, Ben Chilwell, Jorginho, Emerson and Thiago Silva: they only returned to Cobham last week and have undertaken just eight days of pre-season training.
Surely they aren’t ready to start when the Blues face the reigning Europa League champions at Windsor Park, right?
“I think they could start but the question is can they finish? I think no,” Tuchel replied
“They have eight days of training in their legs and a European final after eight days is pretty demanding. Let’s be honest: It’s too early to compete for 90 minutes at this type of level.
“We have to find a mix and clearly the guys who came in early and have more minutes deserve to start. And the majority of these will start.
“We have five changes but I am not a fan of planning changes ahead of the match. It’s not a preparation match, it’s our first competitive match. We have to consider all scenarios because there could be extra time, we could even play 120 minutes.
“We will have training today and some of the guys maybe start. Then we have to have a scenario in our heads who ends the match, who is better to come onto the pitch, who could have an influence from the bench, who is more comfortable starting.
“This is the challenge for today but it’s important not to get lost in all these thoughts because it’s a competitive match. It’s not only about sharing minutes, it’s about the first title that we want to win.”
So there you have it; Tuchel is not taking this game lightly. He is playing to win and will pick the side he believes will do that. So who makes the starting XI?
In goal will be Edouard Mendy. The Senegal international is firmly the Blues’ number one and has spent the past month preparing for the new campaign.
Kurt Zouma and Antonio Rudiger have played the most pre-season minutes of Chelsea’s centre-backs so should be included in the middle and on the left of the back three respectively. Who starts on the right is not easy to call.
Trevoh Chalobah has impressed in the Blues’ friendlies but it feels unlikely that Tuchel will go with the academy graduate. Instead, the German may start with club captain Cesar Azpilicueta and then replace him in the second half with Andreas Christensen.
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Callum Hudson-Odoi is most likely to begin at right wing-back while the central midfield roles should be occupied by N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic. Marcos Alonso is the fittest of the left wing-backs and so is expected to be in the line-up.
There are reasons for debate as to who makes up the attacking trio, but given their performances in pre-season, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz should get the nod.
Predicted Chelsea line-up: Mendy; Azpilicueta, Zouma, Rudiger; Hudson-Odoi, Kante, Kovacic, Alonso; Werner, Ziyech, Havertz