Chelsea and their fans can finally look upon a new dawn. For what had been their worst season in almost 50 years, the 2022/23 season will certainly not be fondly remembered by the club.
In all fairness, the Blues should have seen this coming right at the very beginning of the season, when Roman Abramovich was forced to sell his club. The tension between the Ukraine-Russia war directly impacted the Stamford Bridge outfit resulting in Todd Boehly taking over as the new co-owner.
Since then, Chelsea have hired and fired three managers already, even after spending nearly $700m in transfer money. The Blues hierarchy have promised the fans a better and more tactical approach this time around and have hired their fourth manager in a year – Mauricio Pochettino.
The Argentine was brought on board after an exhaustive search and has brought with him his ever-reliable backroom staff. The Blues have already begun their squad’s mass clearout and will continue to do so while they bring in reinforcements. The Blues have almost sealed the signing of Villarreal striker Nicolas Jackson and are in talks with several other key figures, namely – Moises Caicedo, Andre Onana and Gabri Veiga.
Boehly and Co. though will have to move quickly in the market to try and give Pochettino a settled squad to play with in the pre-season. With so much uncertainty over the future of more than a dozen players at the club, it is hard to predict what will the Argentine coach field on the opening day of the 2023/24 Premier League season.
Here’s a look at Chelsea’s best starting lineup on the opening day and in Pochettino’s first game in charge for the Blues:
Goalkeeper – Kepa Arrizabalaga
Probably the most difficult prediction for anyone to make in terms of lineups in the Premier League this season. The Blues haven’t had a reliable keeper between the sticks since the days of Petr Cech and Thibaut Courtois. Edouard Mendy might have been the star in Chelsea’s run to UCL victory in 2021, but some uninspiring performances since then have left the Stamford Bridge faithful scratching their head.
Pochettino initially wanted to bring in a new goalkeeper but it looks like Kepa has earned his trust within a short time. Mendy has already sealed personal terms with an unnamed Saudi club. The Blues might look to bring in a new number two, but Gabriel Slonina might get the nod there. So unless Kepa suffers a season ending injury, expect him to start in goal on the opening day.
Full-backs – Ben Chilwell & Reece James
Well, this was the easiest to pick and certainly a no-brainer. The England full-back duo of Ben Chilwell and Reece James have been a menace for Chelsea on either flank ever since their debuts for the club.
They might not be the first choice for Gareth Southgate in the England setup but their quality on the pitch cannot be denied. Marc Cucurella had a disappointing first season at Chelsea and will have to earn the trust of the fans before he is given a chance to even compete with Chilwell.
Reece James on the other hand is the undisputable right-back for the future at Stamford Bridge. Even with Malo Gusto coming in, James’ place in Chelsea’s starting 11 looks safe. The duo of James and Chilwell is the perfect fit for Pochettino’s tactics who likes his fullbacks to bombard high up the pitch creating multiple overloads.
Centre-backs – Wesley Fofana & Benoit Badiashile
For a position that Chelsea had the fiercest of competitions last season, it suddenly looks bleak. Thiago Silva has been a legend of the game and even though he was one of the best defenders in the English top flight, age seems to be catching up on him. Kalidou Koulibaly couldn’t mirror his Serie A dominance in the Premier League and is heading to Saudi after just one season at the club.
Trevoh Chalobah, after a brilliant debut season under Tuchel, lost his place in the Chelsea lineup due to niggling injuries and is often linked with a move away from the club. That leaves CFC with Badiashile – a January 2023 window signing, and Wesley Fofana.
Both of them are young centre-backs who have often proved that they are capable of playing for a club like Chelsea. And under Silva’s mentorship and their ball-playing abilities, expect Pochettino to get the best out of the duo.
Midfield Pivot – Enzo Fernandez & Moises Caicedo
Another easy choice for Pochettino after the fullback selection. With Jorginho leaving Chelsea for Arsenal in January 2023, Kovacic on his way out to Manchester City and N’Golo Kante already sealing a move to Al Ittihad, the Blues are suddenly short on central midfielders.
Enzo Fernandez – another January signing – was the only player who showed fight at the end of last season with very little to actually fight for. He needs a midfield partner who could complement his playing style and that is why Pochettino is targeting Moises Caicedo.
The Ecuadorian is every bit of a Pochettino player and somewhat shows glimpses of Kante with the ball at his feet. If Boehly does end up signing Caicedo, the Blues have their midfield set for the next decade or so.
Wingers – Mykhaylo Mudryk & Raheem Sterling
A bloated squad was one of the reasons for Chelsea’s disastrous last season. Many of those players were attackers, and very few of them showed real quality on the pitch.
More than half of those attackers are already on their way out of Stamford Bridge. Mason Mount and Kai Havertz are set to join Premier League rivals elsewhere. A few of them are headed to the Saudi Pro League with only a couple of players set to stay. Mudryk, Sterling and Madueke are some of them and it will be between the trio who will start on the opening day.
Mudryk and Sterling look most likely to get the nod even though Madueke was Chelsea’s best player in the last few games of the season. Sterling will want to put behind his worst season in the Premier League and with Pochettino at the helm, expect Mudryk to put on some fireworks,
Forwards – Christopher Nkunku & Nicolas Jackson
Not many options here. Nkunku will start after his big-money move from RB Leipzig was confirmed earlier this year. Nicolas Jackson has already agreed personal terms will the Stamford Bridge outfit and should start ahead of the likes of Armando Broja and David Fofana.
Pochettino might still go for more players in the transfer market depending on the outgoings, but this lineup should at least help him get off the mark on the opening day of the new Premier League season.