The opening weekend of the 2019/2020 Premier League season ends Sunday with an epic showdown, as Manchester United host Chelsea in an encounter eagerly anticipated for different reasons.
With only two Champions League places realistically up for grabs – considering Man City and Liverpool are a level above the other teams – it is fair to say this could have major implications, despite it being week one.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær hopes his brave new world starts with a promising performance following a first summer in charge of Manchester United. Frank Lampard, in his competitive debut as the Chelsea No 1, will look for precisely the same from his team.
Manchester United have shown plenty of promise in pre-season but after failing to address all the issues in their squad, they go into their first full season under Solskjaer feeling slightly underwhelmed.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have club legend Lampard in the hot seat and are looking forward after failing to warm to Maurizio Sarri. The club’s transfer ban meant it was a quiet summer at Stamford Bridge but the belated arrival of Christian Pulisic has added a new dimension to their attack following the exit of Eden Hazard.
As the final few hours of the transfer window ticked over on Wednesday night, it is fair to say United fans were not happy. After a collapse in form under Solskjaer towards the end of last season, big changes were promised but there has been very little to appease fans.
The only major first team exits have been Ander Herrera, Antonio Valencia and Romelu Lukaku. A quick look through the United squad shows there are plenty of weak areas, particularly in central midfield and wide areas.
To Solskjaer’s credit he has hopefully found the solution to their issues in central defence after splashing out £80million on Harry Maguire while the signings of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James will inject some youthful energy into the squad.
Holding onto Paul Pogba is also a boost and the club will be hoping he is desperate to perform well to ensure the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus are still keen when the transfer window reopens.
If United are to win back their place in the top four then their record against the fellow big boys must improve. They won just seven points in 10 matches against the “big six” in the Premier League last season; the joint-fewest of the “big six” clubs alongside Tottenham.
They have also found the going tough against today’s opponents. United have won just two of their last 13 Premier League meetings with Chelsea but are unbeaten in six home games against them in the top flight.
There will be huge pressure on the shoulders of Marcus Rashford this season to deliver goals. He has been desperate to have the spotlight to himself and Lukaku’s exit will mean he gets a lot more time on the pitch as a centre forward.
Meanwhile as a player, Lampard was the embodiment of Chelsea. His goals and performances from the heart of midfield were the driving force in their journey to the top of the domestic game.
Back at Stamford Bridge as manager, fans are hopeful he can return them to the edge of their seats after quickly growing frustrated of “Sarri-ball”.
Despite winning the Europa League, Sarri was shown the door and now Lampard, with only one managerial season under his belt, will lead them into the new campaign.
He probably would have preferred to avoid an opening weekend game at United but, conversely, what a statement three points at Old Trafford would make.
The former England international has had his hand tied behind his back for most of the summer. Prevented from doing any work in the transfer market, Lampard has had to make do with what he inherited apart from Pulisic, who finally arrived in London after his January move from Borussia Dortmund.
They are still to truly identify a first choice No 9. Tammy Abraham flourished on loan at Aston Villa last season and it should finally be time for him to be given a chance. He has competition though from Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi but none of the trio are seen as genuine candidates to hit 20 goals a season.
This will be the first meeting between Manchester United and Chelsea on the opening weekend of a league season since 2004-05, when Jose Mourinho took charge of his first-ever Premier League match and Chelsea prevailed 1-0 thanks to an Eidur Gudjohnsen goal. Chelsea went on to win the league title that season.
United have lost more Premier League games (18) and conceded more Premier League goals (71) against Chelsea than they have against any other team.
This will be the first ever competitive meeting between both teams where both managers also previously played for their respective clubs.