No N’Golo Kante or Kai Havertz. No Thiago Silva. No Ben Chilwell or Reece James. The list of players who started the Champions League final but didn’t make Chelsea’s starting lineup for the opening weekend of the Premier League is lengthy.
Yet the outcome remained the same. Chelsea won – and comfortably, too.
All the talk of the summer has surrounded the Blues’ pursuit of a proper centre-forward, and for a while, Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland seemed like their number one target. In the end, it was Romelu Lukaku who made the switch, with many believing he could make the difference in their Premier League title chase.
Well, he wasn’t available for their opening game of the season against Crystal Palace, but frankly, that didn’t matter. While we were all fixated on Thomas Tuchel’s determination to land an out and out goalscorer, we were sleeping on the embarrassment of riches already at his disposal.
That wealth came to light in the 3-0 stroll in the park with the Eagles, as an almost second-string Chelsea dismantled their opponents to kill the contest within the hour, with some of the unlikely lads shooting timely reminders on the day.
Injuries, hectic summer schedules and late transfers meant that Tuchel was unable to dip into the top shelf for each and every position on the pitch, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell by the level of performances across the board.
At the back, Silva’s absence went unnoticed, with the young, homegrown talent of Trevoh Chalobah stepping in to keep his place in the side, following the penalty shootout victory over Villarreal in the midweek UEFA Super Cup.
The defender was equally as competent this time round, and even rounded off the scoring with an accurate drive from range. Stunning stuff for the youngster, and proof that his German coach needn’t rely too heavily on the market in that area of the pitch.
The other major rotation came at wing-back. Cesar Azpilicueta was deployed on the right instead of Reece James, and perhaps it was his presence that helped Chalobah to grow into the game so quickly and calmly.
Marcos Alonso was preferred to Ben Chilwell on the left, and while that selection may have raised some eyebrows before kickoff, it was more than justified after only half an hour, when the Spaniard whipped the opening goal into the top corner from a perfect free-kick.
Plenty of angry tweets were hastily deleted in that moment, I imagine.
The midfield ticked along nicely without the presence of engine Kante, and Jorginho maintained the dangerously high levels he set at Euro 2020, which ended with him somehow in the conversation for the Ballon d’Or.
Havertz was left on the bench in place of Christian Pulisic, who, having endured a miserable season last year, started this campaign in ideal fashion. The American was always involved in the final third, and got his goal with a clever bit of instinctive play inside the penalty area.
Palace had no answers for any of the questions that Chelsea posed, and despite the lack of faces that were key at the end of last season, the Blues were in complete control from start to finish. A frightening prospect for those at the top of the table.