On the opening day of the new Premier League season, Chelsea open the defense of their Premier League title against newly promoted West Bromwich Albion. A familiar face will emerge from the tunnel on the side of West Brom when Chelsea legend Roberto di Matteo leads his team out for the start of the campaign. Di Matteo took over for Tony Mowbray last summer and guided the Baggies to 91 points from 46 matches, leading to promotion after just one season removed from being in the top flight. The challenge to stay up will not be easy for the perennial up and downers, as they open to a rousing Stamford Bridge crowd ready to welcome the 2009-2010 Premier League Champions.
West Brom have strengthened the squad for this run in the top flight, signing former Spain international Pablo from Atletico Madrid, Wales’ top goalkeeper Boaz Myhill from Hull, and experienced Premiership players Steven Reid and Nicky Shorey, from Blackburn and Aston Villa respectively.
West Brom’s attack is largely unchanged, returning leading scorers Chris Brunt, Graham Dorrans, and Roman Bednar. They also have up and coming English right back Joe Mattock at their disposal as well.
For Chelsea, the key members of the squad are largely unchanged, but they are some key departures. Ricardo Carvalho got his wish to be reunited with his old manager Jose Mourinho and was allowed to join Real Madrid. Deco was given his release to return to his home country of Brazil and join Fluminense. Juliano Belletti joined the same club on a free as his contract had expired and Michael Ballack joined Bayer Leverkusen under the same circumstances. Notably, Joe Cole has left for Anfield after failing to reach a deal to return him to the Bridge.
Replacements are in order, however former Liverpool player and Israeli international Yossi Benayoun is the only major official transfer. Ramires, from Benfica, is rumored to be joining, however the club have not confirmed the transfer, and many other rumors are out there.
The core of the team is still intact, with Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba both returning. The duo combined for 64 goals out of the 142 goals that the Blues scored in all competitions last season, underlining their importance to the team. Drogba had an operation after the World Cup but says he’s pain free for the first time in years, so it will be interesting to see how he looks when fully fit. If Drogba starts on the bench as he did at the Community Shield, Nicolas Anelka returns to lead the line and will be supported by Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou.
Most notably is the return of Michael Essien to the Chelsea squad. Essien has missed large parts of the last two seasons due to injury and a return to form for Essien is vital.
The backline is the suspect area for the time being with Carvalho’s departure coupled with an injury to Alex that will sideline him for a month. The likely scenario on Saturday is that Branislav Ivanovic will partner John Terry and Paulo Ferreira will play at right back.
All in all the opening of the season is about to begin and a defense of the title is possible. This season there are many threats so it’s important that the Blues get off to a good start.