Chelsea kickstart the defence of their Champions League title on Tuesday when they take on Zenit St Petersburg in their Group H opener at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues won the European crown on a memorable night in Porto in May, Kai Havertz’s 42nd minute goal enough to beat Premier League rivals Manchester City 1-0 to take home the most coveted trophy in club football.
Chelsea will be hoping their defence of the title this season goes a lot better than the last time they started the season as defending European kings. The Blues were knocked out of the group stage in 2013 having won the crown on that famous night in Munich under Roberto Di Matteo back in 2012.
Chelsea have the target on their back now as the defending champions and plenty of teams will see them as a huge scalp, no doubt Zenit will on Tuesday as well, should they secure a surprise win in west London.
Following the international break, Thomas Tuchel rested the likes of Mason Mount and Andreas Christensen completely for the win over Aston Villa. Jorginho and Cesar Azpilicueta both arrived as substitutes in the second half as the Blues eventually saw off their determined visitors.
Team selection will be at the fore once again on Tuesday as Tuchel needs to decide whether to have one eye on the trip to Spurs next weekend in the top flight or whether to go all out to lay down a marker in their Champions League opener.
As usual, we asked our reports at football.london to pick their teams for the game and here is what they came up with:
European football is back at Stamford Bridge in front of fans for the first time in what feels like forever and it promises to be a special occasion against Zenit on Tuesday night.
Thomas Tuchel will be without Christian Pulisic and N’Golo Kante for the game, which many of us expected, but that doesn’t mean he is unlikely to once again make changes.
He rested Andreas Christensen and Mason Mount on Saturday for the win over Aston Villa, he’d have liked to have given Jorginho the match off as well before the Italian was pressed into action at half time as the Blues – and Saul Niguez – struggled.
I’d expect those rested to come back in for the game against Zenit in midweek, and Jorginho should start as well alongside Mateo Kovacic.
Trevoh Chalobah will likely make way for captain Cesar Azpilicueta as well but apart from those, there isn’t really much for Tuchel to need to change to take on the Russian side. The Blues should have more than enough quality to get through the game with a win.
Tuchel’s pre-match comments seemed to indicate Marcos Alonso will keep his left wing-back spot over Ben Chilwell, while Mount would probably come in Hakim Ziyech if he is to play.
Reece James is in contention as well having been suspended for the Villa game so Tuchel will need to decide whether to play him, Azpilicueta or Callum Hudson-Odoi at right wing-back for the European clash.
Hudson-Odoi could get the nod after impressing against Villa, despite being on the end of a verbal lashing from Tuchel on a couple of occasions. Azpilicueta could play as the third centre half, a position he has excelled in since Tuchel arrived at the club.
Thiago Silva was supreme against Villa as well and Tuchel does have a big call to make in defence with Christensen waiting to make his return.
It’ll be very interesting to see if Tuchel plays a changed side against Zenit in a match that the Blues realistically should win and with Spurs at the weekend in mind too, a game Tuchel knows he can’t lose.
Sam’s team: Mendy; Hudson-Odoi, Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger, Alonso; Jorginho, Kovacic; Mount, Havertz, Lukaku.
I’d not take any chances with my starting XI for Zenit’s visit. Yes, in theory, this is a game that Chelsea should win. Perhaps comfortably. But Zenit are the Russian champions and have the potential to cause the Blues problems. An early slip-up is the last thing Tuchel requires.
So the Chelsea head coach should go with the tried and trusted. Edouard Mendy starts in goal and will look to repeat his Champions League performances of last season; the Senegal international was beaten on only three occasions on the Blues run to lifting the big-eared trophy.
The backline should be experienced, even though I’d rest Thiago Silva for Sunday’s clash against Tottenham Hotspur. So Cesar Azpilicueta returns alongside Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger. The German is the nailed-on starter here, he is truly undroppable.
I’d bring in Reece James, who was suspended at the weekend, at right wing-back while Ben Chilwell should be handed his first minutes of the season on the opposite flank.
There’s no N’Golo Kante due to injury and Saul Niguez’s shaky Chelsea debut against Aston Villa highlighted it will take the Spaniard a few games to acclimatise to Tuchel’s football. So Jorginho comes back into the starting XI and his midfield partner will be Mateo Kovacic.
Romelu Lukaku will spearhead the attack; there are unlikely to be too many high-profile games this term that the Belgian star does lead the Chelsea attack.
I think Mason Mount has to start having had a rare weekend off and I’d go with Timo Werner on the left of the three. The German forward scored in three consecutive games while on international and needs an opportunity to try to build some goalscoring momentum.
Adam’s team: Mendy; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; James, Kovacic, Jorginho, Chilwell; Mount, Lukaku, Werner