Title contenders, Chelsea? It's really too early to say
The Stamford Bridge outfit have been the most active side in the Premier League during this transfer window, having signed six players at a grand expense reportedly in excess of £200 million (S$350m). Timo Werner, Kai Harvetz, Thiago Silva, Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chillwell and Malang Sarr have been added to the Blues’ roster.
This inspired panic and contempt from fans of Chelsea’s rivals, notably Manchester United’s.
“I can’t stand Chelsea. Where got people one time buy six?” muttered one in mesolectal English who refused to be named, while reports of her favourite club’s epic tussle for the signature of one Jadon Sancho piled up.
And as United’s Ed Woodward continued to wonder whether or not Sancho is worth his £108m price tag, Chelsea’s Frank Lampard fielded £109.5m of his new purchases when he gave debuts to two of his six acquisitions – Werner (£47.5m) and Harvetz (£62m), representing slightly more than half of the club’s spending so far – when Chelsea began their season with a visit to Brighton and Hove Albion this morning (SGT).
While the Chelsea signings would keep fans wide awake and rivals sleepless in this difficult time of the coronavirus with most other clubs’ talent-resource spending reduced to a trickle, I have no such benefit of bias either way, being a neutral.
But one Singaporean Chelsea fan who was overseas – he was on a staycation in Sentosa – promised to watch the game with me: Meet YuJin Lim, a hospitality director who has been a Chelsea fan since the days of Ruud Gullit.
“I’ve been a Chelsea fan since 1996, and it was Ruud Gullit that got me interested in them when I started watching the English Premier League, during a time when all my schoolmates were supporting either Manchester United or Liverpool, or even Arsenal,” said YuJin, whom you may have seen performing as a DJ on the bar and club scene during the good old days when Covid-19 wasn’t yet a thing and when CB referred to a Hokkein profanity.
Yujin was confident before the match started, as Brighton had never beaten Chelsea in a league match and had won only once – in a 1933 FA Cup tie.
And as the match got going, he was pleased that Werner was causing trouble in the Brighton half, especially midway through the first-half when he burst into the penalty area, leading to a collision with Brighton goalkeeper Matt Ryan that resulted in a penalty for Chelsea which Jorginho, who has never missed a penalty for Chelsea, scored to give the visiting Blues a one-goal advantage at half-time.
“Timo Werner looks very promising, causing plenty of problems for Brighton,” said YuJin. “We’ve seen a couple of nice passes from Kai Havertz, but so far, none of his charging attacks.
“Chelsea seem to be sitting back and waiting for Brighton to make mistakes,” he added.
And what did he think of Chelsea goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga?
“Made a great save and showed more composure at the back though he missed a clearance at a corner,” said YuJin optimistically. In fact, the Spaniard was fortunate not to have got himself into any trouble for completely missing the ball when he tried to punch it. Roy Keane would’ve punched David de Gea if the United goalkeeper had bungled so spectacularly.
“Overall, a solid first-half performance from Chelsea,” said YuJin, changing the subject. “Hopefully, we’ll have a better attacking display in the second-half. We’re missing Christian Pulisic,” he added.
Just over 10 minutes into the second-half, Chelsea displayed their defensive frailty when Brighton forward Leandro Trossard beat Kepa – the world’s most expensive goalkeeper at £71.6 million, from outside the box, a blunder which, if made by David de Gea, would have seen the United goalkeeper strung up by a lynch mob led by Roy Keane.
However, a first Premiership goal by Reece James 100 seconds later spared Kepa – and YuJin – the blushes. It was a piledriver from 30 yards out to the top corner, beyond the reach of Ryan.
Chelsea survived what should have been a Brighton equaliser when the unmarked Lewis Dunk missed from point-blank range at the far post, after which Kurt Zouma, in the 66th minute, had his shot deflected by Adam Webster beyond Ryan and to make it 3-1 for Chelsea, which was how it ended.
YuJin was understandably elated because of the scoreline, but had no illusions about his side’s shortcomings.
“Not beautiful,” he conceded. “But they did grind out a result.”
He was impressed with Werner’s speed and form, though surprised that the German did not score.
“But he did get an assist with the penalty, so that helped. And he troubled Brighton with his speed, so more to come from him.”
WATCH: Frank Lampard on Timo Werner's debut
YuJin was less impressed with Havertz, but was confident he would improve with more match play. “He probably needs more time to adjust to the Premier League,” said YuJin.
Overall, he feels the team needs more time to play as a unit.
“They will need time to gel. More to come, for sure. They will get better, and I’d expect them to do better in bigger games against stronger opponents,” he added.
Against Liverpool next week?
“They’ll rise to the occasion, maybe even win,” said YuJin confidently.
“Hakim Ziyech will bring his creative touch to the wings when he is ready for action, Ben Chillwell will definitely be stronger defensively than Marcos Alonso, and Thiago will bring his experience and composure to the Chelsea backline,” he added.
“He’s likely to be replaced by (Rennes goalkeeper Edouard) Mendy,” said YuJin. Reports have suggested that Mendy has already signed for the London club, though Frank Lampard continued to back Kepa despite his error.
WATCH: Kepa Arrizabalaga shows his class
Meanwhile, Werner, who took a knock for the penalty and had his leg in ice, is said to be ready for Liverpool.
Would Chelsea be strong enough for the title this season?
“It’s still too early to say, but that’s what they will want. I’d say, definitely a Top Three finish,” said YuJin.
It's still early doors – with the two Manchester teams yet to see action, Liverpool having to work hard for a 4-3 win against newly-promoted Leeds, and Arsenal at the top of the table (on merit and not alphabetically), we've a long way yo go.
Still, three points and three goals in their season opener, and if it happens, third place may look good on Chelsea: after all, their current shirt sponsors are the mobile network, Three.