When the Premier League fixture list was revealed it did not take long to find the first epic showdown of the season.
The opening weekend concludes with a cracker as Manchester United host Chelsea tomorrow. With only two Champions League places realistically up for grabs it is fair to say this could have major implications, despite it being week one.
Manchester United has 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 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer feeling slightly underwhelmed.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have club legend Frank 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 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer towards the end of last season big changes were promised but there has been very little to appease fans.
It was said there was going to be an overhaul of the squad. In April, Solskjaer spoke of the need for ‘tough decisions’ and a ‘survival of the fittest’ regime but they largely have a similar squad to what they finished with in May.
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 tomorrow’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.
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.
After a few years away he has returned in their hour of need. 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’.
The Italian’s appointment was interesting after he turned Napoli into an exciting, attacking team that posed a serious threat to Juventus’ dominance. However, his Chelsea team played a slow and lifeless brand of football that turned fans away and gave other teams an easy ride.
Despite winning the Europa League he was shown the door and now Lampard, with only 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.
A squad that finished third last season has been bolstered by some returning loan players and there is definitely the depth to be competitive once again. Losing a player of Hazard’s quality will definitely have an impact but it remains to be seen how strong his absence will be felt.
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 is any of the trio capable of hitting 20 goals? –Mailonline