After a difficult previous season, Everton look to start the new one off on the right foot against one of the top sides from last year. Chelsea FC may have had ownership changes, but their team will present the same challenges as ever before to Frank Lampard and company; getting off to a good start will be that much more important for this team after the relegation battle of 2021-22.
The Toffees will be a bit shallow with Dominic Calvert-Lewin set to miss between four and six weeks with a recent knock, while Salomon Rondon will miss some time due to a red card sustained late last season. Hence, these Blues will be shorthanded against this Chelsea side, who they’ll hope continue to perform like they have across the preseason.
RBM: First off, super happy for the start of the new season; it’s a pleasure to chat with you again of course. While this Chelsea side is a bit different than last year - with changes made across the squad and regarding ownership - the expectations are still likely as high as ever. With that said, what have the feelings been around west London, this team, and the supporters regarding preseason struggles, player departures, and arrivals as well as new owner Todd Boehly?
WAGNH: After nearly two decades of Roman Abramovich, with entire generations of fans knowing nothing but an ultra-ambitious, ultra-generous benefactor funding the club constantly, this summer certainly had had a different feel to it, though perhaps not quite as drastically different as many had been expecting after that bottomless well dried up.
In fact, Boehly & Co have not only been saying all the right things as far as current and future ambitions and overhauling the way the club operate in public and in private, but they have backed up those statements with big spending and some welcome and promising changes behind the scenes. It’s still early days, and everything’s very much still a work in progress with interim appointments and processes, but when the jury does come back in, the verdict may in fact be quite positive.
RBM: What is different about Chelsea this season than last season - for better and for worse? How is Thomas Tuchel looking to adjust this side that struggled at points down the stretch of last season even with a third-place Premier League finish?
WAGNH: Well, that’s a bit tough to tell with this being the first “real” game of the season, but preseason has seen largely the same ideas, and along with it, the same problems as last season. Tuchel has hinted at trying different things in attack (more fluid) and at the back (back-four), but the overall intent seems to be to tweak rather than to go back to the drawing board.
RBM: What are the feelings regarding the transfer business that Chelsea have thus far concluded? Big names have been brought in at nearly every position, but other names have left or have been sold, and some targets have been missed entirely; what will the final month of the summer window see this team try to accomplish - if anything?
WAGNH: Our spending is now up to over 150m, but we’re probably not done, with a big-money center back likely to arrive, alongside perhaps another forward, and plenty of surplus still to unload, including the likes of Timo Werner, Michy Batshuayi, and Ross Barkley. The business so far, despite a delayed start due to the ownership transition and a few high profile misses thanks to Barcelona’s financial and transfer market shenanigans, has been excellent.
We have great expectations of Raheem Sterling and Marc Cucurella while Kalidou Koulibaly has been a target for the better part of half a decade. Most excitingly, the new owners have made it a point to invest greatly in youth as well, not just the Academy but in highly promising budding superstars like goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina and midfielder Carney Chukwuemeka, with a stated intent to ensure proper pathways remain open for young players to make it into the first-team.
RBM: What are the expectations for this outfit across the board? The Premier League, The Champions League, as well as both domestic cups.
WAGNH: Despite everything that’s gone on, the expectations are the same as ever (or, well, same as ever in the last two decades): title challenge (top-four minimum), deep Champions League run, and ideally at least one trophy of some kind. Last season may have ended in disappointment, but we still collected two bits of silverware (including one brand new one with the Club World Cup) and lost two more finals on penalty kicks. Never stop never stopping!
RBM: Who is going to be the Chelsea number nine this year? Is it anyone on the roster or might it be someone still to come?
WAGNH: Good question. And the answer is ... “yes”. Kai Havertz probably starts as the first-choice center forward, with youngster Armando Broja as his backup. But we’ve seen hints at a false-nine or strikerless system already, with our various attackers all rotating through the center. And Chelsea do remain linked tentatively with strikers, especially if they have a proven track record of chance conversion — a glaring weakness in this team.
RBM: How do you expect Chelsea to set up on Saturday, and who do you think could cause Everton the most problems in the match?
WAGNH: I would expect our familiar 3-4-3, with a fluid attacking trio and the usual focus on control and pressing. We’ve seen some growing understanding between Sterling, Mason Mount, and Havertz, so I would expect those three to have a say in hopefully getting our season off to a good start.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?
WAGNH: I would like to say that we’ll win, but seeing as how we tend not to do that at Goodison, I guess I’ll keep expectations low with a 1-1 draw.
Our thanks to Dávid for his time.