Arguably the most mouth-watering fixture on the opening weekend of the Premier League season will be Chelsea’s trip to Old Trafford on Sunday, August 11th. Even though neither side are considered realistic Premier League contenders this season, it is the first clash between two of the ‘Big Six’ teams of 2019/20.
The game has already generated plenty of interest with football predictions having little to rely on due to pre-season matches being the only recent games. They lack the intensity of competitive matches as players build up their fitness and managers use them to test tactical approaches, as well as try out new players or youngsters.
Chelsea, who ended the last campaign on a high by winning the Europa League, finished 26 points adrift of champions City, who edged out runners-up Liverpool by a single point. City went on to become the first team in history to sweep up the domestic treble of Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup, while Liverpool took top honours in Europe by winning the Champions League.
As for United, they finished sixth in the Premier League table six points behind Chelsea. Neither side will be happy to face another big team so early on in the campaign. Even at this early stage of the season, the game is a vital one, with both clubs employing two of the most inexperienced young managers in their recent history, so a win will help relieve the pressure while a loss will do the opposite and add to the burden of expectation.
United will be led by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who took over from Jose Mourinho a week before Christmas last year. At the start he was an immediate success, winning his first eight matches in all competitions. He lost just one of his opening 17 games before the wheels came off, with the Reds winning only two of their final 12 matches. This included a woeful draw to Huddersfield in early May, followed immediately by a 2-0 home defeat by Cardiff on the final day of the season. Both The Terriers and The Bluebirds had already been relegated when the matches took place.
Facing Solskjaer at the Theatre of Dreams will be Frank Lampard, for whom this will be his inaugural taste of Premier League football as a manager. The 41-year-old enjoyed a successful first season in management at Derby who finished sixth in the Championship table, before beating Leeds United over two legs in the play-offs which earned the Rams a spot at Wembley. But in the match to decide who would reap the huge financial rewards for being a member of the Premier League, Derby were beaten 2-1 by Aston Villa.
And when Maurizio Sarri decided to quit Chelsea after just a single season at Stamford Bridge, Lampard was invited to return to a club where he spent 13 successful seasons as a player.
Next month’s clash between the Reds and Blues will conjure up memories of the last time they met on the opening day of the season in August 2004. This fixture just happened to be a 41-year-old Mourinho’s first competitive match as Chelsea boss, and Eidur Gudjohnsen’s 14th-minute goal at Stamford Bridge sealed three points for the home side, who went on to clinch their first league title in exactly 50 years. Lampard played in that game and, although Solskjaer did not, he was a member of the United squad and remained at Old Trafford for another seven years as either a player or coach.
The pair are now managers of their respective teams hoping to make winning starts to the new campaign. The pressure will be intense and it will be interesting to see if, in the ultra-ruthless world of Premier League football, they will have the opportunity to shake each other’s hands again when the return fixture comes along in west London in early February. Both are club legends but football is a results-driven business so their popularity at the respective clubs will only do so much if they aren’t able to deliver the desired results.