Premier League

Preview: Huddersfield Town vs. Chelsea - predictions, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Maurizio Sarri's first Premier League match in charge of Chelsea as they visit the John Smith's Stadium to face Huddersfield Town.

Maurizio Sarri takes charge of his first Premier League game as Chelsea manager when they travel to Huddersfield Town on the opening weekend of the season.

The former Napoli boss has had less than a month to settle into the hotseat before the big kickoff so the Terriers will be hoping to catch their London visitors off guard.


Huddersfield

Huddersfield defied the odds to survive their first Premier League season in 2017-18. Although they only spent a couple of weeks in the relegation zone, things got nervy for David Wagner's side in the final weeks of the campaign as they stayed afloat by a mere four points.

Staying up can be even harder the second time around and their task has been made more difficult by newly-promoted duo Wolverhampton Wanderers and Fulham showing an ambition to reestablish themselves in the top flight with lavish spending that Huddersfield are unable to match.

Although the Terriers broke their transfer record on £17m defender Terence Kongolo, three of their major pieces of business have been permanently securing the services of players who were on loan last season, with Jonas Lossl and Florent Hadergjonaj also in that category.

Wagner does not appear to have brought in anybody who will improve his first XI and that might be a concern, particularly in attacking areas where they returned a division-low goal total of 28 last season. The German has gambled on £10m Adama Diakhaby, also from Monaco, but he only has eight senior goals to his name.

Strikers Steve Mounie and Laurent Depoitre proved a handful for Premier League defences but combined for only 13 goals between them in 61 appearances. The likes of Alex Pritchard, Ramadan Sobhi and Rajiv van La Parra will all have to chip in more frequently to help supplement that front pair.

Key to Huddersfield's hopes of avoiding the drop again will be the centre-back pairing of Mathias Jorgensen and Christopher Schindler, who partnered each other for all but 154 minutes of last season's league campaign, a major factor in the Terriers boasting the best home defensive record of the bottom-half teams.

Wagner's men took only five points from a possible 36 against top-six opposition on their Premier League bow so, considering that a trip to Manchester City follows the visit of Chelsea, they could be facing an uphill relegation battle from the first whistle.

Pre-season form: WWWDLL


Chelsea

It has been a strange summer at Chelsea, with former manager Antonio Conte hanging on for his payout and Sarri not coming in until the middle of July.

The 59-year-old's late arrival did not hinder the Blues in the transfer market as they snatched Jorginho from under the noses of Man City and followed that up with the loan capture of Matteo Kovacic and the world-record goalkeeper signing of Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Although they did lose Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid, Eden Hazard's head has yet to be turned by the Spanish giants, and if they can keep the Belgian happy and on his sparkling World Cup form then they have the makings of a squad capable of getting back into the Champions League.

Without Hazard and Ngolo Kante, the FA Cup holders were outclassed by the English champions in last weekend's Community Shield. Olivier Giroud was also missed as Alvaro Morata strives to rediscover the goalscoring touch with which he started his Blues career.

One significant change that Sarri has implemented is the switch from Conte's beloved three at the back to the 4-3-3 formation which he utilised to make Napoli one of the most effective and entertaining teams in Serie A. It is a system that plays to Chelsea's strength which is undoubtedly their array of midfield talent.

Sarri has also wastled little time in repairing some of the relationships that Conte strained. Willian is back on side, David Luiz is in favour again having sat out much of last season and even Ross Barkley appears to have a future at Stamford Bridge having largely been ignored upon joining from Everton.

While he gained many admirers in his three seasons at Napoli, Sarri has never won a major trophy as a manager so it remains to be seen whether he can hang with the likes of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola. Although he is not alone among top-six bosses of having that to prove.

Pre-season form: DLDDW


Team News

Wagner has almost a full squad to choose from, with American midfielder Danny Williams his only injury doubt. Former Stoke City winger Sobhi may get the nod on the left flank, paired with Kongolo who spent most of his time with Town last season at full-back rather than centre-half.

Chelsea's World Cup semi-finalists got some minutes under their belt against Lyon on Tuesday but are unlikely to be rushed into league action, unlike Kepa who is expected to make his Blues bow 48 hours after joining from Athletic Bilbao for a fee of £71.6m.

Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen are vying to partner Luiz in the middle of the defence, while Cesar Azpilicueta should return to his customary right-back berth. Both Barkley and Cesc Fabregas are in line for starts as Kovacic is given time to settle.

Callum Hudson-Odoi will be hoping to be rewarded for his eye-catching pre-season performances but Sarri will probably opt for the experience of Willian and Pedro, considering the absence of Hazard and the struggles of Morata.

Huddersfield possible starting lineup:
Lossl; Hadergjonaj, Schindler, Zanka, Kongolo; Mooy, Hogg; Sobhi, Pritchard, Van La Parra; Mounie

Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Kepa; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso; Jorginho, Barkley, Fabregas; Willian, Pedro, Morata


Head To Head

It was a point at Chelsea last May which secured Huddersfield's top-flight status for another season, although the Terriers caught the capital giants on a good day at the John Smith's Stadium as Hazard and Willian starred in a 3-1 Blues win.

Not since 1962 have the Yorkshire outfit beaten Chelsea on home soil, but they do boast a better head-to-head record in league competition with 25 wins to Chelsea's 24.


We say: Huddersfield 0-1 Chelsea

It will take Chelsea some time to get used to Sarri's methods and tactics so they shouldn't be expected to come flying out of the blocks, especially if Hazard is going to sit the first couple of games out.

However, they will have enough to scrape by against a Huddersfield side which is desperately short of firepower. They will struggle to get the ball off Chelsea's technically-gifted midfield and the visitors will create enough chances to punish Town eventually.


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Premier League Table
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Manchester CityMan City86202131820
2Chelsea86201851320
3Liverpool86201531220
4Arsenal86021910918
5Tottenham HotspurSpurs8602157818
6Bournemouth85121612416
7Wolverhampton WanderersWolves843196315
8Manchester UnitedMan Utd84131314-113
9Watford84131112-113
10Leicester CityLeicester84041412212
11Everton83321312112
12Burnley82241012-28
13Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton8224913-48
14Crystal Palace821559-47
15West Ham UnitedWest Ham8215813-57
16Southampton8125614-85
17Fulham8125921-125
18Huddersfield TownHuddersfield8035417-133
19Newcastle UnitedNewcastle8026613-72
20Cardiff CityCardiff8026417-132
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Select and display your favourite team's news and scores in this panel
Premier League Table
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Manchester CityMan City86202131820
2Chelsea86201851320
3Liverpool86201531220
4Arsenal86021910918
5Tottenham HotspurSpurs8602157818
6Bournemouth85121612416
7Wolverhampton WanderersWolves843196315
8Manchester UnitedMan Utd84131314-113
9Watford84131112-113
10Leicester CityLeicester84041412212
11Everton83321312112
12Burnley82241012-28
13Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton8224913-48
14Crystal Palace821559-47
15West Ham UnitedWest Ham8215813-57
16Southampton8125614-85
17Fulham8125921-125
18Huddersfield TownHuddersfield8035417-133
19Newcastle UnitedNewcastle8026613-72
20Cardiff CityCardiff8026417-132
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