In less than seven weeks, English Premier League football will return with all 20 clubs beginning their seasons on Saturday, August 17.
So that means it's only 47 days now until Chelsea's new manager José Mourinho returns to make his Stamford Bridge and Blues season debut, as "The Great One" looks to try again to work his magic in West London.
Chelsea went an impressive 6-1-1 last year in Premier League action against the first five opponents it faces this year and outscored the four clubs, 20-6, along the way. The Blues and Hull City did not meet last season, as the Tigers played in the npower Championship.
Here's a look at those first five league games on the schedule for the Europa League champions with predictions and some additional pertinent information.
When: Saturday, August 17, 2013
Where: Stamford Bridge, West London, England
Last Season: Hull City was not in the EPL in 2011-12.
Hull City and manager Steve Bruce secured promotion to England's top flight on the final day of the 2012-13 season following an intense 2-2 draw to Cardiff City, edging out Watford who lost at home, 2-1, to Leeds United.
So what's the Tigers prize for making it back to the Premier League? How about a date with Chelsea in West London in Mourinho's first game back for the Blues?
Say what sister?
Hull (24-7-15, 61 goals for, 52 goals against) finished in second place in the Championship last season and has been fairly busy in the transfer market, so far, signing Ahmed Elmohamady (Sunderland) and Maynor Figueroa (Wigan Athletic), among others.
For Chelsea, the fixture with Hull provides Mourinho and his new squad an opportunity to start off the new season in the right fashion, and the game may also be the debut of winger André Schürrle (Bayer Leverkusen) for the Blues.
One guy who will definitely not be making his debut and who is thankfully back for Chelsea again is 35-year-old midfielder and vice-captain Frank Lampard who can be used either as a starter or substitute.
Expect the Blues to start slowly here, but ride the wave of momentum after their first goal and coast to an easy win and three points to start the season. But the big question from this distance still remains: Who will start at striker for Mourinho?
PREDICTION: Chelsea 3, Hull City 0
When: Saturday, August 24, 2013
Where: Old Trafford, Greater Manchester, England
Last Season: CFC 1-0-1; lost, 3-2, at home (October 28), won, 1-0, at United (May 5)
So if the schedule-maker was kind to the Blues, giving them Hull at home in the opener, was he as equally cruel scheduling Chelsea at defending Premier League champions Manchester United for their first road date in Week 2?
It certainly seems so, celery breath.
The Red Devils only lost three matches at Old Trafford last season in league play—to Tottenham-Hotspur, noisy neighbors Manchester City and to Chelsea—so the Blues won't be able to catch United by surprise in its first home game of the new season and the first one since the retirement of longtime manager and club legend Sir Alex Ferguson.
David Moyes takes over for Ferguson, but expecting a huge drop-off in the Red Devils play would be shortsighted as any roster with players like Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Shinji Kagawa, Javier Hernández, Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs and David de Gea is a formidable one.
Most Chelsea fans probably think Blues goalkeeper Petr Čech should have been named to the PFA’s first team last season over de Gea, but the 31-year-old Czech veteran will have another chance to show his value again this campaign.
The Blues would likely settle for a draw here at United (28-5-5 last season), but catching the Red Devils off guard at home in their first game of the season at Old Trafford just probably isn't going to happen—although it sounds like a beautiful thing on the first day of July to Chelsea fans.
PREDICTION: Manchester United 2, Chelsea 1
When: Saturday, August 31, 2013
Where: Stamford Bridge, London, England
Last Season: CFC 2-0-0; won, 8-0, at home (December 23), won, 2-1, at Villa (May 11)
Although Aston Villa (10-11-17) finished 15th in the Premier League table last season, six points above the relegation zone, the Lions are much better than their position in the table last year suggests.
Christian Benteke (19 goals) had a breakout season for Villa, and manager Paul Lambert and the Lions, like Hull City, have made some solid signings this summer in the form of Jores Okore (FC Nordsjælland), Antonio Luna (Sevilla) and Leandro Bacuna (FC Groningen).
Last season, Chelsea thrashed Villa in the first league meeting at Stamford Bridge in a record-tying 8-0 rout for the West London club, and the Blues edged the Claret and Blue, 2-1, at Villa Park in May to earn the season sweep.
The Blues may again be able to secure all six points against Villa—the two clubs meet again on March 15 at Villa Park—and should roll to a hard-fought, but somewhat easy, victory in this one on the last day of August.
PREDICTION: Chelsea 3, Aston Villa 1
Everton (16-15-7) only had seven losses in the Premier League last season, but two of those came at the royal-blue hands of Chelsea, both by 2-1 scores.
The Toffees were extremely tough at Goodison Park, losing just one time (12-6-1, 33 goals for, 17 goals against) on home soil—another small feather in the Blues' cap, seeing as how they were that one.
Marouane Fellaini (11 goals) led the Toffees in scoring in league play and had a standout season for Everton in 2012-13, but who knows where the Belgian midfielder will end up when the summer transfer season comes to an end.
Chelsea can expect another close battle with new manager Roberto Martínez—who takes over for Moyes—and the Toffees here, but with a loaded attacking midfield that includes PFA Player of the Year candidates Juan Mata and Eden Hazard as well as Oscar, Victor Moses, Kevin De Bruyne and Schürrle, the Blues should be pretty hard to beat this season.
Now, whether or not Mourinho and company can find a way to win again at Merseyside remains to be seen, but losing Moyes as well as possibly Fellaini and Leighton Baines could make year's version of Everton a notch down from the club which finished sixth in the table last season.
PREDICTION: Chelsea 1, Everton 1
When: Saturday, September 21, 2013
Where: Stamford Bridge, London, England
Last Season: CFC 1-0-1; tied, 0-0, at home (November 28), won, 3-0, at Fulham (April 17)
Fulham (11-10-17) finished 12th in the Premier League and failed to score a goal against Chelsea in two league meetings, but the Cottagers are always a tough opponent for the Blues.
When these two meet in this London derby on the last day of summer at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea should be a steep favorite—in the 2-to-1 range—but Fulham, manager Martin Jol and last season's leading scorer Dimitar Berbatov (15 goals) will surely put Čech, captain John Terry and the home club's defense to the test here.
In goal, the Cottagers will see if transfer Maarten Stekelenburg (AS Roma) can improve over 40-year-old Mark Schwarzer who was recently released. Fulham has also added Fernando Amorebieta (Athletic Bilbao) and Sascha Riether (FC Köln), so far, in this summer's transfer period.
But with just four wins on the road in the Premier League last season, the Cottagers will really have to improve its form away from Craven Cottage if it is to make a run at either a UEFA Champions League or Europa League qualifying spot this time around.
With just one real dangerous scoring threat in Berbatov, the Blues should certainly be able to outgun Fulham offensively in this meeting with their variety of deadly scoring threats including Fernando Torres, Romelu Lukaku, Lampard, Mata and Hazard.
PREDICTION: Chelsea 2, Fulham 0
So there you have it. Chelsea goes 3-1-1 in its first five matches in the EPL, secures 10 points and sits in either second or third place to start the new season behind some Mancunian team.
But obviously, there still remains much offseason business to be done with the transfer market expected to really heat up now with the end of the Confederations Cup this past weekend.
Several Blues participated in the high-profile tournament, including David Luiz and Oscar for their native Brazil and Mata, Torres and César Azpilicueta for Spain, who were dominated and shut out by the Samba Boys, 3-0 in the final in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.
The Confederations Cup is contested every four years by the champions of the six FIFA confederations—UEFA, CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, CAF, AFC and ORF—as well as the FIFA World Cup champions and the host nation.
The next five games on Chelsea’s EPL schedule after the above five are: against Tottenham-Hotspur at White Hart Lane (September 28); versus Norwich City at Carrow Road (October 5); against league newbie Cardiff City (October 19) and Manchester City (October 26) both at home at Stamford Bridge; and at St. James' Park against Newcastle United in Week 10 (November 2).
Despite playing the defending league champions on their home turf in one of the first five games of the season, Chelsea again will have the opportunity to get off to a strong start in the Premier League just like it did last season.
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