Chelsea are back, and also back in the UEFA Super Cup specifically for the fourth time in the last ten years, a testament to our success on the grandest of European stages — 2 Champions Leagues and 2 Europa Leagues, if you’re keeping count — but contrary to popular belief (such as this hilarious oversight from the Times, even), we have actually been here before we were conjured into existence by Abramovich’s billions in 2003. In fact, our appearance in 1998 remains the only time we’ve actually won this showpiece showoff between the champions of the two biggest European competitions the season prior.
Win or lose, this game is unlikely to have the magnitude and impact of that 1-0 win over Real Madrid, but starting the new season with a win is certainly better than starting it with not a win. Plus, it’s an actual trophy, though one that by itself won’t constitute success at the end of the season. We’ve got plenty of time to worry about that however. Let’s get it!
Despite many players returning only recently, the 24-man traveling squad consists of every first-team player, with only a couple fringe players and loan returnees like Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Trevoh Chalobah thrown in. Whether Tuchel decides to treat this game primarily as a fitness exercise or as a chance to win an actual trophy or just as reward for dedication and professionalism (a final runout for Tammy Abraham, for example?) — or a bit of all three — will determine who gets to start and play (we do get five subs in this one).
The Yellows have packed their Submarine full of just about every player for this trip to Belfast, though of course they can’t all play. Injuries have also ruled out Dani Parejo and once Chelsea-linked Samuel Chukwueze. Former Spurs flop Juan Foyth suffered a knock yesterday but looks to be okay to play. Pau Torres (briefly also linked with Chelsea) has not had any rest this summer, but will apparently also play.
This may look like an underwhelming scoreline, but for a first game of the season, a win and a clean sheet would build the team’s confidence for the new season. Villarreal will be resilient, the Yellows are not here by error, and they will want to prove that to themselves more than anyone else. Hakim Ziyech to score, staking his claim to start regularly for Tuchel’s Chelsea for the upcoming 2021/22 Premier League season.
Considering that Romelu Lukaku will most likely not be through the door early enough to be given a starter role against Villarreal, I would expect a Blues side rather similar to the ones we saw last season. This means an attacking brand of football paired with an almost impregnable defence, but it also could mean more missed opportunities and other problems related to the lack of a clinical striker in the team. Nonetheless, the Champions League winners should have too much in the tank for Villarreal to handle and should come away with at least a 2-0 win.
Chelsea and Villarreal will meet for the first time ever in UEFA’s traditional play-off between last season’s prize-winners. Super Cup games are like friendlies with benefits: it has always been a nice and early title to claim not least because it is a rare opportunity in any career. The prize used to be the smallest of UEFA’s trophy at 42½ centimetres tall, but since 2006 the new pot has been a more sizeable 58cm.
Metal of a different composition is a feature outside tonight’s host stadium: Windsor Park, Belfast. It is a statue of the great George Best, who is indirectly linked to both participants. The Northern Ireland legend always said he would have loved to play for Chelsea (and donned the famous royal blue in a testimonial) and was great friends with Peter Osgood and co.
Best was also dubbed ‘el Beatle’ after Manchester United’s European Cup win in 1968 and Villarreal fans’ nickname for their club – the Yellow Submarine – comes from a worldwide hit for the Beatles released two years earlier.
I expect this game to be very cagey. A load of mistakes and miss passes might very well happen due to lack of match fitness and this being the first match of the season for both sides. Villarreal will play on the counter and expect the Blues to have a majority of the possession. Kai Havertz and Ziyech will play well and score the goals. The quality in Tuchel’s squad will shine through to win the Super Cup.
This is the last thing that Tuchel will want, but Villarreal is no push-over. The Yellow Submarine will force the Blues to go beyond the 90 minutes for their first piece of silverware this season. Despite an easy preseason, the intensity of the game will catch the Blues off guard. They will need to summon all of their tactical nous and drive to come from behind, equalizing in the last 15 minutes before dominating extra time and snagging the winner. Havertz, Jorginho and Ziyech to score.