Chelsea are looking to put last season behind them in their Premier League opener. West Ham head to Stamford Bridge on Monday night after a busy summer, can they improve on their seventh placed finish last term? That was three spots above the Blues, but can Antonio Conte inspire a better campaign this time around?
After a lot of preseason experimenting, we still aren’t entirely sure how Conte plans to set up his side. Hopefully the manager has a clearer idea, but you feel like he’s not finished adding to his squad just yet. After just two summer signings, it does feel like more is needed. Especially if the Italian is planning to push forward with his preferred 4-2-4 formation.
We’ve seen some big switches so far, with Eden Hazard shaping up as a forward. The two in midfield look to be playing pretty deep, which suits Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante. Quite what that would mean for Oscar’s future is another story. With Michy Batshuayi and Diego Costa pushing to start, going with two up front might suit this Chelsea side.
That could lead to a few goals, at both ends of the pitch. Conte hasn’t added at centre-half, and he’s still without Kurt Zouma. In an era of the Premier League where everyone is getting a star or two, the Blues might have some defensive troubles. West Ham have just had a fantastic season, and they’ve been busy adding to their squad. They’ve got depth, plus they are pairing Dimitri Payet up with Andre Ayew.
That attack might spell problems for this Chelsea team. Conte is picking from last season’s defence, so there’s unlikely to be any surprises. Thibaut Courtois should start in goal. In front of him will be Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta.
Those five didn’t have the best of years last time out. Will Conte’s defensive acumen be enough to improve their fortunes? This is certainly going to be a big test for the backline. With Andy Carroll, Enner Valencia and Ayew to call upon up front, the Hammers have a lot of variation as well as Payet’s brilliance. Carroll’s record against John Terry makes him a likely starter.
Overall this is going to be a great insight into Conte’s approach. The friendly games didn’t give that much away, this is where his work really begins. With a new formation, approach and a lot of bruised egos to reassure, the opening games will be a juggling act.
Conte is likely to have more time than any Chelsea manager. Most go for failing to win a major trophy, but Conte can’t really be expected to haul this side from 10th to top. The aim needs to be righting the wrongs of last year, establishing something that won’t just fall apart again. They need to play as a team, while Conte will implement solid foundations. Monday night will show us how close they are to reaching that target.
LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 2-1