Opening weekend, a London derby where no love can possibly be lost, Antonio Conte v Slaven Bilic – there’s a lot to love about this fixture, and under the floodlights on a Monday night it will be the perfect dessert to the first weekend of the season. For fans of Chelsea and West Ham, it should be worth the wait.
After last season’s high level of performances throughout the season, West Ham will be hoping that their new stadium and their impressive signings will keep the club going in the right direction.
Champions League football may be beyond them given the strengthening of clubs like Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United, but beating Chelsea on Monday would raise their credentials. Last season, the Hammers went to the Emirates Stadium on opening weekend and came away with a big win. Can they repeat the trick at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea, however, won’t be an easy task this season for any side. The famous intensity of Antonio Conte will mean they’ll take no game lightly, and the first game of the season will probably see a fired-up Chelsea side who will be looking to impress their manager.
When West Ham took to the field in Slovenia, they really only had one and a half defenders in the back four in that three players were playing out of position. Sam Byram was, at least, a full back, but playing on the left instead of the right.
That’s because Slaven Bilic is missing Aaron Cresswell, who will be a huge loss at full back. Further up the pitch the Hammers will be depleted for the visit to Stamford Bridge as Gokhan Tore and Manuel Lanzini are both injured. As is Diafra Sakho – the official reason his move to West Brom was called off – though they were probably expecting to be without him anyway.
Chelsea’s only long-term absentee is Kurt Zouma, though John Terry and Marko Van Ginkel won’t be fit enough to play against West Ham this weekend – not that they’d have played anyway.
West Ham new boy Andre Ayew now has a week with his new teammates under his belt. His arrival perhaps signals the end of West Ham’s search for a central striker, even though Ayew himself is hardly a number 9. It does, however, make sense. With Andy Carroll to lead the line – either as a nuclear option from the bench or as the nuclear option from the start – a striker like Alexandre Lacazette would seem like an unnecessary purchase. Instead, another different kind of option will allow the creativity of Dimitri Payet, Sofiane Feghouli and, later in the season, Manuel Lanzini to pick holes in defences.
Chelsea, on the other hand, are getting their act together after losing it completely last season. Eden Hazard looked like a completely different player last season to the Player of the Season he was the previous season. The big questions will surround Chelsea’s defensive options and whether Diego Costa will start up front now that Michy Batshuayi has arrived at the club, but expect the style of play to be very intense and very pressy indeed!
In a derby, you want your team to show desire and passion – and there’ll be plenty of that given the managers on show. The two new signings in the engine rooms of both teams are N’Golo Kante and Havard Nordtveit, so expect this to be where the game is won and lost.
Given that the two managers like their teams to play with a high tempo and an intensity, this could be the kind of game where having a player like Kante can really make the difference for Chelsea.