Competition: Premier League – Chelsea FC vs. West Ham United
Venue: Stamford Bridge – Monday, August 15 – 20:00 BST (15:00 ET)
Match Odds: Chelsea 4/6 – Draw 29/10 – West Ham 4/1
The Blues have a lot to improve upon from their dismal 2015/16 campaign and Roman Abramovic has entrusted the experienced Conte to be the man to take them back to the top. He has a huge task on his hands here and a very tricky opener against a West Ham side who had a very impressive 15/16 season.
One of the first things Conte will need to change is Chelsea’s home form. Throughout many of the recent Premier League years they have turned Stamford Bridge into a fortress. But they have drawn eight of their last ten home league matches and need to get off the mark with a win here to show they are heading back to their best.
In what has been a relatively quiet transfer window, in terms of new signings for Chelsea, there is a lot of making up to do on the players behalf. Conte will not accept anyone not pulling their weight or not giving their all for the side. It will be an interesting opening few games for the Blues and they have to show their intent right from the off here.
West Ham United come into their opener with nothing to lose. They enjoyed a strong 15/16 campaign, where they ended up 7th on 62 points. Slaven Bilic has been moulding this West Ham side into exactly what he wants and they could even push for a higher place this season.
If West Ham can get off to a flyer and take all three points here they will be sending out a message to the rest of the league that they mean business yet again.
Worryingly for The Hammers, their form at the tail end of the season showed their vulnerabilities, as they conceded at least two goals in eight of their last ten league games. Bilic has been working hard to address this through preseason and we could see an even more resolute West Ham side this campaign.
West Ham haven’t won at ‘The Bridge’ in their last 11 attempts, a run stretching back to 2002. If they can bring that run to an end here; not only will their confidence be sky high, but they’ll have the added bragging rights of spoiling the party for Conte’s first home league game against their London rivals.
Chelsea have just two players expected to miss the start the season. Mikel John Obi is on international duty with Nigeria at the Olympics, while Kurt Zouma is still undergoing a lay off for his knee injury suffered in February last season. Antonio Conte has made just two signings as we head towards the tail end of the transfer window. N’Golo Kante will be expected to make his debut here. The summer saga of will-he-won’t-he leave regarding Diego Costa seems to have come to an end, which will more than likely see him as Conte’s first choice centre forward, so Michi Batsuayi will more than likely start on the bench. Many expected Conte to put his preferred 3-5-2 formation into practise throughout preseason but he opted for the similar 4-2-3-1 lineup in a number of their games, so it would be surprising to see him change to another formation for his first league game in charge.
West Ham United have had a relatively quiet summer transfer window. Manuel Lanzini made his loan move permanent and Bilic has bought in Sofiane Feghouli from Valencia as another notable addition to his squad. The standout signing of the summer for West Ham was Andre Ayew, joining for a club-record transfer fee from Swansea. He has history with causing the Chelsea defence a headache, so will be hoping to repeat that in this fixture and get off to a flyer with his new club. Lanzini is set be out for around five weeks, while Diafra Sakho and Aaron Creswell are also both out with injuries. Another addition to Bilic’s squad was former Chelsea player Gokhan Tore, but he is a doubt for this tie.
Chelsea’s last five: N/A
West Ham United’s last five: N/A
Key Stat: Chelsea are undefeated against West Ham United in 19 of their last 21 games in all competitions.
Key Player: Eden Hazard – This is a huge season for Eden Hazard given how he underperformed throughout the 15/16 campaign. The Belgian had a good Euro 2016 on a personal level but was part of a national team who arguably should have done more. The former PFA Player of the Year needs to get off to a strong start to prove that last season was just a blip and show his worth and importance to this Chelsea squad.
Chelsea 2-2 West Ham United – Another strongly-contested fixture between these two sides is expected. Chelsea will be eager to start this season with a bang, but West Ham will have other ideas and they have a squad capable of causing the very best sides problems.