Antonio Conte’s life in the Premier League got off to a superb start as the Blues fought on till the very end to secure a win, thanks to a 89th minute Diego Costa strike.
It was a bright start to Chelsea’s 2015/16 Premier campaign. West Ham, despite being marred by injuries didn’t make it easy for the Blues. Debatable refereeing decisions, penalty calls, bookings, a half volley equalizer, a last minute winner and possibly one of the best managerial celebrations we will see this season, it was all there.
Slaven Bilic seemed to have got his formation all wrong and he wasn’t helped by Andre Ayew’s 34th minute injury. Chelsea dominated for large portions of the game, and if it weren’t for the bookings and penalty calls, there would likely have been lesser debate on the fairness of the result. Here are the four talking points from Chelsea’s Monday night clash against their London rivals.
It was clear that Conte is yet to decide on two things, his best eleven and his formation. Speculation was rife as to what formation the Italian would use to set up his Chelsea side. A 3-5-2, which was used to such great effect at Juventus was unlikely, given the lack of proper wingbacks at the club. A 4-3-3 formation or 4-2-4 was expected to be used, but instead it seemed as if the Italian went with a typical 4-2-3-1 formation, Matic teaming up with Kante in the center of the park.
Although Chelsea did take the lead early on, it was through a penalty won by Cesar Azpilicueta. There were no shortage of chances created by Chelsea, but Costa often looked isolated. Eventually, West Ham would go on to take the initiative and pose more of a threat after the introduction of Payet. Conte’s substitutions, however, made an immediate impact. Moses, Pedro and Michy Batshuayi came on and Chelsea looked like they had taken it up a notch. They were playing in a 4-2-4 and the insurgence of fresh legs and energy helped. Eventually, debutant Michy Batshuayi would provide Costa’s assist for the winner.
A victory is a victory and Conte will know as well as anyone that 3 points is better than none. If Chelsea are to make their way back to the pinnacle of English football, or even the top 3, Conte will have to be absolutely certain about his best formation. This is only the first game of the season, and it would be understandable if the team hasn’t taken to his philosophy immediately. But with only a few weeks remaining in the transfer window, Chelsea will have to act on signings sooner rather than later if they wish to see Conte get them back to the top.
2.Nothing He ‘Kante’ Do
Things didn’t start well for N’golo Kante in the Premier League as a Chelsea player. The Frenchman got booked in the opening three minutes, something that could have sent Antonio Conte into a fit, given it had happened so early in the game. He didn’t let it affect his performance, however, and justified just why Chelsea were so eager to bring him from Leicester. His seemingly endless energy helped him break up any possible attacking move that West Ham thought about executing and his distribution in the first half was top class.
Eyebrows were raised when he was paired alongside Matic with Fabregas being left out, but the two put on a fine display, with Kante excelling in front of his defence. He didn’t let his diminutive frame affect him at all, on one notable occasion putting his body in front of the ball and winning it from Andy Carroll, falling over in the process and immediately getting back up, much to the delight of the home crowd.
Kante’s debut showed great promise for his future in this Chelsea side. The new number 7 shares similar traits to the previous owner of the shirt, the much-loved Ramires. Both almost tireless and extremely strong, despite their fragile build. It is clear that Kante, perhaps, is more of a refined player than Ramires was at the same age and where he lacks in attack, he makes up for with superb reading of the game and defence in the middle of the pitch. With the Makelele comparisons coming well before he joined Chelsea, it now seems like he was destined to join the Blues and like his compatriot, may well go on to enjoy the same kind of success with the Blues.
3. Eden Hazard : The Second Coming
The 2015/16 season was one to forget for the Belgian, to say the very least. Hazard has started off this season in the best possible way, with a man of the match performance. Hazard completed 9 out of his 12 attempted take-ons and ended his night with a pass accuracy of 82%, not to mention a penalty that almost tore the roof of the net.
He was constant nuisance for Michail Antonio on the left flank and given that the Englishman was played there out of position, Hazard seemed even more at ease making life difficult for him. The Belgian looked confident, lively, fast and energetic. He looked extremely fit, which should come as no surprise given Conte’s training regimes and insistence on a healthy diet. Known for taking a few games in the start of previous seasons to find his stride, Hazard wasted no time and hit the ground running in fine form. Of course, Hazard isn’t at his best, but this performance showed great promise for a sign of things to come. It almost seemed as if the Belgian maverick was enjoying the benefits of say, a ‘12-month pre-season’.
4. Bringing Back Soul To Stamford Bridge
The game saw a superb penalty from Eden Hazard, a long range, last minute match winner from Diego Costa and a superb James Collins equalizer in between. Monday’s fixture also saw Kante and Batshuayi make their Stamford Bridge debuts, but this match will mostly be remembered by Chelsea fans for Antonio Conte’s passionate touchline antics, the best of which was his celebration of Diego Costa’s winner.
The 47-year-old ran a few yards down his touchline and punched the air in celebration and would then go on to embrace the jubilant Chelsea fans behind him, before walking back high-fiving a few fans on the way. It was a heartfelt celebration, one that isn’t seen too often on the Stamford Bridge touchline. With some Chelsea fans still reeling after the travesty of last season, where players were reported to have turned on the now departed Jose Mourinho. To see a manager with such passion and soul leading the club, is surely a sign of good things to come.