These two sides will be the last to kick off their campaigns on Monday night, as West Ham travel to Chelsea for the first London derby of the season. It will be Antonio Conte’s first match in charge and West Ham offer a difficult test for the Italian. The visitors have already played competitive fixtures this season as they have had to play in the qualifying rounds for the Europa League, which could mean they are fitter than Chelsea going into Monday’s match. The two had differing seasons last year with West Ham managing to finish above Chelsea, but the Blues will be expecting a return to the top four at the very minimum.
Chelsea have had a good summer and have managed to keep hold of all of their key players, despite failing to qualify for the Champions League last season. They still possess one of the best squads in the league and it shouldn’t be forgotten that this group of players managed to win the Premier League in 2015. Conte will change the style of play at the club and will make them tough to beat, as emphasised by the signing of Ngolo Kante. He was the signing of the season for Leicester last season and could prove to have a similar impact at Chelsea. His energy and ability to retrieve the ball makes him an excellent player to have in the middle of the park. The signing of Kante could allow Chelsea to play with two strikers, which is why Michy Batshuayi was brought in.
The Hammers have had an interesting summer without making the big name signing they wanted to. They were in the market for a striker since the end of last season and tried to bring in a big name, with Carlos Bacca and Alexandre Lacazette being two prominent targets. Although they failed with both, they did manage to sign Andre Ayew to provide competition for the forward spots, after he showed his ability with Swansea. They have a strong attacking group to choose from and with Dimitri Payet staying at the club, West Ham could be challenging for the top six again.
In the corresponding fixture last season, the sides drew 2-2 at Stamford Bridge. Cesc Fabregas scored twice for the hosts, while Manuel Lanzini and Andy Carroll netted for West Ham. The other match between the two clubs was won by West Ham, as they prevailed 2-1 at Upton Park. The goals were scored by Mauro Zarate and Carroll. It was Gary Cahill who found the net for Chelsea on that day.
Kurt Zouma is still missing through the ACL injury he suffered last season. Michy Batshuayi and Ngolo Kante are both likely to make their debuts this weekend.
Aaron Cresswell was ruled out for the opening few months with a knee injury. Manuel Lanzini and Gokhan Tore will both be absent this weekend as well. Andre Ayew and Arthur Masuaku are both available to make their debuts. Dimitri Payet’s availability is uncertain after playing a prominent role for France over the summer.
Antonio Conte has lost just one of his last 30 matches as a club manager. This shows the winning mentality that he has as a coach.
West Ham have failed to win in their last ten visits to Stamford Bridge, which is a perilous stat going into Monday’s match.
Eden Hazard had an underwhelming season last year and went from being the most dangerous player in the league to being dropped by Guus Hiddink. His form improved drastically towards the end of the season, with his solo goal against Liverpool showing that he still has the ability to win matches on his own. He continued to impress at Euro 2016 with Belgium and was a constant threat in the side’s run to the quarter finals. There were doubts about his long term future with Chelsea with PSG believed to be interested in the attacker, but he appears to be a big part of Conte’s plans for the future. The Belgian has the ability to become one of the best players in the world and to do so, he needs a great season this year. On Monday, he needs to start well and he will be a threat to the West Ham back four. The Hammers will likely be playing Michail Antonio at right back and he can be targeted by Hazard. He has the ability to beat players and create space, which could be vital in breaking down West Ham.
Although Andre Ayew has signed for West Ham, the club have failed to bring in a recognised striker, which could mean a large role for Andy Carroll. The striker has had an injury-tarnished career, but is coming into the season fully fit and he has the opportunity to become a regular in the West Ham first team. In the side’s final pre-season friendly, Carroll scored twice against Juventus, which puts him in poll position to start the season as their main striker. His physicality and aerial ability could be crucial this season as West Ham have a talented group of attacking midfielders. The service will be excellent and Carroll could thrive ahead of them. He scored in both matches against Chelsea last season and will be a danger once again on Monday. Conte hasn’t been able to sign a centre back and he won’t be completely happy with his defence. West Ham need to target that and Carroll could be key.
It is going to be interesting to see how Chelsea will set up against West Ham as Conte’s tactics are unclear at the moment. He is unlikely to start with three at the back and there is a chance that he will be a 4-2-4 with both Diego Costa and Batshuayi in the starting eleven. West Ham are set for another good campaign, but their transfer business has been mixed. They may be without Payet and that will be a huge loss for them. I expect Chelsea to win their opening match under Conte and sent a warning to the rest of the league in the process.