Chelsea manager Antonio Conte
With Monday night’s 2-1 win for Chelsea over local rivals West Ham, Premier League fans up and down the country finally got their first taste of the south-west London club under new manager Antonio Conte.
Fans also got their first sight of a number of new signings for both sides, including former Marseille striker Michy Batshuayi for Chelsea, along with Turkish winger Gokhan Tore for the Hammers – a former reject and member of Chelsea’s academy.
With both clubs having spent heavily over the summer to bring in a number of reinforcements - and with both sets of fans possessing a healthy level of optimism for the coming season – we take a look at three key points that can be taken away from the opening-weekend clash.
Conte’s not so new-look Chelsea
Viewers of Chelsea’s last-gasp win against West Ham on Monday may have been forgiven for thinking that new manager Conte had opted for an entirely different side to the one that laboured to a 10th place finish last season.
In fact, 10 of the 11 players who started for Chelsea against West Ham also began Chelsea’s campaign last season against Swansea – a match which saw Chelsea have 'keeper Courtois sent off, and twice squander a goal advantage, eventually ending in a 2-2 draw.
The only change made by new manager Conte was to swap out Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas for the more industrious and £32 million new signing N’Golo Kante.
Chelsea's N'Golo Kante in action with West Ham United's Michail Antonio and Cheikhou Kouyate
Whilst this no doubt helped to improve Chelsea’s ability to stifle their opponents, both when defending as well as when aiming to win the ball back whilst on the front foot, it does not explain the change in mentality witnessed in the other ten starters.
Chelsea played with a new found belief and perseverance that all too often elluded them last season, a belief which saw them keep pushing until the very last second of the game – eventually getting their reward in the form of an 89th minute winner by Spanish striker Diego Costa.
If Conte can continue to instil this same sense of conviction and discipline throughout his squad for the rest of the season, then Chelsea will no doubt prove fearsome rivals for all of those teams aiming to secure Champions League qualification this term.
West Ham’s injury woes
Monday’s game against Chelsea was one of highs and lows for West Ham fans in terms of the clubs seemingly ever growing injury list.
Whilst the encounter against Chelsea did feature the Hammers talismanic and towering striker Andy Carroll – who was limited to only 13 Premier League starts last year due to injury – it also saw record signing Andre Ayew forced off the field as a result of a thigh injury.
This means Ayew’s name can be added to the already growing list of first-team players that West Ham have been forced to start the season without, a list that includes Sofiane Feghouli, Aaron Cresswell, Manuel Lanzini and Diafra Sakho.
Whilst West Ham were able to welcome back French midfielder Dimitri Payet after his Euro 2016 heroics, along with new signing Havard Nordtveit, their squad is already beginning to look a little thin on the ground.
West Ham United's Dimitri Payet warms up before the match
After amazing and winning round many last-year with their attacking style of play and impressive results against the bigger teams, West Ham are hoping to build on this form and continue their improvement at their new home – the former Olympic Stadium.
If, however their injury struggles continue – and were they to lose key-man Payet to either injury or fatigue – just managing to match their achievements of last term may just prove to be the most sensible target for West Ham and Slaven Bilic this year.
Combative or cagey Kante?
After finally completing his much talked-about £32 million move from last year’s champions Leicester, N’Golo Kante certainly enjoyed an impressive competitive debut for Chelsea.
Completing 54 of his 57 attempted passes – an almost 95% success rate – and ending the game as the only Chelsea player to win the ball more often than he lost it, Kante was certainly back to his tireless and industrious best.
He was however, operating in slightly different role to the one he occupied for unlikely champions Leicester last year.
Whilst at Leicester his main role in the team was to break up potential attacks, and launch his own side on the counter with either a powerful run or a ball in over the top, Kante’s job for Chelsea last night seemed much more disciplined.
Used in a slightly deeper role as a more traditional holding midfielder, Kante seemed to have been instructed to try and maintain his position a little more often, and instead focus on preventing the opposition from being able to counter against his new side.
West Ham United's Dimitri Payet in action with Chelsea's N'Golo Kante
Whilst very few would have any complaints about the performances Kante turned in on a regular basis last season, his switch against West Ham certainly appeared to be an intentional one aimed at improving the strengths of the team – as opposed the strengths of any one individual.
Based on his reputation as a shrewd tactician, and a man not afraid to shake things up, Conte’s decision to utilise Kante in such a role should not come as too much of a shock.
With both stronger and weaker opposition to come however, and with a number of tricky away fixtures on the horizon for Chelsea, it will certainly be interesting to see how the wily Italian continues to use his squad over the coming weeks.