So the Premier League is back. Three long months since it finished, the best league in the world is back underway. As a Chelsea fan, I couldn’t wait for last season to finish after a torrid campaign, but I was certainly looking forward to this one.
There is a lot of optimism surrounding Chelsea this season. Antonio Conte is the new man in charge, and unlike last season, we have made improvements to the playing squad. Conte will look to give a more compact look to the Chelsea team given what we saw him do with Italy and Juventus, where he had an impressive record. N’Golo Kante is a great addition to the squad after he was one of the top players in the league with Leicester City last season. I spend a lot of time complaining about Mikel John Obi (or however I’m supposed to order that now), and Kante probably does about three times as much work as the Nigerian.
The other arrival is Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi, who I think looks like an excellent prospect. I can see him being second choice to Diego Costa this season, but he scored a lot of goals in Ligue 1 last year, and given Costa’s injury record, he will probably get a lot of game time this year. I am still expecting at least two players to come in. There will be another centre back coming in, and I know there’s been talk of Kalidou Kouilbaly at Napoli, while we will need another striker because I can see Loic Remy leaving in the next fortnight.
Apart from Kante, Conte kept with pretty much the same XI as last year for the game against West Ham, and that shouldn’t be too surprising. This lot walked the title a couple of years ago. I was surprised though to see Oscar start ahead of Cesc Fabregas, because I’m still waiting for the Brazilian to consistently perform in the Premier League. Defensively you can see why we need another centre back, because Gary Cahill and John Terry are our only fit players in the position.
In the first half we did seem to be much better set up than at times last season. Kante’s running did make life a lot easier for Cahill and Terry, because it allowed them to stay in the back line and deal with Andy Carroll, who didn’t get anything out of them all game. Nemanja Matic looked more like the man who played a key role when we won the league in 2015, and he looks to have formed a formidable partnership with Kante. Obviously it wouldn’t be Chelsea Review if I wasn’t criticising the referee, and Anthony Taylor missed a clear penalty in the first half. Oscar may have been looking for it, but Winston Reid clearly leaves his arm out to stop him going past in the area.
We did get the penalty just minutes into the second half however, when Michail Antonio unceremoniously bundled over Oscar in the box. This was even more a penalty than the one in the first half, and Antonio can have no complaints. Eden Hazard smashed it in for his first goal of the season, about eight months quicker than it took him last year. I know some Chelsea fans have already forgotten that Hazard seemingly took a gap year last season, but he needs to consistently perform in the way he did for the first hour last night to win back the rest of us.
I will admit that Costa was lucky to stay on the pitch after his challenge on Adrian with a yellow card already to his name, but let’s be honest, are we just reacting like this because it’s Costa, or would we have reacted the same if it was Dimitri Payet for West Ham? You don’t need me to answer that question. This wasn’t a typical petulant kick by Costa, because he was making an honest attempt to win the ball.
I was disappointed to see that we didn’t try and kill the game off in the last half hour because we were by far the better team. We were too slow on the ball and Hazard in particular stopped getting on the front foot and running at defenders. This led to the equalising goal, that has to be put down to a lack of concentration when defending a corner. With so many Blue shirts in the area, James Collins takes the ball down on his chest and volleys in, and although it’s an excellent finish, he should never have been given time to take the ball down.
We got what was probably a deserved winning goal in the last minute of normal time though. Batshuayi, who looked pretty lively when he came off the bench with ten minutes to go, rose highest to get the knock down to Costa, who fired home from about 20 yards. The Spaniard looked sharp all night, and hopefully this is something he can keep up for the whole season, especially as he has a capable striker to back him up, not Remy and Falcao.
If we can keep up the level of performance we put in for the first hour, we can definitely challenge for the title. We have a reasonably easy start to the season, and this continues with a game away at Watford next Saturday, even though that is a potential banana skin.
Rating out of 10: There was a definite hunger amongst the team, and we played West Ham off the park in the first hour. Still work to do, but with a 2-1 win, a promising start. 7/10