Chelsea v West Ham - For many different reasons, it's the night we have all been waiting for!
It's the night we have all been waiting for, Chelsea take on West Ham United at Stamford Brid...
It's the night we have all been waiting for, Chelsea take on West Ham United at Stamford Bridge and Antonio Conte finally takes charge of his first Premier League game. Although a tricky and difficult game for our opener, Chelsea expects.
Tonight signals a new era at Chelsea and it's imperative we focus on exactly that rather than think back to last year. Although it's still being spoken of now, we must all move on and under Conte we expect plenty.
Many people have wondered "Why Conte?" at the time the rumours came about towards the end of the season but for me it was clear, Chelsea lacked discipline and leadership having had that for so long both on and off the pitch.
A drastic change was needed, we needed someone to come in who would quite literally not take any crap or bollocks from anyone, sort them out, give them the discipline they needed and pull them back into line, to buy back into the Chelsea way - Antonio Conte IS the answer.
We've seen pre-season and an open experiment into different formations and differing approaches to games with plenty of players given game time. For the most part it's been good and plenty have demonstrated a willingness to buy into the Italian's philosophy. However, this is the Premier League and we need to do it pretty quickly.
N'Golo Kante and Michy Batshuayi have arrived, some have gone but with those two signings we look far better than we did last term. Two, possibly three are being linked to arrive before the close of the transfer window - we wait and see. Once it comes and goes, our squad will be complete and everyone will focus on the challenge ahead that is more difficult than ever before. Right now if I offered you a top four finish would you take it? That HAS to be the minimum requirement.
We've been working hard, we look fit, we look sharp and we look strong again, we just need to plug the gap that is our defence. Maybe we will see that tonight with Conte's first team selection? Will he start with two holding midfielders or just the one? Will there be a start for Cesc Fabregas or Oscar? Will Michy Batshuayi start up top with Diego Costa or will he decide to stick with just Costa? We will find out in a couple of hours.
Conte has openly stated that as the first few weeks of the season go by, it will influence his tactical decision as he looks to find "the right fit" for his team. What is good for the time being is that the players have worked on two different formations and seem more than comfortable to adapt within the framework of a game. This is a marked improvement on last term already.
So to tonight and to West Ham who, I have to say, have taken massive strides forward in the last two years. A new Stadium selling 55,000 season tickets at a discounted rate for two seasons, changing their club crest to incorporate the word "London" is a smart commercial move and a Manager in Slaven Bilic who is under-rated, focused and has the same demands of his players as Antonio Conte.
West Ham have made real smart moves both on and off of the pitch and come here tonight as a very dangerous prospect to face on our opening night. Forget Dimitri Payet, this lot are not a one-man band and will pose Chelsea's troublesome defence plenty of issues. If Chelsea do not get things right tonight (as we have seen on occasion in pre-season), the visitors could walk away with the spoils.
West Ham are my outside tip for the top four this season and that shows just how far they have come!
As for Chelsea tonight? I find myself saying the same things I do every week. Keep it tight and compact at the back, protect our back four without the ball and when we have it, attack at pace moving the ball quickly. We MUST not get sloppy or fall into a slow paced game as it does not suit the players we have.
Branislav Ivanovic needs to take his place on the bench and Ola Aina be given the start at left back. It's a no brainer these days despite the service and performances the big Serb has given us in the past. Cesar Azpilicueta to revert to right back alongside JT and Gary Cahill.
Kante and Nemanja Matic will start as the holding two in midfield with Cesc Fabregas playing just in front given the same role Andrea Pirlo had for Juventus. Collect the ball and look to move it forward.
Eden Hazard and Willian will support Diego Costa with the focus tonight being on Eden Hazard to give us a performance of two seasons ago and of Costa who despite the constant speculation, is still a Chelsea player and a dangerous and lethal one at that.
For us to win tonight we need everyone to be on their game, working hard, focused and disciplined. Expect us to sit defensive at times to frustrate the visitors but to spring into life with the ball. I personally feel that the game could be influenced from the bench with the likes of Pedro, Batshuayi and Ruben Lofus-Cheek all itching to get involved.
It's a massive game, a massive London Derby and two sides with big aspirations this season. Who will come out on top? We hope it's Chelsea.