The first Monday Night Football of the season will see a London derby as West Ham travel to the other side of the capital to take on Antonio Conte’s Chelsea in his first competitive match as Blues’ boss. Last season Slaven Bilic ensured that the Hammers avoided defeat to Chelsea for a whole season for the first time since 2002/03 and he will be desperate to keep that record going as the Irons integrate some new signings into their side as they look to make their first season at the Olympic Stadium one to remember.
Chelsea have enjoyed a mixed pre-season, with a shock defeat to Rapid Vienna accompanied by a tight game against Real Madrid and victories over RZ Pellets, Liverpool, AC Milan and Werder Bremen. As pre-season has gone on the Blues have improved with every game, and Antonio Conte will be hoping that this theme continues as his new side adapt to his system and tactics, alternating between a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3 set up.
Meanwhile, the Hammers’ season kicked off over a fortnight ago with Europa League action after a stuttered start. With the distractions of moving into a new stadium, the Irons suffered two unexpected defeats and two disappointing draws with one victory before losing to NK Domzale in the first leg of their Europa League qualifier. Fortunately, they convincingly overcame the Slovenian outfit in the first game at the Olympic Stadium in their best performance to date, and were then narrowly beaten 3-2 by a strong Juventus side.
Antonio Conte is expected to start with his marquee signing, N’Golo Kante, in midfield as the Blues field a similar looking line up to much of what they played last season. Diego Costa is expected to start, but with his future still unclear that could change before Monday night with Michy Bitshuayi ready to step in. Oscar’s prolific pre-season form also looks set to earn him a start, though Pedro and Juan Cuadrado are also fighting for his shirt.
There are five potential debuts for the Hammers, with Sofiane Feghouli and Havard Nordtveit expected to start. Arthur Masuaku will step in to fill Aaron Cresswell’s shoes soon, although he is unlikely to start just one week after joining the club with Bilic preferring the tested method of Sam Byram at left back. Andre Ayew is also unlikely to start after Andy Carroll’s impressive form in pre-season and Gokhan Tore will be left out unless Dimitri Payet struggles to gain fitness having only re-joined training this week after a long post Euros break.
Chelsea predicted starting XI West Ham predicted starting XI
Antonio Conte has been lucky enough to avoid any major injuries for his side in his first pre-season at Stamford Bridge, with Kurt Zouma’s long term knee injury picked up last season the only notable absence and the Frenchman increasingly nearing a return to fitness which could see him available for selection sooner rather than later.
Slaven Bilic has not been so lucky, with Aaron Cresswell’s knee ligament damage picked up in a pre-season friendly a major blow to the Hammers. The other absence is Manuel Lanzini, with the Argentinean left winger having picked up an injury whilst on international duty which will keep him out for at least a month.
West Ham will be strong competition for any side pushing for Europe this year, as they were last year, but with Andre Ayew yet to fully integrate and no other forward arrivals, the Hammers have a rather blunt attack. Whilst Andy Carroll has been in form, John Terry and Gary Cahill will be two of the best equipped defenders in the league to deal with his threat. Antonio Conte will be keen to ensure that his defence remains tight, so we aren’t expecting goals, but with Eden Hazard and Oscar in great form in pre-season, we can’t look beyond a home win for Chelsea to kick off their season.