After winning the Premier League two years ago, last year was a disaster for Chelsea, as they finished tenth. TENTH! Chelsea parted ways with Jose Mourinho and brought in Antonio Conte. He is quite the character, as he parades on the sideline yelling and jumping. Enthusiasm is not a problem for him. However, he is also a great tactical mind. Just look at how he brought a subpar Italy team to the quarterfinals of the Euros. He got the most out of that bunch. Now, he is handed the reigns to a very talented Chelsea team. This move had me excited before he even met with the squad. Then today’s game happened.
The Premier League is a beast of its own, so one would think there is a learning curve on how to handle all the games and the depth of competition. This isn’t Serie A. There are no easy games. However, after watching Chelsea’s opening match against West Ham, it is hard not to be excited.
First off, the team looked invigorated. They dominated the midfield and were first to the fifty/fifty balls. A lot of this was due to the insane energy provided by N’Golo Kanté, who was a marauder in the midfield, not giving the Hammers any time to operate. But all the midfielders were doing their work defensively. It was a stark contrast to the lackadaisical play we saw from the Blues last season.
So, Conte has this team invigorated, at least for one game. But what about that tactical mind? I thought the midfield trio of Hazard, Oscar, and Willian were menacing, but the big play was for Kanté and Matic in those CDM spots. Two years ago, Matic was arguably the best holding midfielder in the world. He was a force, but saw a huge decline in form last season. Perhaps not being asked to do too much will bring a rise in form. However, if Kanté can play with that energy every game, I’d like to see Fàbregas slot alongside him. Kanté can play defense for two people, just ask Riyad Mahrez.
But it wasn’t only the starting xi that Conte got right, it was the key sub of Michy Batshuayi, who played up top with Costa. It turned out to be a shrewd move. Plugging him in changed the formation for Chelsea and led to the winning goal, as Batshuayi headed a ball down into the path of Costa, who was able to run onto it and find a shot that found the back of the net. Talk about a hole in one!
Last but not least, that Conte celebration. Dude was hyped, and so were we. I look forward to more hugs and high fives. Gotta love a manager who is as excited about big moments as the fans. It’s that kind of passion that will make Conte a quick fan favorite.