LONDON — Chelsea beat West Ham United 2-1 at Stamford Bridge on Monday as Antonio Conte‘s first game in the Premier League ended in dramatic fashion.
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Chelsea’s new manager saw Eden Hazard put the Blues ahead early in the second half but the Hammers battled back with James Collins scoring a superb instinctive finish. However, Diego Costa then scored in the 89th minute to send Conte and Stamford Bridge wild.
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Here’s what we learned from a feisty London derby.
COSTA, HAZARD HOLD KEY FOR CONTE
No matter how bad they played last season, Hazard and Costa still ooze quality on the ball and have that extra bit of class which will win the Blues countless games. The extra bit of quality they provide in the final third will be the difference between Conte’s side finishing in the top six and challenging for the title and it proved to be the difference on Monday.
Hazard scored the PK which put Chelsea ahead and in the first half he cut inside from the left and curled an effort just wide of the far post. He looked sharp, lean and the Belgian playmaker was Chelsea’s go-to man out on the left wing with Conte often gesticulating for his players to spray the ball wide as early as possible.
As for Costa, devils still seem to haunt his soul. In the first half he charged towards referee Anthony Taylor after Oscar had gone down in the box but no penalty kick was awarded. Costa was booked under the new rules implemented this season by the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) about player behavior towards officials.
Costa then showed some of his quality as he sent a dipping shot from distance just over in the first half and turned well in the box to force Adrian into a fine low save at his near post early in the second half. He then had another rush of blood to the head as he caught West Ham’s goalkeeper Adrian with a late, high tackle and was lucky to still be on the pitch.
Luckily for Chelsea he did stay on the pitch because in the 89th minute he turned on the edge of the box and slotted home the game-winner.
Both Hazard and Costa seem sharper than last season and more determined. If they can stay fit, focused and on top form, they hold the x-factor for Conte at Chelsea. Under their Italian manager they will keep it tight and won’t blow teams away this season.
KANTE FINDING HIS FEET
N'Golo Kante was booked three minutes into his Chelsea debut and the French midfielder didn’t look comfortable in a first half which saw his team dictate the play. Chelsea will have to find the right spot for him to get the most out of his undoubted talents but after a slightly subdued first half performance he improved drastically in the second half but was lucky to stay on the pitch after a mistimed tackle on Dimitri Payet didn’t result in a second yellow card.
At Leicester Kante had many opportunities to win the ball back but at Chelsea that won’t always be the case. Conte’s side had 62 percent of possession on Monday but Kante isn’t great with the ball. Sure, he can knock a sideways pass and clip a long ball forward but his game is all about stepping in high and intercepting it, then distributing it. He doesn’t take risks on the ball and that allows opponents to settle in when Chelsea’s model under Conte is all about getting forward as quickly as they can when they have the ball.
In the space of about 20 seconds in the 55th minute he first won the ball back from Andy Carroll as he slid in twice and somehow retrieved it, then made another interception. That’s the Kante we all know and rave about. The Chelsea fans loved it.
The man who led Europe’s top five leagues in interceptions and tackles last season is still finding his feet at his new club but as the game wore on Kante got better as the lone holding player in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Perhaps he would be best in a flat four across midfield or a 4-2-3-1. He is so good at winning the ball back that it seems like a waste not to have somebody alongside him to take the ball from home. Kante is not a “water-carrier” as his new manager Conte was often described during his playing days at Juventus. He is a supreme reader of the game who makes everyone around him better. It will take time for Kante to become the heartbeat of this Chelsea team but given his quality it only seems like a matter of time before that is the case.
HAMMERS NEED HELP
Slaven Bilic and Conte were breathless on the sidelines. Kicking each and every ball with their players, it was exhausting to watch them up close.
Bilic was especially incensed with decisions from the referee which allowed Costa and Kante to remain on the pitch and had several quiet words with fourth official Michael Oliver during the game. The Hammers boss seemed frustrated and his claim that he still needs reinforcements this summer seems legit. After their seventh place finish in the PL last season, this summer represented a chance for West Ham to kick on as a club with their move to the new London Stadium and a place in the Europa League qualifying rounds secured.
Of the new players they brought in, Arthur Masuaku looked useful at left back, Gokhan Tore didn’t do much after coming on as a sub and Havard Nordtveit was taken off in the second half. With Sofiane Feghouli and Jonathan Calleri to play their part, plus Payet to start their next game after coming back from international duty late, Bilic has more bodies than last season. But does he have the quality to push for a top six finish?
Michail Antonio is a fine winger but he was preferred to Sam Byram and used as a makeshift right back and gave away the penalty kick as Hazard scored Chelsea’s first. With Diafra Sakho on his way out, they only possess Andy Carroll and Enner Valencia up front and West Ham could certainly use reinforcements in attack.
It was a typical gritty, determined display from Bilic’s boys buy they just came up short. That will happen a lot this season if they don’t do plenty of business in the final 16 days of the transfer window.