The 2016-2017 Premier League season starts on Monday night for two London clubs when Chelsea welcome West Ham United to Stamford Bridge for the first Monday Night Football of the season. While this is undoubtedly a tricky fixture for both clubs, there will be reason for optimism for both.
For West Ham United, optimism is high after last season’s successful campaign. The Hammers finished seventh in the league, qualifying them for this season’s Europa League, but mounted a sustained challenge for the Champions League positions until the very end of the season.
To improve on last season, the Hammers will hope thattheir move into the new London Stadium, formerly known as the Olympic Stadium, and a couple of big signings will be the recipe to improve on last season’s finish.
Manager Slaven Bilic has done some good business so far in this transfer window, retaining two key players and adding three more faces to bolster their attack.
Dimitri Payet was one of the breakthrough stars of last season, and West Ham have done well to keep him at the club, especially after his showing at this summer’s Euros, and the Hammers have also permanently signed Manuel Lanzini from Al-Jaziri after his successful loan spell.
Added to that attacking mix, Andre Ayew joins from Swansea, giving them another pacey winger who provides service from out wide, and Sofiane Feghouli and Gokhan Tore also give West Ham a good selection of options in midfield and attack.
It’s too early for injuries and such, but Payet has just recently returned from holiday and won’t be fit for 90 minutes, and Aaron Cresswell and Lanzini are both missing with knee problems.
For Chelsea, they will hope that last season was a complete aberration, since 10th place is hardly the ideal league position for a side that were the reigning league champions. Optimism is high, in part, because most Chelsea supporters can’t imagine that this season will be as bad as the last, but the real reason for optimism is the arrival of new manager Antonio Conte.
Conte becomes the latest Italian to take the reigns at Stamford Bridge, following the likes of Gianluca Vialli, Claudio Ranieri, Carlo Ancelotti, and Roberto Di Matteo, and excitement and expectations are high, as Chelsea look to get back into the Champions League next season.
Chelsea will start the season with roughly the same squad that finished 10th but with a couple key additions. Michy Batshuayi joins from Marseille in a £33 million transfer and will likely provide cover for Diego Costa this season. N’Golo Kante joined from Leicester to provide the type of energetic midfielder that the Blues lacked for much of last season when Ramires fell out of favor.
Conte has suggested that more new arrivals may be forthcoming, but the real key to Chelsea’s success is how Conte gets the best out of a number of players that underperformed last year. None of Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard, Oscar, and Diego Costa can call last season the best of their careers, and if Conte can get them back to the form that they displayed in the title-winning 2014-2015 season, his rebuilding job might be as daunting as it may seem.
Regardless, all eyes will be on the manager to see if he’s able to reverse fortunes from last season, if not also to watch his energetic reactions and commands from the touchline.