The opening weekend of the eagerly anticipated 2016/17 is almost upon us, and the excitement surrounding the huge spectacle is nearly at a fever pitch. New managers, new players, even a new stadium; the race for the title, the Champions League, and battle for safety all begins in a few days. There are some tantalising fixtures in the opening round of matches, and amongst them is Chelsea vs. West Ham. Let’s examine three key players on either side who might determine the outcome of this London derby.
6 Dmitri Payet (West Ham)
The form of this inspirational French midfielder for both club and country in the last two years has seen him become one of the most feared midfielders in Europe.
Payet is a complete attack-minded midfielder who possesses an eye for a pass and also poses a significant threat in front of goal. He is likely to start the game against Chelsea either on the left flank or behind the striker and if given the time and space, he may find a way to unlock the Chelsea defence.
5 Michail Antonio (West Ham)
The midfielder, signed from Nottingham Forest in 2015 was one of the revelations in the league last season. Having been converted to a fullback midway through the season, he showed what you lack in technique; you can make up for with hard work and fearlessness.
He’s shown some significant improvements over the course of the year.
4 Andy Caroll (West Ham)
Caroll might not be one of the most revered names in English football, but on his day, the English striker can be extremely lethal in front of goal especially from aerial positions.
Having scored the winner at Upton Park last year, he will be looking to start the new season on a high note by finding the back of the net in this opening fixture. If West Ham can find the time and space to hit decent crosses into the box, Andy Caroll is likely to get his name on the score sheet.
3 Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
The 2015 PFA Player of the year was in ghost mode for almost the entire last season, as Chelsea mounted the worst title defence in the Premier League history.
Fans got a glimpse of the old Eden Hazard towards the end of the season and at Euro 2016. To hit the ground running, Antonio Conte will need his wing wizard firing from the very beginning. The Belgium International will likely be up against Michail Antonio, and it will be interesting to see if he can keep the influential midfielder pinned back.
2 N’golo Kanté(Chelsea)
Antonio Conte favours pragmatism. Therefore, he and Kante should be a match made in heaven. Kante was the unsung hero in Leicester’s incredible title win last season but will need to redefine himself to fit in a more attacking side. His job in the opening fixture will be to stop his international teammate Dmitri Payet from getting the ball in dangerous positions. If anyone in the league can stop Payet, it’s Kante.
1 Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea)
Most of the Chelsea players failed to find some glory in the last season, and worst amongst them was goalkeeper Courtois who conceded goal after goal including some avoidable mistakes.
Against the aerial prowess of Andy Caroll, it is important that Courtois dominates his area. His willingness and success in claiming crosses floated in and around the six-yard box might be the difference between failure and success for Chelsea in this game.