It’s a week until West Ham kick off their Premier League season with a tough away day trip to Antonio Conte’s Chelsea.
Last season, the thought of an away opener at the Emirates was daunting but Slaven Bilic masterminded the Hammers to a famous victory with a little help from a superb Reece Oxford.
Now, West Ham travel to Stamford Bridge with an even stronger side and although it will be a real test for Bilic’s men, they will be expecting to pick up some points from the game.
The real headache is selecting the starting team for the trip to Stamford Bridge.
The talking points are the full-backs and how the midfield will shape up. Slaven Bilic will most probably opt for Adrian in goal despite Darren Randolph increasing the competition for the number one jersey.
With Arthur Masuaku signing for the club yesterday, the Hammers now have a fit, senior left-back available for the start of the Premier League season. Expect the Frenchman to start alongside Bilic’s first choice centre-back pairing of Winston Reid and Angelo Ogbonna.
The other underlying issue is who will fill in at right-back. Bilic has used Antonio in that position recently but it does not look as if the winger is going to master the art of defending any time soon. This is understandable as he has always played in a midfield position throughout his career. Masuaku’s signing will free up the right-back slot for Sam Byram, who has performed well at left-back in pre-season. A switch to his preferred side would suit Byram and it would be beneficial for the Hammers to have a natural defender at right-back, especially against the likes of Chelsea’s Eden Hazard.
Havard Nordtveit has impressed in his brief Hammers career so far with the midfield metronome playing in a deeper role. West Ham lacked a real calming presence in front of the back four last season and Nordtveit will provide that. This type of option is particularly useful for away games, especially against the likes of Chelsea.
Both Cheikou Kouyate and Mark Noble starred in more expansive roles last season and the former’s double against NK Domzale will only boost the chances of him adopting a more attack-minded midfield role. Both players have bundles of energy that allows them to work effectively at both ends of the pitch so it seems almost certain that these players will start against Chelsea.
Now comes the difficult part. Sofiane Feghouli has looked sharp in pre-season and it looks as if the Algerian will start there ahead of anyone else. Michail Antonio was one of West Ham’s best players last season and he deserves to be included in the starting eleven in his preferred position on the wing. However, with the signing of Feghouli, starting on the right may be difficult. Antonio has proven that he is capable with both feet and a spot on the left could work well for the Englishman, especially when Payet is not expected to start.
Andy Carroll scored the equaliser in the same fixture last season and he should get the nod on Monday. He will cause the Chelsea defence a lot of problems and the Hammers should get good service into the box with the players available. New signing Andre Ayew would be a good impact sub to add more energy to the side in the second half. Although many may be tempted to start him, it would be nice to see Bilic ease the Ghanaian into the team at first.
Whatever team Slaven Bilic opts for, the Hammers will pose a serious threat to Chelsea and it should be an entertaining game to watch. Let’s hope Slaven Bilic can repeat his opening day antics away from home once again.
Forever West Ham’s team to start vs Chelsea