So following a very impressive debut season from Slaven Bilic, Dimitri Payet and co. we have had a decent summer transfer window, moved into a shiny new stadium and then had to wait all weekend before finally having our first game of the 2016-17 season.
It’s fair to say that excitement and anticipation where high. Social media was a buzz with predictions of 2-0/3-1. To West Ham. Away. To Chelsea.
“And just like my dreams..”
It’s fair to say, 94 minutes later, our bubble had well and truly burst. In stark contrast to many very good performances away to the big boys last season, West Ham where fairly woeful and there for the taking.
It started positively enough, but by 15 minutes Chelsea had sussed our weaknesses. By 20 minutes our record signing had limped off, and by half time we were hanging on, thanks largely to a few smart stops by Adrian.
The second half started in the worse possible way – Michail Antonio conceding a penalty that Hazard converted and then Chelsea were comfortable (and a little complacent) until Payet’s introduction just after the hour.
Ginger Pele’s half-volleyed equaliser had us starring an unlikely point in the eyes and our football improved slightly, until Costa hit his winner. It felt harsh because Costa probably shouldn’t have been on the pitch. But in truth, 2-1 flattered us slightly.
The obvious one is Antonio at right-back. I understand what Bilic hopes he can be (our own Kyle Walker with an increased goal threat), but he lacks the defensive instincts and positional sense. This was further highlighted by how much more solid we looked down the right once Sam Byram came on.
Antonio simply had to play further forward. If that lesson is learnt from this defeat, it may have been three points worth dropping.
I like the guy. His professionalism and work rate can’t be faulted. His ability can be and too often against Chelsea he left Arthur Masuaku exposed. It was no surprise that Chelsea got a foothold in the game once Ivanovic and William realised they could double up on the new boy.
Picking up the Pace
It’s fair to say neither Havard Nordtviet or Gokhan Tore impressed much on their debuts. Nordtviet’s distribution was poor and he seemed to think he was going to have more time on the ball than a Premier League midfielder generally gets.
Tore looked like a guy who has not had much of a pre-season, and playing against one of the Premier League’s best full-backs didn’t help him either. Both will need to go up a gear.
Andy Carroll cut a forlorn figure upfront for much of the game, lacking any kind of support. He was doubled up on by Cahill and Terry and when he did manage to hold it up, he was either alone or managed to get it to Valencia, who then lost it.
The way we set up, Kouyate should have been able to get up and support and Andre Ayew/Tore could have tucked in to offer an option, but it didn’t happen. We improved once Payet came on, but not a lot.
The ball out from the back was so very poor and the main reason we struggled.
Hit and hope passes (Winston Reid) and badly executed diagonal balls wide (Nordtviet) meant that aside from the first 10 minutes, we never got the ball down and played, so the ball just kept coming back at us and the gap between Andy and his supporting cast grew and grew.
Ogbonna, Oxford, and obviously Payet and Lanzini, will help with this but against Chelsea it cost us.
It’s easy to forget that this group of Chelsea players where defending Premier Leaugue champions 12 months ago.
They had a poor year last season (largely because they where sulking) but they have millions and millions pounds worth of class players. They’ve also added the current champions’ most important player, as well as a new manager and all the uplifting positives that come with that. We may have under estimated them.
There is no doubt that it wasn’t a good performance and that lessons need to be learnt. But it’s not time to panic.
Bilic and his boys showed us last year they have the ability and know how to win us games. Let’s hope they start on Thursday against Astra.