Play time is finally over. It's the moment for real football to take the stage, as Chelsea’s 2016-17 Premier League season officially begins.
In a season opener that will also mark the official start of Antonio Conte's reign as Chelsea manager, the Blues will be taking on West Ham at Stamford Bridge. Last season, the Hammers got the best out of Chelsea on a 2-1 win at the Boleyn Ground, with their winning goal coming via the second-most expensive and useless striker of the 2010-11 winter transfer window (except when facing Chelsea), Andy Carroll. The £35 million hitman struck again on the return leg at the Bridge, but thankfully Chelsea managed to avoid further embarrassment by leveling the score at 2-2 in the 89th minute through a Cesc Fàbregas spot kick.
Until the line-ups are released, the major point of discussion will be what shape we’ll be using for the first match of the season. Our own Rob Brown covered five possible set-ups that Chelsea could employ, as well as their pros and cons considering our current squad, while WAGNH at large expects a 4-3-3. One thing is certain though: the tactical "soul-searching" journey will unfold intriguingly.
To follow the new tradition: FORZA, CHELSEA!
Date / Time: Monday, August 15, 2016, 20:00 BST; 3pm EDT; 12:30 am IST (next day)
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6, England.
Referee: Anthony Taylor, whose infuriatingly bad performance in the 2-2 draw against WBA at the Bridge last season got even the normally mild-manner Guus Hiddink to say something.
Forecast: A cloudy, but warm night by London standards
On TV: Sky Sports 1 (UK); USA Network (USA); Star Sports 4 / Select HD 1 (India); elsewhere
Streaming online: Sky Go (UK); NBC Sports Live Extra (USA); Star Sports (India)
Chelsea team news: We might be unsure of how Chelsea will look on the pitch, but, for better or worse, we shouldn't expect many changes from the last couple seasons as far as the starting eleven is concerned.
Only Mikel, who’s busy scoring goals at the Olympics, and Kurt Zouma, who’s continuing his recovery from the ACL tear, are unavailable to feature.
West Ham team news: Manager Slaven Bilic has found himself in the midst of a minor injury crisis, with four players likely to miss their first match of the season. The most notable absentees are attacking midfielder Manuel Lanzini and left back Aaron Cresswell; they’re out with knee injuries until September and November, respectively.
As Rob pointed out in his opposition analysis, the East London side had a bit of luck involved in their 7th place finish last season. Unless Bilic comes out with a new plan to sort out their issues — or lady luck strikes again — a regression down to the mean should be in the cards.
Of course, that matters less in the context of just a single game, though Chelsea’s record in season openers is the best in the Premier League. At least it was, until Manchester United’s win on Sunday. Now, Chelsea need at least a point to maintain that distinction for another year.
Previously: Highlights that will make you glad that Lanzini and Cresswell won't be on the pitch next Monday ... although Chelsea's defence will likely be the same.