It hasn’t taken our new taskmaster Antonio Conte to put his stamp on this group of players.
In contrast to this time last year, when we saw an overweight and grumpy Jose Mourinho standing in the technical area, yesterday we saw a smiling, animated and inspirational leader occupying that same space.
Other than N’Golo Kante, which is a big “other” it was the same group of players that looked so out of sorts last season. 12 months on they looked fit, sharp and hungry…… the football mirrored their physical disposition. Obviously there was a little early season rustiness, hence Conte’s “room for improvement” comment, but overall I’d say we looked the best Premiership side of the opening weekend fixtures.
In particular, Hazard, Costa, Matic, Oscar and Ivanovich looked like new signings, compared to last season.
I’m particularly happy to see Oscar back, partnering Hazard and Willian in the triumvirate. I hope he stays; he is one of my favorites. Hopefully we realize its Pedro who should be offloaded from the attacking midfield.
Even Costa, who some say was lucky to remain on the pitch after a possible second bookable, seemed to have a new more “sportsmanlike” persona, replacing the out of control caveman from last season. His 89th minute winning strike was just what the doctor ordered.
Pairing Matic and Kante in the middle of the park provided the forwards with the confidence to try a few a tricks, by assuming the ball, if lost, would soon be back in our possession. Matic started to pinch the ball back like he did 2 seasons ago, and in Kante we have reincarnated Makalele.
The press is rife with rumors of Cesc being unhappy, but unless he gets a yard or two quicker than last season, which will be hard for him, he won’t be able to keep the pace what is now a very athletic team. I hope he manages to improve his physicality as he still has a lot to offer.
Nothing new in the back 4, but I’m guessing Zouma will provide cover for the ageing JT over the season. Maybe the need for a new signing? It’s now Ivanovich’s twilight too.
So what of our new manager? He is certainly a man of the people. When the late winner went in, if he was a player he would have been booked for over celebrating…….. I thought he was going to take his shirt off as he jumped into the crowd….. Love it.
He wants to win, especially at home. Making a double change, taking Oscar and Hazard off for Pedro and Batshuayi, the latter making up a 2 center forward paring with Costa, proved the winning roll of the dice. I’m sure his manner is infectious and the team will smile with him ………
Way too early to be predicting what the table will look like come May, but safe to say we will be in a much better position than last season.
PS.. We should make Eden Hazard vice-Captain, and heir apparent to JT’s armband.