Premier League: Which Managerial Debut Was the Most Impressive?
Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte started new journeys this past Premier League weekend, and all three were able to secure early victories.
Guardiola implemented an interesting formation and peculiar tactics en route to Manchester City's 2-1 win over Sunderland. Mourinho oversaw Manchester United's 3-1 victory over Bournemouth, while Conte's Chelsea edged out a thrilling 2-1 finish against West Ham United on Monday.
Guardiola's tactics featured a switch of position depending on possession. Defensive midfielder Fernandinho moved to the back line when City were in possession, and Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy moved forward, creating a sort of hybrid five-man backline. It was enough to protect victory, thanks to a late own goal from the Black Cats, and Guardiola -- unsurprisingly -- made headlines with his strategy from moment one.
As for Mourinho, United were able to secure a comfortable, albeit flawed victory. Zlatan Ibrahimovic got on the scoring sheet and took home Man of the Match honors, via WhoScored.com, while Juan Mata got a surprise start and scored, completing 44 of his 48 passes (92%). Eric Bailly heavily impressed at the back, recording three tackles, seven clearances and two interceptions. Wayne Rooney also grabbed a goal, giving hope that United's veterans are going to be able to mesh well with the new recruits.
However, the most impressive debut belongs to Conte. From the first touch, Chelsea looked revitalized. After some of the losses and poor form we saw from the Blues last season, there was undoubtedly going to be improvement, but Conte's squad was electric in pace and pressure against a quality opponent.
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On the attack, Diego Costa pressed constantly and provided the rough, aggravating play for which he's known. Eden Hazard was in dangerous spots throughout the match -- pacing Chelsea with an 8.0 rating, per WhoScored.com -- while Willian was as tricky as ever, getting off 2 shots and completing 93% of his passes. Oscar looked as if he was finally at full-match fitness and may be able to be the team's standout No. 10, finishing with 46 completed passes and 6 tackles.
Defensively, the back four was near impeccable as they bogged down the Hammers' attack, holding them to just three shots on target. John Terry and Gary Cahill looked a formidable pairing again. Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta did well at both ends of the pitch, with Azpilicueta earning a penalty shortly after the start of the second half, which Hazard buried for the lead.
Nemanja Matic and N'Golo Kante patrolled the midfield, constantly directing possession. However, the West Ham squad deserves credit for holding Chelsea back for the majority of the game, with James Collins' goal serving as an equalizer and creating the chance for the Hammers and manager Slaven Bilic could snatch a win at the death.
But it was Chelsea who took a late victory. Willian beautifully laid off a ball to Costa outside the box near the 89th minute, and he duly finished. It was the most promising moment of the match as Costa showed that plenty of transfer rumors and a managerial change can't take away talent.
As for Conte, it not only gave the rest of the league a reason to be wary of Chelsea in tight games again, but the Blues' play genuinely excited the team and crowd. Costa and company celebrated for more than a moment after the late winner, and Stamford Bridge rocked in ways we didn't see too often last year.
A highlight of both Mourinho stints was that Chelsea played physically with an emphasis on defensive stability. Stability is important to Conte, as well, but he looks more focused on igniting his attackers, something Chelsea sorely lacked a year ago.
It's early for everyone, but it was apparent on Monday that Chelsea have a chance to be the Chelsea of old -- rough, strong and frustratingly good. Keeping up with United and City for the title will be another story, but they have as much talent as any team in England.