In the end it took some classic centre forward combination play to deliver a dramatic late winner.
Newly-signed Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi knocked down John Terry’s long punt for Diego Costa to latch onto and drive a laser-guided finish past Adrian. You would have to reminisce of the days of Didier Drogba and Nicholas Anelka to recall a moment where a genuine strike partnership produced a decisive moment so for Antonio Conte.
He will feel vindicated for some bold tactical substitutions which paid off.
In terms of the game itself, Conte opted to start with a 4-3-3. This was contrary to suggestions throughout pre season he will be utilising his staple 3-5-2 or a 4-2-4 to ensure Chelsea’s strength in wide areas are preserved alongside his preferred two man strike force.
Yes, it is only the opening fixture but there are two significant points to emphasise about the decision to use the 4-3-3 system.
Firstly, this shows that Conte is prepared to adapt as he ultimately decided on a tactical system which fits his new squad of players. It shows he did not stubbornly go for his historically successful 3-5-2 nor was he naive enough to play a wildly attacking and open 4-2-4.
The expectation that Chelsea at some stage this season plays a 3-5-2 is reasonable enough, but a 4-2-4 which has ostensibly been thrown around as a possibility is built on the rationale that Conte likes to operate with two strikers.
Chelsea simply cannot afford to play without wingers such as Eden Hazard and Willian who are so integral to the team.
So by coming out with a 4-3-3 and tweaking it to a 4-4-2 when the game was there to be won, and by delivering the desired result, Conte has first and foremost illustrated his tactical astuteness and adaptability to manufacture a successful shakeup. This is a welcome change to the stale and stubborn ways of departed manager Jose Mourinho. Mo’s unyielding faith in 4-2-3-1 made Chelsea predictable which is surprising given Mourinho is renowned for his tactical shrewdness and innovation.
However, the only occasions that Mourinho deviated from 4-2-3-1 during his second spell as Chelsea manager were when he threw on a secondary striker when chasing games or an extra screen in midfield to protect a lead. They are all decisions any sensible manager would make under those circumstances.
The second point to be emphasised tactically is the inclusion of Oscar as a starting central midfielder ahead of Cesc Fabregas.
I personally have been crying out for years now for this change to happen as Oscar does not produce enough of an end product for a player of his undoubted talent. Too often as a number ten or a winger he has frustrated and infuriated with his erratic and inconsistent delivery and playmaking. This is all the more perplexing as he has scored some brilliant goals and usually links excellently with Eden Hazard.
The Brazilian’s industry, energy and eagerness to put challenges in has allowed him to paper over the lack of offensive efficiency. However, by the same token, those very same traits make him an excellent candidate to reinvigorate a midfield that looked slow, tired and bereft of thrust or creativity during the shambolic 2015/2016 season.
Being an attacker by trade also makes Oscar a potentially key component of an Antonio Conte midfield. Oscar’s stamina, passing range and ability to attack the box and finish makes him the box to box player like Arturo Vidal who played the role with such distinction for Conte during their time at Juventus.
Cesc Fabregas was dropped in favour of Oscar which gives an indication of what sort of midfield setup Conte is seeking at present. Names like Matic, Kante and Oscar show that he wants a midfield which is defensive, energetic and physical. This is sensible and rational choice in its cautiousness as it may be used initially to restore confidence in the team.
With this tactical tweak with Oscar, Chelsea have greater flexibility and variation already.
However, Conte must be mindful of the potential trouble that lie ahead. Diego Costa was quite fortunate not to be sent of for a rash challenge on Adrian and for the lenient shown by referee Anthony Taylor as Costa twice touched the official but did not receive a yellow card.
His protestations later in the match for a penalty appeal got him booked and with demeanour and behaviour towards match officials taking a massive crackdown by the FA with new strict rules being implemented this season, it appears the fiery Spaniard could cost the club dearly.
There has been talk about Atletico Madrid’s interest in their former player as well as reported interest from the player himself as Chelsea potentially consider offloading Costa due to his explosive character.
There are also question marks over the central defence as Gary Cahill’s does not look like the steady rock he has been over previous seasons. John Terry’s age and Kurt Zouma’s return from serious injury as well as his rawness makes Chelsea’s pursuit and potential acquirement of Kalidou Koulibaly all the more vital.
A defence that has been so well drilled and difficult to score against for many years has grown old and lacking in enough consistent and reliable performers minus the excellent Cesar Azpilicueta as Branislav Ivanovic showed his age last season and needing to show he is not in terminal decline.
There may be concerns at the bookends of the team. with Costa’s unpredictable nature and the defensive frailties at the back. However ultimately the former Juventus tactician is as good a fit for Chelsea right now than almost any other manager.
Supporters should be instilled with confidence given that their new manager has already performed a revival of a European giant when he took over the reigns at Juventus in 2011. This was when the Bianconeri came off dismal a seventh place finish in Serie A as their post Calciopoli doldrums sunk to a new low.
Chelsea’s malaise last season is similarly disheartening but Conte’s meticulousness and emphasis on organisation and structure fits in perfectly with the virtues and philosophies which were built on the blueprint set up during Mourinho’s first spell at Stamford Bridge. At this juncture, Chelsea need the basic foundations of functional and pragmatic football to be drilled into them more than ever as they lost their way so irrevocably last season.
Conte’s methods and the early indications demonstrate that optimism can sweep Stamford Bridge once more if he can get some crucial decisions right going forward. Chelsea have had a fantastic history over the last twenty years with Italian players and managers including Gianluca Vialli, Gianfranco Zola, Claudio Rainieri, Carlo Cudicini, Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Di Matteo.
There are managers on that list who have delivered historic seasons which include a first ever league and cup double as well as a maiden European Cup. That in itself should breed buoyancy and positivity.