After a disappointing run last season, Chelsea are back with a point to prove writes JJ Lee.
After last season’s dismal campaign, Chelsea were in dire need of a reboot. The sacking of Jose Mourinho once again was a bitter pill to swallow for most fans, but has become something to be expected, as it is now the culture of Chelsea to hire and fire when results do not suit.
However, the appointment of Italian Antonio Conte has instilled hope in the fanbase. The former Juventus and Italy manager comes with a big reputation and, after a very premature writing off as title contenders at the start of the season, Conte’s blues are right back in the groove looking as imperious as the very best Chelsea sides.
Perhaps the best thing that could’ve happened this season was a comprehensive 3-0 thrashing away at Arsenal in September, which was followed by a loss at home to Liverpool. This sent a sense of dread and alarm throughout the Chelsea hierarchy and fanbase. In modern football, everyone panics after losing two games, even if those two games are to a couple of the best teams in the league, and your job is suddenly in jeopardy. Perhaps then, this panic forced Conte’s hand as he switched to his favoured 3 at the back system he has used previously to great effect, and it has been revolutionary.
The re-signing of David Luiz raised many eyebrows around Stamford Bridge but in this system he just simply works. Luiz’s pace and generally good ball distribution was tailor-made for Conte’s system, and Gary Cahill also appears to be adapting quite well. One can only imagine that when Kurt Zouma returns from injury, he would make an already fearsome back three even stronger with his astounding pace and aerial ability.
The major casualty of this system will be John Terry. The inspirational captain has been struggling with injury this season and his lack of mobility at age 35 will more than likely cost him. Conte in a recent interview stated “For me he is a great help. He is still an important player for us if he doesn’t start the match”. This experience and guidance will be crucial if Chelsea are to mount a proper title challenge.
The utilisation of 3-4-3 is also having a domino effect further up the field. Victor Moses is frankly unrecognizable to the player that’s been loaned out the past two seasons, and is now integral to the team at wingback, in a position that he’s never played in before. Eden Hazard is also on fire since the shift in formation, picking up Octobers player of the month award after three goals and one assist in four games. The Belgian is free to drift centrally in this system, allowing him to exploit far more gaps with his electric pace than he would out wide. This has led to more goals not just for Hazard, but also for Diego Costa who is now the Premiers League top scorer and back to his dominant best. If Chelsea can continue this form through the historically difficult Christmas run of fixtures, they are without a doubt in the title race.
There is no doubt that Chelsea are a dangerous outfit this season. They are a wounded animal with a considerable chip on their shoulder after last year’s campaign. Conte's tactics are solid and his sheer passion alone would push a team over the line, he is one of those managers that kicks every ball alongside his players. Depth in defence is a huge problem; if there are injuries to either David Luiz or Cahill in December it will have a massive knock-on effect. N’Golo Kante is the driving force behind this team at the moment, his energy is unparalleled and can’t be matched by any other midfielder in the squad, so if the Frenchman picks up a knock things will spiral downwards too.
However IF, and it’s a big if, Chelsea can keep their core nucleus of players fit, I believe they can go on to win the league. Now, this is unlikely given the Premier League’s hectic schedule but nonetheless, the Blues are truly in the midst of their own Italian Renaissance.