Antonio Conte’s switch to a 3-4-3 formation during a 3-0 thumping away at Arsenal may just be the move that delivered a fifth Premier League title to Stamford Bridge at the end of the season. Since that fateful day in north London, the Blues have epitomised the art of consistency and the Italian has been praised for his management.
Still, following recent losses to Crystal Palace and Manchester United, the lead has been cut down to just four points by Mauricio Pochettino’s rampant Tottenham Hotspur and Conte’s refusal to sway from the winning formula that took him so close to glory could be the cause of his downfall.
While Diego Costa’s important to the Blues’ cause earlier in the campaign cannot be understated, his recent dip in form has invariably cost his side. Watching his largely anonymous performance against United at Old Trafford from the sidelines, Michy Batshuayi will have been a figure of frustration.
Much has been made about the Belgian’s position in the squad this season. Yet to start a Premier League game, the £33m summer signing saw Ruben Loftus-Cheek brought on instead of him at the Theatre of Dreams, despite some reasonably promising performances when handed a rare chance.
Already linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge, has Conte missed a trick by not unleashing the former Marseille man? Even with Costa touted for a potential summer exit, Chelsea have been strongly linked with the likes of Alvaro Morata and Romelu Lukaku, suggesting Batshuayi has little hope of a future in west London.
But why not? Clearly, we’re not privy to what goes on behind closed doors, though this is a striker once described by a certain Marcelo Bielsa as ”unstoppable.”
“When he’s at his best, he’s unstoppable.
“He is an exciting player, a born striker, a good dribbler and powerful.
“He will work hard for his teammates, without losing any of his threat towards the opposition. He will sacrifice a lot for you, but also is dangerous.”
Indeed, the attributes described by the Argentine coach (one referred to as the best manager in the world by Pep Guardiola) above also lend themselves to Costa at his best.
One of the major criticisms levelled at the forward over the course of his career has been his perceived immaturity. Blasted by former Belgium coach Marc Wilmots prior to the 2014 World Cup, Batshuayi was called ”too selfish” and someone who doesn’t think about the team often enough.
Perhaps those sort of problems have reared their heads again on the books of Chelsea, though it’s important to remember that he did eventually make the Belgian squad for that tournament, as well as playing regularly under Wilmots in 2016.
Players go grow up. Indeed, speaking about his past as recently as last year, Batshuayi addressed his perception in Belgium, stating he had indeed matured as both a person and a footballer.
“I have a bad boy reputation in Belgium”, he admitted.
”They judged me because I had two red cards when I started.”
”Look, I did make a lot of mistakes, but now I have matured a lot.
“It is true that after those two stupid reds, the defenders were fond of provoking me, but now when they try to put me off my game, it makes me laugh.”
With Costa struggling to perform in the second half of the campaign (a sewing motif throughout his career), perhaps Batshuayi could offer Conte an alternative, if for no reason other than merely get his side over the line.
If Chelsea threw away the title many expected them to have had wrapped by now, who will be to blame? Will anyone remember Costa’s dip in form? Probably not.
Antonio Conte’s refusal to drop him will be merely a footnote in history if Tottenham pip their bitter rivals to the ultimate prize in domestic football. Doing so now, unleashing a self-confessed street footballer, could see him cement his place amongst the managerial elite on these shores.