After an inconsistent start to the season, Chelsea can now boast and unbeaten streak of two games. It’s not the manner of victory but the style in which the West Londoners are now performing. The unity in the squad seems to have returned whilst Antonio Conte looks content with the new formation he’d been searching for.
Whilst the Blues still occupy 5th place, Antonio Conte’s men are now on a two-game unbeaten run in the league. Their last result was a morale-boosting 3-0 win over Premier League champions Leicester at Stamford Bridge, and while it’s not too late for the Blues to mount a title charge, Chelsea are tipped outside favourites for the Premier League title.
It’s difficult to know if Chelsea are out of the woods yet following their nightmare season last year that saw them join the ranks of the worst defences of the title – joint worst of the Premier League era with Blackburn Rovers in 1996. It’s hard to argue with the assertion that the arrival of Conte brings a revival of some substance, however.
Conte’s men didn’t appear to be suffering the blues on Saturday afternoon when they beat Leicester comprehensively 3-0. The star of the show was undeniably N’Golo Kante against his former club Leicester: he looked at his very best as he outmaneuvered Leicester’s midfield and snuffed out any threat through the middle of the park before it became anything too serious.
Kante’s issue at Chelsea has been his inconsistent form and if he can produce this type of form in the Premier League then Chelsea will certainly be title contenders, let alone challenge for the Champions League places. The French international rarely gave up possession and linked up well with Nemanja Matic as the Chelsea midfield produced a number of shaky performances in recent weeks before Conte’s tactical change.
Questions had arisen as to whether Nemanja Matic and Kante could work in tandem, and whether or not deploying both in the same side is simply too negative. Yet, reverting from the more attacking formation of 4-1-4-1 to 3-2-3-2 has enabled Chelsea to play with a style of play similar to Juventus under Conte. Not only do both central midfielders blossom in the midfield, but the wing-backs of Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso have proven effective in the two games since their defeat at the Emirates Stadium.
When Conte shifted to his new back-three formation in the second-half against Arsenal he instructed his team to remain more defensively-minded and also enabled his wide midfielders to operate as wing-backs whenever the Gunners surged forward.
The experimental formation was repeated against Hull City at the KCOM Stadium the week after, and from then on it proved an undeniable success. The result was a 2-0 win and arguably the most balanced performance Chelsea have produced under Conte thus far.
This new found togetherness has led to them sticking to their plan, that has continued over the past two and a bit matches. Kante and others have finally started to blossom along with, surprisingly, Victor Moses who struggled to start consistently for West Ham last season. It’s not difficult to see why Conte values Moses so much. He combines the strength and skill to keep the ball under pressure with an natural ability to commit defenders whenever he dribbles. Moses’ imperious form has finally seen players like out-of-form Branislav Ivanovic dropped from the Chelsea starting XI.
On the opposite wing, Marcos Alonso has been heavily criticised since his summer arrival from Serie A side Fiorentina. The former Sunderland left-back was strongly unwanted by a number of Chelsea fans but his performances at left wing-back have sen a large proportion sing from another hymn sheet. Alonso’s broad footballing education at Real Madrid, battling relegation in England and Italian football has enabled him develop into an accomplished all-rounder.
With so much ground having been conceded on the top of the table, Chelsea will have to defy the odds if they are to challenge for the Premier League (miraculously), or the Champions League (more realistically). Ensuring key players continue to produce and also keeping key players fit will be fundamental to Chelsea’s success this season.
Summer signings who brought a number of question marks are now starting to answer their critics with impressive performances. Chelsea certainly look to have turned a corner – 14 months after being guided down a dark and dreary alley of gloom.