Conte Has Completely Changed Chelsea, and That Should Terrify the Rest of the Premier League

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At the beginning of this season, many were expecting a vastly different Chelsea side to the one we saw under José Mourinho last term. However, initially this did not really seem to be the case. While they did win their first three games, a draw with Swansea followed, as well as losses to both Liverpool and Arsenal.

The Arsenal defeat was an especially crushing one, as they found themselves staring down the barrel at a three goal deficit before the half-time whistle even sounded. Many were already anticipating a collapse similar to the one we saw last season. Chelsea were already eight points from the table’s summit, languishing in 8th place.

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Crushing Arsenal defeat

Another Disaster Looming?

At this stage in the previous season, the writing was already on the wall for Mourinho’s second spell at Stamford Bridge. The Portuguese seemed to be feuding with everybody, be it opposition managers, officials, or even members of his own staff. Most worryingly of all, it appeared that he had lost the faith of the dressing room.

Perhaps fresh in the knowledge of what had happened to his predecessor only one year prior, Antonio Conte took an entirely different approach. Instead of blaming outside factors for his teams poor results, he set about bringing a change to their fortunes by reshaping the team and maximising the potential of the players he had at his disposal. He changed the shape of the team, reverting to the formation which found him so much success while at the helm of both Juventus and Italy: the 3-4-3.

3-4-3

This is a formation that is alien to many on English shores, but it is quite common on the continent, especially in Italy. The criticism that is often levelled at this formation is that it quite often takes a long period of time for the players to adapt to playing in this type of system. However, this group of Chelsea players have had no such problems. Since it’s introduction, Chelsea have won six games consecutively, scoring 17 goals and conceding none. They now sit atop the Premier League.

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Chelsea have won six games consecutively

Rejuvanated

What will be a huge concern to the rest of the league is that this form shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. A number of players seem completely rejuvenated in the new system. Diego Costa is no longer picking fights with his own reflection, and is the Premier League’s top scorer. Eden hazard has recaptured the form which saw him win the PFA player of the year award in 2015, and has even notched a goal in four consecutive league games for the first time in his career. Perhaps most surprisingly, Victor Moses has begun to thrive in the wing back role, a position he was not previously been familiar with. Moses did not appear likely to have a future at the club, having been sent out in loan in each of the last three seasons. However, under Conte he has been given a new lease of life and is beginning to remind fans why Chelsea signed him in the first place.

New Signings

Meanwhile, summer signings Ngolo Kanté and Marcos Alonso have slotted seamlessly into the side. At times teams have not looked like even getting a shot on target against Chelsea, much less actually scoring. In fact, during this run Thibaut Courtois went over 400 minutes without having to face a shot on his goal. This stat shows us just how stifling Chelsea’s defensive play has been.

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Summer signing Ngolo Kanté

Midweek Rest

Another major factor in this year’s title chase is the fact that Chelsea, and Liverpool for that matter, do not have to contend with European football this season. This leaves Conte with a full week’s preparation in between games, something which he has utilised to his advantage. Would Chelsea have adapted so quickly mid-season to the 3-4-3 had they been playing European football in midweek? I would venture to say that it is unlikely. Conte has made full use of those extra hours available to him with the players on the training pitch. With less travel, there also comes a reduction of the chance of injury and fatigue for his players, and if Chelsea can keep injuries to a minimum there seems little to stop them from reclaiming the Premier League crown that they forfeited in such an embarrassing manner last year.

Title Race

This season’s title race seems set up to be one of the most exciting we have seen in years. You could say there are still five or six teams who still have a realistic chance of lifting the trophy, something that is not usually the case twelve games into the season. While Manchester City are still the favourites in most people’s books, and even though Liverpool have taken most of the headlines with their gengenpress philosophy, I feel that Chelsea are going to take some stopping.

In Conte, they have found a manager who in a short period of time has reversed the fortunes of a club who seemed in complete disarray only a few months ago. He has already shown that he is adaptable, and the players have clearly bought into his way of thinking. As the season goes on, it appears this improvement is only going to continue, and that is a troubling thought for Chelsea’s fellow title contenders. It would take a brave man to bet against Chelsea claiming their fifth Premier League title of the Abramovich era this coming May.

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