It is now becoming something of a regular affair that Antonio Conte’s Chelsea are taking all three points from the games all over the country. The Italian, who was in charge of the national side in his home country was lured to the Stamford Bridge in the summer and it has been a move that has pushed Chelsea right up to the top of the Premier League table. Their 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace in the 17th round of fixtures this weekend has seen them open up a 6 point gap at the top of the table. It was a win that extended their winning streak this season to 11 games in the domestic league and there is no doubt that the manager has changed quite a few things at the club.
Picking them up from a mid-table position at the end of the previous season, the Italian manager took just over two months to stamp his authority on the squad at the Bridge. Having spent close to £80m in the summer transfer market, Conte’s Blues were exposed in two back to back games against Liverpool and Arsenal but since then, they have been able to stampede in the Premier League.
Chelsea were trailing by a couple of goals at the Emirates on the night and the manager decided to shift to a 3-man defence that helped them bring some normality to that particular game. But Conte decided to stick with the new formation from the next game and ever since, a back three of Cesar Azpilicueta (one of the most consistent defenders in the team), David Luiz (an eye-raising summer buy) and Gary Cahill (an ageing defender) has conceded just a couple of goals, helping their side to 8 clean sheets and a winning run that is fast closing in on Arsenal’s 14 more than a decade ago, a PL record.
Azpilicueta and Cahill have done well to sniff the danger in its early stages while Luis has acted as a cover at the back while commanding the box in the air, a system that has not yet been cracked in the Premier League. Victor Moses, a makeshift wing back and Marcos Alonso, another eye-raising summer buy, have also been superlative in their roles on the wing. The Spaniard on the left flank has done well to balance his attacking duties with his defensive ones while Moses, who has done extremely well to stay concentrated at the back, has been in front in front of goal as well.
It is a system that not many clubs in the Premier League are accustomed to playing against and it has played into the hands of the new manager at the Bridge. Add to that, the form of his front three of Pedro (who was a fringe player last season), Eden Hazard (arguably the most influential player in the league this season) and Diego Costa (top scorer of the league) has made the Blues close to invincible recently. And by far the most influential buy in the summer, N Golo Kante, has also had his effect on the success of the side. A genuine work horse in the midfield, Kante has assumed a role that well suits Conte’s style and the manager has also set up his team in such a way as to get the best out of every player, which has inturn helped them in a season without European distractions.
They have yet shown slight weaknesses that have not yet been exploited but the manager will know that the work is just half done and that he will need his team to stay focused until the end of the season to get their hands on the silverware just a year after finishing 10th in the points table.