Antonio Conte has fired Chelsea back into title contention and he is fast winning over the majority of SW6 in his first season in England. Let’s examine how a change of system has benefited The Blues and how they could finally be putting the ghosts of last season well and truly behind them.
There is no doubting Chelsea’s reputation as one of the leading English football clubs. Murmurs of a club in crisis had been circulating after a pitiful title defence last season as the club finished in tenth place with Jose Mourinho’s tumultuous second spell in charge proving anything but exasperating both on and off the field.
Chelsea tickets are one of the hottest seats on the market at the moment and they are playing some breathtaking football under Antonio Conte since reverting to a 3-4-3 formation (find tickets here). Chelsea have climbed the Premier League table and and find themselves on a six match winning streak without conceding a goal and scoring seventeen times in the process.
The recent 4-0 victory over Manchester United was merely a sign of things to come as Conte’s men continued their assault with a 5-0 demolition of Everton at Stamford Bridge before the international break. Their recent run of form epitomises the threat that Chelsea possess with their new system, as the Blues began to show signs that they are back to their devastating best under Antonio Conte.
Chelsea had a indifferent start to the season winning only three of their first six matches, drawing once and losing twice to their rivals Liverpool and Arsenal. The Blues started the season with a 4-2-3-1 system, which played more like a 4-2-4 because of the strength that Chelsea possessed down the flanks. Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta operated as full-backs, N’golo Kante and Nemanja Matic holding in midfield, with Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Willian as an attacking midfield three behind Diego Costa in attack.
However, a tactical switch to a 3-4-3 has reaped wonders for Chelsea and allowed the likes of Victor Moses, Marcos Alonso and Pedro the chance to star in the new-look system. All of whom have been a revelation at Stamford Bridge this season playing crucial roles in the wins against Hull City, Leicester City, Manchester United, Southampton and Everton.
Chelsea fans first saw the tactical change away at Arsenal in September when they were trailing 3-0 a half time at The Emirates. After 55 minutes, Fabregas was subbed for Marcos Alonso who went in to operate as a left sided wing back and the Blues have not looked back since.
Following the tactical shift, David Luiz has emerged as a leader at centre back alongside Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta. Luiz looks a lot more disciplined and assured in possession that what we saw in his first spell at the London club and he has the added protection of Kante and Matic to cover him from midfield.
However, the most crucial part for this system to be effective is from the wing backs who operate as the natural source of width on the flanks. Both Moses and Alonso have been key in Chelsea’s revival and have been heavily involved in the action at both ends of the pitch, tracking back to defend and marauding forward when attacking.
The natural width allows Moses and Alonso to occupy opponents and create more space in the middle of the pitch for the industrial tenacity of N’golo Kante and Nemanja Matic to hassle opponents and win the ball back in the middle of the pitch. They have formed a natural partnership this season, with the likes of Oscar, Fabregas and Mikel John Obi having to settle for a place on the sidelines as they are not able to offer the same energy and work rate as their counterparts in order to provide the protection in front of Luiz.
One of the most striking benefits has been the upturn in form of Eden Hazard, who appears to be back to his devastating best and flourishing in his number 10 role after a forgetful season under Jose Mourinho last term. The Belgian has scored five times in his last five matches. Meanwhile, Diego Costa has already notched ten Premier League goals this season and he is finally getting the service and support in the final third after looking isolated for most parts of the last campaign and start of this season.
Pedro has also stepped up to fill the void left by Willian in recent weeks and we finally saw against Everton the quality that the Spanish winger possesses. Pedro appears to be showing signs that made Chelsea fork out £21 million to acquire his services last year from Barcelona.
So are we shocked to see the 3-4-3 system work so effectively? We saw Liverpool use a similar system in the 2013/14 season under Brendan Rodgers to great effect as they came within touching distance of winning the Premier League title. Nathaniel Clyne and Jose Enrique operated as wing backs with Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson in the middle of midfield with Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling supporting Luis Suarez.
Following Chelsea’s recent success with the system, Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur used the same formation against Arsenal in the North London derby at the start of November in their 1-1 draw. Prior to Spurs’ last gasp victory over West Ham United, they had failed to win in seven matches, four of which had been in the Premier League. It appears Pochettino may be looking for alternatives and his London rivals seem to have a solution which we may see grow across the Premier League this season.
The atmosphere around Stamford Bridge this season is a stark contrast to the toxic cloud which overshadowed Jose Mourinho’s second spell in charge of the club. Numerous off field discrepancies haltered their progress, but under Conte, Chelsea are finally focusing on the what matters most which is the results on the pitch.
The club have no distractions with European football, allowing them to solely focus on their Premier League assault. Chelsea can assert a real challenge on the Premier League this term and if they continue their recent good fortune it is difficult not to see the club from SW6 fighting for top spot. One thing for certain is that Chelsea look like they are back to their best under Antonio Conte, a far cry from the depths of despair this time last season.