When the Italian specialist took over as Chelsea manager, nobody expected swift results. Many experts claimed that the team lacks spirit and confidence, and they were right. After the defending champions finished on eyebrow-raising 10th position last season, it was obvious – Conte had a lot of work to do to get The Blues up and running again. With rumors during the summer that Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and other star players might abandon the sinking Chelsea side, it hardly could get any worse. Specialists claimed that a finish in top 4 would be an excellent result for the recovering London side.
Now its December and Chelsea are top of the table, 6 points clear from the 2nd place Liverpool with an astonishing 11-game win streak still alive. Let’s see how it all turned out this way.
Start of the Season
Chelsea started the season fresh and strong. The first fixture against West Ham was crucial. The slight formation twitches from Conte looked spot on. Conte’s 4-1-4-1 formation looked relatively good. The last minute goal from Diego Costa secured the first victory in the league for Conte. But the Italian tactician kept repeating “we have a lot of work to do, we can improve a lot”.
The summer signing from Leicester, N’Golo Kante, was crucial for Chelsea just like he was for Leicester. Nevertheless, Chelsea lacked the ability to kill games. Costa, Hazard and Willian were having trouble finishing chances, thus winning with a difference of a single goal and keeping the tension right until the final whistle.
That game against Arsenal
The turning point of the title race for Chelsea was the London derby. The Blues defense cracked earlier due to poor display against Liverpool and lack of confidence and control in defense. But this game shed light on the situation in the team. The Gunners started the game very confident and totally dominated The Blues in the first half with Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott scoring within the first 15 minutes, and Mesut Ozil scoring the 3rd goal in the 40th minute.
Chelsea’s last defeat to Arsenal in the league was back in 2011/12 season.
The 3-4-3 salvation
After the defeat to Arsenal Antonio Conte himself admitted that he had a few sleepless nights. Chelsea dropped down the Premier League table and were 8 points away from the leaders Manchester City. The 3-time Seria A winner, spent a massive amount of time tactically upgrading his team. He decided to switch to 3 defender system. Conte had a lot of success with the 3-5-2 formation back in Juventus. In the beginning of the season Conte gave the team a chance to show what they can do. For him that was not enough. After analyzing every player he had, Conte decided to go with the 3-4-3 formation. Summer signing Marcos Alonso and Nigeria international Victor Moses made the first team in wing-back positions. David Luiz, who was criticized massively for his lack of discipline made the center of the back 3 with Garry Cahill and Cesar Azpiliqueta alongside him.
That was the turning point for the team, for the players, for the fans and critics all over the world. Because the results that followed are truly amazing. Chelsea won every single Premier League game since the formation switch. The Blues managed to score 25 goals and concede just 2 over the course of 11 games. This noticeable win streak includes a 3-0 victory against the champions Leicester City, 4-0 victory against Manchester United, and a 5-0 destruction of Everton.
Antonio Conte has already set a new club record by registering an 11th consecutive league win within the same season for the first time.
At the beginning of the season the Italian manager had a team with low confidence,
a returned defender without any discipline (David Luiz) and a last minute transfer, whom many branded as a panic buy (Marcos Alonso). Now The Blues have celebrated Christmas on top of the table and statistics have something to say about that. Every time Chelsea topped the Premier League table at Christmas, they went on to win the league.
The Bournemouth test.
This is a serious test for Chelsea. The team’s main striker Diego Costa who has bagged in 13 goals in the league so far this season is disqualified. So is the Frenchman N’Golo Kante, who has been vital for the team’s midfield. Its time for other players to step up their game and replace their teammates. The £33.m signing from Olympique Marseille, Michy Batshuayi, has his chance to show his worth. Conte did not risk playing the young Belgian, as he struggles to adapt the physical side of Premier League. “Michy is working very well, we must have patience with him, to help him,” said the 47-year-old manager. Since breaking this winning formation can be costly, this might be the right time for the Belgian striker to show what he can do.
If Chelsea manages to overcome the barrier of Bournemouth, Conte’s boys will win their 12th game in a row and close in on Arsenal’s 13 game win streak record set in 2002.