Flash back to the beginning of the football season, much of the hype surrounded the new superstar managers coming to the Premier League. Understandably, expectations were high for a new chapter in the rivalry between Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.
But it is the former Italy manager Antonio Conte that has taken the league by storm.
Perhaps wary of Louis van Gaal’s start at Manchester United, Conte did not impose his tactics on Chelsea from day one. He trialled traditionally English formations for a number of difficult weeks. However, after a 3-0 loss to Arsenal in late September, Conte decided something had to change. Within a week, he drilled a relatively senior Chelsea first team into a largely unprecedented defensive system.
For the next 6 Premier League matches, Chelsea did not concede a single goal. After game week 24, Conte’s team sit 9 points clear at the top of the League.
Chelsea’s relentless rise in a season where all of the top 6 have performed stronger than last has left many questioning, can anyone stop Chelsea winning the title?
In defence, Chelsea have barely missed John Terry and Kurt Zouma. David Luiz’s reliability at the back has arguably been the biggest revelation to fans and pundits alike.
In midfield, marathon man N’golo Kanté was pivotal to Leicester City’s fairy-tale last season, and he has maintained his performances at Chelsea. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time, and can make tackling the trickiest of opponents look easy.
In attack, Diego Costa and Eden Hazard have found all of the zeal they lost under Mourinho last season. At times, their combination with Pedro has been almost unplayable.
Nevertheless, the few goals Chelsea have conceded highlight some potential weaknesses.
Whilst Cesar Azpilicueta has exceeded all expectations in a back 3, his lack of height can be targeted by some old fashioned back post crosses. It is no coincidence that Mauricio Pochettino and his creator-in-chief Christian Eriksen targeted this region. The problem has been compounded by David Luiz trying to push out a high line when the rest of the defence was not ready. It is unclear whether this was suggested by Conte, but it is not always the most successful tactic against fast opponents.
Tottenham currently in second place, Nonetheless, decades of not winning the league has left their consistency in question. Similarly, Arsenal and Liverpool tend to enjoy strong runs which do not last the whole season. United’s significant run of draws seems to have left Mourinho’s men an insurmountable deficit to recover. However, A strong late challenge seems to be in the making from Manchester City, galvanised by new arrival Gabriel Jesus,but it may be too little too late.
The title looks like it is Chelsea’s to lose. But, this is the Premier League, where Newcastle squandered a 12-point lead, where Aguero scored in the 94th minute and where Leicester City FC lifted the title in 2016. It’s the reason we all love this league – anything can happen…