There’s no doubt Chelsea players were partying hard into the night on Friday after their 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion clinched their sixth Premier League title. Following a minor blip at the beginning of the season, there’s no doubt this is one of the best Chelsea teams ever assembled. What’s more outstanding is the manner that Antonio Conte has done it in.
Inheriting a squad by Guus Hiddink, Conte has made use of the resources made available to him, without generating a huge net spend. Out went Oscar to Shanghai SIPG for £51 million, whilst the Italian coach spent wisely. David Luiz returned to the club, whilst the signing of the season, N’Golo Kante, arrived from Premier League champions Leicester City for £30m. Conte used his contacts in the Serie A wisely, which also saw the arrival of Marcos Alonso from Fiorentina – who would ultimately go on to be one of Chelsea’s most important players. All in all, Conte had a net spend of just £20.7m.
The former Juventus and Italy head coach implemented his tough mentality, putting players through hard graft in pre-season: little did they know the rewards that he would bring.
3-4-3 now a fashionable tactic
Not too long ago, Alonso was playing his football for Bolton Wanderers, now he’s a Premier League champion and one of Chelsea’s best players. The same can be said for Victor Moses, who started out at Wigan Athletic. The two wing-backs are Conte’s key players in this formation, which allow the others to play. With 29 and 28 appearances respectively, Alonso received a Whoscored rating of 7.41, whilst Moses received a 7.21.
Just one month into his spell at Chelsea, Conte was already finding life difficult in the Premier League. A draw against Swansea and two losses on the bounce against Liverpool and Arsenal, the former Juventus coach was already feeling the heat of the English media. It was after that spell that Conte changed from his 4-1-4-1 formation to his renowned 3-4-3 that has seen him gain plaudits this season.
A 2-0 away win at Hull City followed which started a spell of 13 wins on the trot, including a resounding victory against Manchester United using his favoured 3-4-3 tactic. Whilst Chelsea perhaps don’t have the elite players that Manchester United have, such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, what they do have is a sense of stability and togetherness, whilst they’re willing to fight for each other.
Where one succeeds, others follow – or so seems to be the case. Not often have we seen three at the back in the Premier League, but now it’s becoming a more regular occurrence, with Arsenal the latest team to switch to three centre-backs.
In midfield, we’ve often seen Kante partner one of Nemanja Matic or Cesc Fabregas, depending on opposition, whilst the three-up top often consists of Eden Hazard, Willian and Diego Costa – striking fear into the opposing team.
Resurgence of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa
It’s fair to say that Hazard didn’t have the best season in 2015/16. The Belgian’s four Premier League goals was a contributing factor to Chelsea’s 10th placed finish last campaign, finishing 31 points behind champions Leicester City. Hazard looked like a player that didn’t want to be there, and with a rumour circulating that he would be joining Real Madrid, perhaps many didn’t expect him to be at Stamford Bridge this season.
If there’s one thing Conte is good at, it’s man management. The Italian tactician has nurtured Hazard into one of the world’s best forwards in today’s game. With 15 goals and five assists in the Premier League this season, Hazard made his way into the PFA Team of the Year, and rightly so. All too often has he terrorised opposing defenders, whilst he’s become one of the most prolific wide players, behind Alexis Sanchez.
Like Hazard, we’ve also seen the resurgence of Diego Costa, a season that was almost a carbon copy of his first year in London when he signed from Atletico Madrid in 2014. His debut season in the Premier League saw him score 20 Premier League goals as Mourinho’s Chelsea clinched the 2014/15 title, whilst two years later, he’s scored 20 league goals once again, bringing the title back to Stamford Bridge under Conte.
With some new faces at Stamford Bridge, we could well see Chelsea get into the latter stages of the Champions League next season.