Antonio Conte’s side are in a good momentCREDIT: AP
Like every Chelsea supporter, Antonio Conte feared the worst after watching his side get thrashed by Arsenal. But, six weeks later, theItalian has inspired the most dramatic of turnarounds.
Chelsea made it five successive victories with 16 goals scored and none conceded since the defeat at the Emiratesthanks to a stunning performance against Everton in which Eden Hazard netted twice and Diego Costa, Pedro and Marcos Alonso were on target.
Antonio Conte has brought the feel-good factor back to Stamford Bridge CREDIT:REUTERS
Asked how he felt in the aftermath of the Arsenal game at the end of September, Conte said: “I was worried because we conceded a lot of goals in every game and conceded many chances and, for this reason, we changed things.
Here, we examine how Conte has turned Chelsea into the Premier League’s form team so quickly.
Three at the back
Conte’s most obvious and effective change has been the switch to a 3-4-3 formation, with summer signing David Luiz thriving in the middle of a back three and Gary Cahill returning to his best. The set-up has also seen Hazard score five goals in his last four Premier League games.
David Luiz shields the ball from Ross BarkleyCREDIT: AP
“I wanted to start the season with a 4-2-4 because we have strong wingers and I like to play with two strikers very close,” said Conte. “During pre-season, when we started, there was 4-2-4 and 3-4-3 because this squad could play these systems. So I changed to 3-4-3 to find more balance defensively and in offensive situations.”
Asked what influence the change in formation has had on his game, Hazard said: “It is just that I have a little bit more freedom when we have the ball and without the ball. I don’t need to defend against the right back, because Alonso is there behind me. I just focus on staying in my position. When I have the ball I have more freedom and I can go where I want to go, and be decisive.”
Former manager Jose Mourinho placed great stock in his Chelsea ‘untouchables’ during his first spell at the club and had his favourites the second time around. But Conte has made it clear that he values work-rate and the level of performance far more than the name on the back of the shirt.
Branislav Ivanovic has been dropped by Antonio Conte CREDIT:REUTERS
He became the first Chelsea manager since Andre Villas-Boas to drop the horribly out-of-form Branislav Ivanovic and club captain John Terry has returned from injury to find himself on the substitutes’ bench.
Even Willian, who scored on his last Premier League start against Hull City, has not been able to win his place back since returning to Brazil following the death of his mother because of the good form of Pedro.
Pedro (left) and Victor Moses have been sensational this season CREDIT: EPA
Converted right wing-back Victor Moses, who spent three seasons out on loan under Mourinho, and summer signing Alonso have been two of the biggest beneficiaries of Conte’s equal opportunities approach.
“Players like Moses, Alonso and Pedro, they are playing in a fantastic way,” said Conte. “I hope they continue to improve.”
Hazard and Costa are reborn
It took Hazard until April to score in the Premier League last season, but he has already netted seven top-flight goals under Conte. The Belgian is once again being spoken about as one of the best talents in the world, underlined by his two superb goals against Everton.
Eden Hazard is back to his best CREDIT: REUTERS
“Last season I was not good, so, for me, it was normal that I was not on the Ballon d’Or list,” said Hazard. “But I want to come back on the list and give everything to be on the list, not to be in the top 23 but to be in the top five. Yes, I want to reach that level.
“Now I am trying to play like when I was a kid. I am enjoying playing now, my position is a bit different from before, I go inside more and I try to shoot.
“People talked to me and told me I didn’t shoot enough. I think now I try to shoot a lot, because if you don’t shoot you can’t score. I try to shoot, I don’t know if the ball goes in, but I have more chance if I shoot and this is my job.”
Diego Costa is on a fine run of scoring form CREDIT: PA
Costa is back to the top of the Premier League goalscoring charts and seemingly enjoying life at Chelsea once again. His strike against Everton was his ninth of the season, compared to just two this time last year.
Conte has got the Chelsea crowd back on side
Conte had to be told by first-team fitness coach Paolo Bertelli that it was his name that was ringing around Stamford Bridge while his team were demolishing Everton. The chief cheerleader was Conte’s daughter Vittoria, who stood on her seat proudly displaying a scarf over the top of her head emblazoned with the name and picture of her father, which were on sale after the game outside Fulham Broadway tube station.
Conte could be seen blowing kisses to somebody in the crowd during the game and said: “That was my daughter, she is always behind me, with my wife and my brother.
“She comes to every game from Italy and stays for two or three days and then they go back because my daughter is studying in Italy. When we have the chance, we want to bring my family to England.”
Vittoria and Conte’s wife, Elisabetta, were certainly made to feel at home at Chelsea on Saturday as the crowd sang ‘Antonio’ in honour of their new hero.
Antonio Conte celebrates with the fans CREDIT: AFP