Sir Alex Ferguson doesn’t get a lot wrong in football….but counting Antonio Conte’s Chelsea out as title contenders may end up standing out as one of his few mistakes in the game.
Chelsea’s last 4 premiership games have resulted in 4 clean sheets and more importantly 4 victories. Following the game at the emirates, Conte has switched to a back three. In truth the Saints never looked like scoring and let’s not forget that Claude Puel’s Southampton entered on the back of a five-match unbeaten league run. Conte’s system has speed and adaptability and of course 2 world class players.
World Class Players
Simply, these players win you games, and despite the freak season we had last year I’m a firm believer in class over form. If we put my Silva love-in to one side there are only a handful of World Class premier league players: Aguero, Hazard, KDB, Sanchez, De Gea and Costa.
Whether Pogba enters that list remains to be seen, whilst it can also be argued that a couple of centre backs in North London could be joining that group by the end of the season. But to rule out a team that has 2 of those players? Surely not.
Conte is hard to dislike; a man who has worked well with what he already had. David Luiz looks assured in the middle of a back three that allows him to go forward at times. The boo-boys that are usually quick to write in when the ball playing defenders I respect make a mistake went quiet this weekend. Ahead of them, N’Golo Kanté’s energy appears to be helping Nemanja Matic return to something approaching his best form.
They are both relentless in front of the defence and make Chelsea look as robust as ever. It is a setup that looks at once fluid and secure, and has also brought reactions from Eden Hazard and Pedro, who have benefited from being tasked with less backtracking.
There were times when the future of Victor Moses looked bleak, yet after a few months under Conte, he seems as if he has been a marauding right wing‑back all of his career. The drive and stamina of Moses and Marcos Alonso, the left wing-back, is what lead to Gullit’s praise on MOTD2 last night. “The beauty of 3 at the back working is that you have those 3 central defenders to take out the centre forward and playmaker.
If the wing backs do their job then the opposing team have are pressed out wide as the compact defensive 5 shut the middle and most dangerous routes out”. Gullit’s assessment was certainly valid against Southampton and, of course, the determination and work-rate of those wing backs comes front the manager himself. Conte’s formation was often more 5-4-1 than 3-4-3, with the wing-backs and wide attackers dropped back. When Southampton looked forward, it felt like a daunting assignment to plot the way through.
One personal change I would make following Conte’s decision to shift Azpilicueta into the back three is replace Cahill for Terry. But then, who am I to doubt an Italian and defensive knowledge?
Ironically, it was Puel who gave Hazard his professional debut at Lille, and the Belgium international was yet again the difference. I predicted on our pre-season podcast that he would win the player of season award come May. I don’t think any one player has stood out so far, but he’ll certainly be top contender. Not forgetting Costa, whose goal topped what was a perfectly balanced away-day performance.
Next up for Chelsea is Everton at home. Could be worse for a live Saturday game eh?