Opinion

Four reasons why Chelsea deserve to win the Premier League title

Why Chelsea deserve to lift a first Premier League title under Antonio Conte after his sparkling debut campaign in England

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte Photo: The Sport Review

Antonio Conte

Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho were the big-name appointments in the Premier League last summer. Manchester City and Manchester United were tipped to compete for the Premier League title in 2016-17. Antonio Conte’s arrival at Chelsea was without fanfare with the spotlight on Manchester. The former Juventus boss made a solid start with three successive wins before his first setback as Chelsea boss. Let’s not forget there was speculation about the Italian’s job when Chelsea lost to Liverpool and Arsenal in September following a stalemate at Swansea. Conte, though, had the courage and humility to recognise a four-man defence wasn’t working and switched back to his trademark 3-4-3 formation. Chelsea haven’t really looked back. Conte is an intense manager. But the former Juventus defender has found the right balance with his squad.

Diego Costa and Eden Hazard were passionless in the 2015-16 season as Jose Mourinho’s relentless demands took their toll. Conte has managed to rekindle top form from his two key attacking players. The Italian has remained calm – too. Guardiola, Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger have all shown signs of cracking under the pressure at times this season. Conte, despite the Italian stereotype, has remained calm and composed in his interviews. It will be intriguing to see how the Chelsea manager approaches his second season in charge.

3-4-3

Martin Keown described Conte as revolutionising the Premier League after his switch to a 3-4-3 formation. The Arsenal legend has a point. The Chelsea manager and his side have proven awkward opponents. The Blues have been defensively sound with a back three of Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill and David Luiz. N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic have protected their defence and given the midfield much-needed energy and legs – something which was lacking with Cesc Fabregas in the middle last term. Full-backs Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses have been a revelation.

They’ve surpassed expectations and are one of Conte’s big success stories in his first season. Pedro is another plus point. The Spain forward is back to his Barcelona best. Hazard and Costa have been vital – too. The greatest form of flattery is imitation – or so they say. Conte’s formula has been replicated by a host of Premier League clubs. Arsenal and Tottenham have both had success with the tactic. Everton, on the other hand, lost 5-0 to Chelsea when Ronald Koeman decided to match Conte’s formation at Stamford Bridge back in October. That performance sticks out. It was the first real sign that this Chelsea side were potential champions. There haven’t been many better displays this season.

Important signings

Conte got his key signings right. Fabregas has been an important squad member with his cameo roles from the bench and has even impressed when handed a starting spot. However, the 30-year-old’s was on the wane and the former Arsenal captain was an obvious weakness last season. Kante fixed that problem and looks superb value at £30m when you consider the price of some other midfielders in last summer’s transfer window. Alonso has been helped by Conte’s system but the Spain international has been a real threat going forward. He has acquitted himself well when charged with defending. Few would have predicted that Luiz would have blossomed into such a dependable defender.

The Brazil international has been consistent and has eradicated his tendency to make thoughtless defensive errors. Belgium striker Michy Batshuayi hasn’t been a success and Conte’s critics will point to the former Lille forward as a transfer failing. Overall, the Chelsea manager got his signings right. Conte’s next big challenge will be adding to his team but keeping his current squad happy ahead of a return to the Champions League next season.

Consistency

Chelsea’s record against the top six hasn’t been great this season. The Blues have lost to Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur on the road in the 2016-17 campaign. Liverpool, meanwhile, were one of two teams to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. In fact, Jurgen Klopp’s side have the best record against their main rivals of any of the top-six clubs. Chelsea’s results against the other 14 clubs in the Premier League has been where the west London side have won the 2016-17 title.

Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United have all dropped points against the so-called lesser clubs. This lack of consistency undermined their title bids. Tottenham have been pretty consistent but Harry Kane’s injury and a slow start to the 2016-17 season has probably cost them a serious tilt at the title despite a valiant effort in recent months. Chelsea have only surrendered points to Crystal Palace and Swansea (not including their results against the top six). Compared to their traditional rivals, that’s a phenomenal record.

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