Category: Chelsea

Conte and Hazard make difference for Chelsea


What a difference a season makes. What a difference a month makes. Chelsea’s 5-0 demolition of Everton is comfortably the best performance of any team this season. The complete performance. They are top of the league and in this sort of form will stay there. Their sheer brilliance was frightening. The ruthless skill and finishing of Liverpool combined with the miserly defence of Tottenham, and the midfield brilliance and creativity of Arsenal. They have all bases covered. At this moment they are the team to beat for the Premier League title. And that is going to take some doing.

What a difference a world class player makes. Eden Hazard is back to the player of two years ago, if not an upgraded version of himself. In combination with the (almost) equally impressive Pedro, the magic of his passing and the brilliance of his trickery is poetry in motion. The Belgian in this form is one of the best in the world, let alone the Premier League. So damaging and influential, the second coming of his desire to play football and of his impact on the game is breathtaking. And great for the game, to see such quality returned.

What a difference a manager makes. The contrast between Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho is staggering. The Chelsea players have bought in to the method and game plan that Conte is selling. While Mourinho continues to seemingly persecute and distance himself from his own team, Conte shows the benefit of having belief in your side, giving them the confidence to play and a plan that makes sense. The trust between manager and players is so important, and Conte has both restored that aspect and renewed Chelsea to such a point that is faster than could possibly have been expected.

What a difference a Spanish maestro makes. Pedro is back to the threat of the halcyon Barcelona days, and looks very much a Barcelona-quality player. His teammates too seem more in tune with him in a role further forward than last season. Such a clever player that can both score and set up (most assists in the Premier League along with Kevin de Bruyne) in equal measure. A bit part player in his first season and now a crucial component to Chelsea’s run of success. Remember Willian? The only shining light from 2015/16 is now kept out of the starting line up. It seems harsh on the Brazilian, but this alone is a measure of the influence of Pedro and how far Chelsea have progressed.

What a difference a quality defender makes. Yes, David Luiz is that defender. His passing out of the back third outstanding, and he too shows a hunger and desire to prove the doubters wrong. And prove his love for the club. In a team of such brilliance, he is the ideal player to have feeding the midfield in amongst a back three. A shaky start he may have made in his return to the club, but now firmly established as a shrewd signing.

What a difference a dominant striker makes. Diego Costa is the ultimate finisher, and could finish his way to over 30 goals in the league. He is the epitome of the change in mindset and style under Conte. No longer appearing angry, and on the brink of a sending-off. Instead he looks feisty, which is Costa at his best, but negotiates his way through opponents with such artistic dribbling ability. Rather than fighting them off. And he just puts away goals so effortlessly.

Chelsea will no doubt be tested more than they were by Everton. Yet if they continue to play with such authority and brilliance, it’s unlikely that anyone else will get near them. What a turn around in fortune from an entire squad, led by Conte and with Hazard, Pedro, Luiz and Costa at the forefront from a playing perspective. It’s looking more and more likely that this, almost identical line-up, will prove last term as nothing but a Mourinho-inspired aberration.

Opinion: Alarm Bells for Antonio Conte and Chelsea Defence

Antonio Conte must now realise just how challenging is his task of resurrecting Chelsea. After an even enough opening at the Emirates, Chelsea were slow of both mind and body, looking incredibly laboured against Arsenal. The defensive lapses are truly astonishing, coming that they have from senior players, and is the key aspect that Conte must turn around quickly.

Gary Cahill’s offending continued as he gifted yet another opportunity in his own half. This time it was to Alexis Sanchez, who was only too willing to accept. With glee. How can a player of such experience and apparent skill continue to make these horrific and costly errors? Cahill is indecisive and almost aloof at times. This season and last he has often seemed to lack any awareness of the danger that opposition attacking players pose. These are not the character traits of a professional defender.

The failure to bring in a viable option as either a replacement or to play alongside Cahill and John Terry is hobbling. It is costing goals and points every week. Terry was missing and is still clearly the best option in defence at Chelsea. That is alarming given his prime was half a decade ago. Chelsea have had two summers to fix this problem, and the best they could come up with is the return of David Luiz. Luiz was never a solution. A fan favourite yes, a good footballer yes. A top defender, no.

Luiz and Cahill at the back is a disaster waiting to happen. And happening it is. We saw it against Liverpool and now we have seen it against Arsenal. It is as if they have never before laid eyes on each other, and suddenly been thrust onto a football field and asked to play. There is no understanding or chemistry between the pair on the pitch. Apparently they played together a few years ago?

The failure to pursue and purchase top-level talent is seeing Chelsea plummet down the Premier League standings. This squad needed addressing over Summer. A bright start to the league season briefly papered over some cracks, but those cracks are the now the same gaping holes as this time last year.

On a day of utter Chelsea gloom against their London rivals, perhaps there is a modicum of hope for Conte. He is left with this squad until at least January, and now it is time to work his magic on the likes of Luiz and Marcos Alonso. Reverting after half time to the favoured 3-5-2 formation that served him so well with Juventus and the Italian national team, this could be the way out. Teach, coach and manage this squad to play his system. And play it now.

The system will take time, surely too much time to see Chelsea flourish this season. Famously Conte was able to ingrain his methods within the Italian team despite only sporadic interaction with his players. But many of that squad had experienced his ways with Juventus, so this is very different.

There are no guarantees that Conte’s methods will work in the Premier League, but playing that way seems the best option right now. It limited the damage in the second half, the 3-5-2 did not concede any goals. It’s a small sample size and admittedly the game was already over, but things couldn’t get any worse than the first half. So why not play this system in the league now, and fast track the player learning and development.

Premier League Preview: Arsenal v Chelsea

We preview Saturday’s epic Premier League Matchday 6 encounter as Arsenal host Chelsea at Emirates Stadium.

Form:
Back to their best. Only one point from the opening two games, but since then the Gunners have been utterly dominant in the league. Wins over Watford, Southampton and Hull were followed by a hammering of Nottingham Forest in the cup.
League Form: L, D, W, W, W. (4th position in League)

A come from behind victory over Leicester in the League Cup followed a loss to rampant Liverpool and a draw away at Swansea in the Premier League. Two hiccups after such a promising start is some concern, but the midweek fixture could be the steadier that Chelsea required to get their season back on track.
League Form: WWW, D, L. (5th position in League)

Line-Ups:
Arsenal now appear much more settled after some early jitters. Shkodran Mustafi has strengthened the defensive unit in place of young Rob Holding, whilst the signing of Granit Xhaka appears a masterstroke given his performances and shooting ability from long-range. He should start over Alex Iwobi. It’s possibly Arsene Wenger’s best starting eleven.

Arsenal: Cech, Monreal, Koscielny, Mustafi, Bellerin, Walcott, Cazorla, Coquelin, Xhaka, Ozil, Sanchez.

 

John Terry is still unavailable for Chelsea, meaning David Luiz should retain his place at the back. Has Cesc Fabregas done enough in a match winning role against Leicester to regain his starting spot? We think he may just usurp Oscar in midfield in the only change from the Liverpool loss.

Chelsea: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill, Ivanovic, Kante, Matic, Willian, Hazard, Fabregas, Costa.

The Match:
There will no doubt be several key figures at the forefront of this derby, none moreso than Diego Costa. Costa has scored in Chelsea’s past three Premier League games and has five for the season to top the goal charts. Given his return to form and history of strong performances against Arsenal, Wenger has noted that it necessary for his men to avoid poking the bear. Chelsea will be hoping he continues to push the boundaries whilst staying on the field, which he has barely managed thus far. Arsenal will be hoping to avoid confrontation and most importantly keep him quiet.

Curbing Costa, Hazard and Willian’s influence will be crucial if Arsenal are to overturn a stretch of nine Premier League encounters without a win over Chelsea. It is a truly remarkable record, and will require the attacking prowess of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to break through at the other end. Much has been made of David Luiz’s ability as a footballer vs ability as a defender, and he will need more of the latter here.

Prediction:
To suggest both teams will be up for this match is nothing short of a massive understatement. It is a crucial clash despite coming so early in the season. Can Arsenal push on and highlight their title credentials by breaking the Chelsea hoodoo? Can Chelsea overturn their poor recent form and prove they are in a fight for the top 4? The home ground factor may prove decisive. We expect Arsenal to win the key stats, and that could just be enough to take an invaluable three points.

Daily Football Blog Prediction: Arsenal 2 1 Chelsea

Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool Through in League Cup

English League Cup Third Round, Tuesday Night Review:

A second half brace from summer signing Lucas Perez has eased Arsenal through to the next round of the League Cup away at Nottingham Forest. Another Granit Xhaka long-range strike opened the scoring for the Gunners with his second goal in consecutive games, making it a day to saviour for new signings. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain finished off Forest to make it 4-0 in stoppage time and a resounding victory. Arsenal made sweeping changes to the side that defeated Hull 4-1 at the weekend, yet were barely troubled as their young side proved utterly dominant.

Liverpool comfortably accounted for Derby County 3-0 at the iPro Stadium with goals from defender Ragnar Klavan, Philippe Coutinho and Divock Origi. Estonian Klavan poked home his first goal for the Reds from a corner, becoming Liverpool’s 10th scorer in all competitions this season. Coutinho and Roberto Firming combined to make it 2-0 soon after the interval, with Origi finishing things off in the 54th minute with the electric Coutinho this time laying off an assist.

At the King Power Stadium, Chelsea came from 0-2 behind against Premier League Champions Leicester to record a 4-2 victory. Down at the half thanks to two goals from Shinji Okazaki, Antonio Conte’s did manage to pull one back through Gary Cahill’s header just before the break. Cesar Azpilicueta drew Chelsea level within 5 minutes of the restart, and it remained 2-2 until the Foxes’ Martin Wasilewski was sent off on 89 minutes. With extra time needed, Cesc Fabregas proved the hero as he scored twice in three minutes to send his team through to the fourth round.

Amongst other Premier League clubs, Bournemouth failed to overcome Preston North End, going down 2-3 in extra time thanks to a hat trick from Simon Makienok. Everton’s powerful start to their season could not be transferred to the cup as they were beaten at home 0-2 by recently relegated Norwich City.

A series of Football League teams also faced off, with Ex-Bournemouth midlfielder Matt Ritchie and Youan Gouffran each scoring to send Newcastle through over Wolverhampton Wanderers, A single late goal Leeds United’s Chris Wood saw them through over lowly Blackburn Rovers, with Reading holding off Brighton 2-1.

The League Cup continues on Wednesday night with the remainder of Premier League clubs featuring. Southampton face Cystal Palace and Stoke host Hull City in seemingly the most even fixtures, with high-flying Man City also heading to Swansea. Manchester United, West Ham, Tottenham and Sunderland round out the top division teams seeking to move through to the fourth round.

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