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.


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