The Hard Tackle discusses Chelsea, Antonio Conte and the magic that the union has produced, especially in such a quick span after the departure of Jose Mourinho
Chelsea are a truly ambitious club. And the arrival of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich has added to the ambitions of the Blues. Since his arrival, Stamford Bridge has become one of the staples of English football.
While Chelsea do not boast of a history as shining as the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool, they have emerged as a superpower in English football.
One of the main pillars truly has been Jose Mourinho, who returned to Chelsea for a second spell. The Portuguese, who had earlier labelled himself the Special One, this time arrived at Stamford Bridge as the Happy One. And Mourinho did bring along some happiness and cheer.
While his first season on the return saw Chelsea finish third, Mourinho continued his historical and perennially magical second season as Chelsea ran away with the title. While his second season was magical, the third season was equally tragic as Chelsea turned out to be one of the worst title defenders in the history of Premier League.
And as Chelsea plummeted to new lows, Mourinho was given the sack after he seemed to have lost the dressing room. Guus Hiddink overtook the role of caretaker manager and brought Chelsea to a respectable 10th. And as Antonio Conte arrived at Stamford Bridge, there was more of a talk of restoring Chelsea’s lost pride than the usual ambition for trophies.
Conte’s Chelsea started well, with decent performances, that led to three wins on the trot. But as the Blue ship was thought to be in steady waters, in came the glacier of poor results. A draw against Swansea was followed by excruciating losses to the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal.
At this point of time, questions began to creep up of the spirit in the Chelsea camp. Even Conte was compelled to say that the scars of last season will take time to alleviate. Conte’s aptness for the job at Stamford Bridge was quickly cast into doubt as reports emerged of the Chelsea board getting ready to hand the Italian the boot, only months into his stint.
And as Conte stared at the bottomless pit of disappointment, the Italian dared to do what others normally wouldn’t. It is often said, that when a club is in crisis, one of the very first things that comes to mind is to go with the tried and tested, and to stick to the best eleven available in the squad.
While one could say the formation is a tried and tested thing for Conte, for Chelsea, it was like Columbus discovering America. For sure, if Chelsea even lost or failed to win their tie with the 3-man defence, the Italian would have been further ridiculed and may have even been sacked.
But as the Italian dared, so did his Chelsea side. And, it is with awe that we see how things have changed for Chelsea, since. Such was the success of the 3-man defence that the Blues had kept six consecutive clean sheets, leaking only 2 goals in 12 matches, one each to Tottenham and Manchester City.
Chelsea went on a 13-game winning streak, a run that included triumphs over Manchester United, Tottenham, Manchester City and Everton, with dominating scorelines of 4-0 and 5-0 against United and Everton respectively. From dogged to domineering, a journey truly possible because of Conte and his bold decisions.
The formation, though, was not the only thing that highlighted Don Conte’s imprint on Chelsea. People usually go in with his best eleven in terms of crisis. But, Conte chose to deploy Victor Moses as the right wing-back. A player who has been perennially out on loans and was largely undermined at the club was thrown into the lineup by the Italian.
Moses has repaid Conte’s faith with impressive and match-winning performances. However, the most telling and noteworthy change was the one in Diego Costa. A fiery attacker who had made a name in England for his fits of rage and controversial behaviour on the pitch, was turned into a calm monster who channeled all his energy towards his performance.
4 yellow cards in the first six games, Costa was in the eye of every referee as a notoriety. But whatever Conte did to change Costa, the difference has been most telling. The Spaniard then went on a 10-game spree without a single sanction, a feat that almost looked impossible a couple of months ago.
Besides Costa and Moses, one of the other things that Conte has had an influence on, be it direct or otherwise, is Hazard’s return to form. Perhaps, the 3-man formation gives Eden Hazard more freedom to venture forward and play without thinking of tracking back as he has the wing-backs to cover his defensive frailties.
“Antonio Conte is unbelievable, we want to keep him at the club forever!”
— Uber Chelsea FC (@UberCheIseaFC) January 3, 2017
And, while their run came to an end with a 2-0 away defeat at the hands of Tottenham, Chelsea still stand tall atop the Premier League table, five points clear of the immediate rivals Liverpool who are in second place.
And, you know, one can credit all this to Chelsea’s fiercest of rivals, Arsenal. The Gunners pushed Conte to the brink with a 3-0 win over the Blues. And, it is a very apt philosophy which fits this situation perfectly.
It is often said that, it is in the face of tragedy that people are able to find the courage to seek and tap into the magic inside. That is just what Conte did. And boy has it been a magical ride for the Blues faithfuls ever since. Chelsea have been as ruthless as their manager.
Don Conte arrived with a hush but has since become an endearing part of Chelsea Football Club. And as Don Vito Corleone famously used to say,“ I AM NOT LIKE A BOSS. I AM THE BOSS!”
And to all the people wondering how Conte has been so dominant so early into his Chelsea career, he may just have one thing to say,“ It’s an old habit.”