The Hard Tackle analyses the defending champion’s Premier League fixtures for the 2017/18 season.
After a promising start to the the season was followed by a winless October, the Blues bounced back and would go on the win the Premier League title in emphatic fashion, with 2 games to spare and a huge 10 point lead at the summit of the table over runners up Tottenham Hotspur.
It was Antonio Conte’s switch to a 3-4-3 formation post a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Arsenal at the Emirates, that proved to be the catalyst in Chelsea’s season and sparked a record equalling 13-game winning streak from October all the way till the end of December, before it was ended by Spurs.
What perhaps added more gloss to Conte’s achievement last season, was that he achieved it despite not being able to get most of his top transfer targets. David Luiz and Marcos Alonso were purchased on the final day of the transfer window and seemed as if it was out of desperation.
However, Conte made do with what he had and brought the best out of each and every single player in the team and barring Michy Batshuayi and Eduardo, all of their summer acquisitions played pivotal roles over the course of the season to help secure the title.
One would imagine that they wouldn’t want to repeat the mistakes of last summer and want business to be done quickly, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Chelsea haven’t quite hit the ground running with regard to transfers as Conte would have liked.
The Blues have been rumoured to be in negotiations for Romelu Lukaku, Tiemoué Bakayoko and Alex Sandro and have also been linked with the likes of Kostas Manolas, Virgil van Dijk and Alvaro Morata however, they are yet to finalise or announce official deals for any of them.
The Blues play the first of their 47 mandatory matches against Arsenal for the FA Community Shield on the 6th of August at Wembley, after which they kick off their Premier League defence by welcoming Burnley to Stamford Bridge on the 12th of August.
Their second game will be a massive London derby against cross town rivals Tottenham Hotspurs at White Hart Lane, after which they face a tricky fixture against Everton at Stamford Bridge, before they take a 2 week break for the World Cup qualifiers.
In September they face tricky away trips to Stoke City and Leicester City, but the fixtures to keep an eye on will be those against Arsenal and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge. Besides this, they will also begin their UEFA Champions League campaign.
These early fixtures will play a key role in building up momentum and Conte & co will without a doubt want to establish themselves at the top of the table early on in the season and try to hold on to it for the rest of the season, rather than try and play catch up.
Toward the end of the season in April and May, the Blues have it relatively easier. They face West Ham, Southampton, Huddersfield, Swansea in April followed by Liverpool in their first fixture in May, before the end the season versus Newcastle at St.James’ Park.
It is that fixture against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge, on which they will be keeping an eye. Depending on how the season goes, it may play a role in deciding where the title ends up or just a mere formality, however the neutrals will certainly hope that it is a match of huge ramifications.
Chelsea’s most congested month will be December. The Champions will play an astounding 8 games in the space of 28 days, one of which will be their last UEFA Champions League Group stage game. However, it could be their most productive and important month with regard to the title race.
They face West Ham United, Everton and Huddersfield away and Newcastle, Southampton, Brighton and Stoke City at home. A possible 21 points available to them in December and despite it all being in the space of a few days within each other, it is a very achievable 7 victories for the Blues and it could play a huge part in their title defence.
History shows us that dropping points against the ‘smaller’ sides has time and again proven costly during title run-ins and Antonio Conte, now well versed with the travails of the Premier League, will be well aware of the importance of that month.
The Italian isn’t one to give a particular set of fixtures extra importance and he will take each match as it comes and expect 3 points week in and week out. Being the perfectionist he is, he won’t stand for are excuses, lack of commitment or complacency.
The majority of this Chelsea side were present during their disastrous 2015/16 title defence and will be keen to avoid that in the coming campaign. They know that now, every team will try a little bit harder to take their scalp and they cannot give into the pressure as they did 2 years ago.
This Chelsea side have a point to prove and Conte will obviously not stand for the same kind of results seen in their last title defence. Abramovich too, will be all the more wiser and Conte will have his full backing, which means that there will be a very real danger of players being told to leave in January or the end of the season if standards are not met.
The last time Conte didn’t win a League title was back in the 2010/11 season, when he was helping Sienna get promoted from Serie B to Serie A. After taking charge of Juventus ins the 2011/12 season, he has never lost a League title and he certainly wouldn’t want to start now.