Don’t call this a comeback: Chelsea’s 2016/17 revival from the failures of yesteryear

Chelsea’s latest victory over Arsenal at Stamford Bridge brings with it a sense of inevitability about the destination of the Premier League title. The west London club look set to add to their four domestic league trophies in May, and given the erratic form of their biggest opponents, only a brave man would bet against them bottling a nine point advantage. Chelsea’s formidable consistency has certainly taken more than a few people by surprise, especially when one considers pertinent factors like a new manager and how off-color they looked last season. There are several reasons behind Chelsea’s revival, but here are the biggies:

They are motivated again

The 2015/16 season will never be forgotten as the season where common sense failed to prevail. Not only did expected relegation candidates go on to win the league, but the defending champions Chelsea flirted with relegation. There has been much speculation about what went wrong at Chelsea last season so I won’t go into that. One thing’s for sure though—last season was an aberration in more ways than one. This season the Chelsea players are working under an ultra-motivated manager, and as such are showing what they’re capable of. After all, this is more or less the same group of players that won the title under Mourinho two years ago.


Antonio Conte’s tactical implementations have played as big a part in Chelsea’s revival as his touchline passion. (Photo by Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

So many things have been written about Chelsea’s formation under Conte. It dominates pre-match discussions whenever Chelsea play and several managers have taken to altering their teams’ shapes to cope with it. So far only Pochettino’s Tottenham side have exploited weaknesses with this formation. But that’s because this formation does two things well. It accounts for the perceived frailties that David Luiz and Gary Cahill have as a partnership (by having steady Azpilicueta cover for them) but it also gives Chelsea’s best players (Hazard and Costa) a platform to cause mayhem. It’s not so much that the 3-4-3 formation can’t be beaten or that it’s the perfect formation.  But it is the perfect solution for this group. Conte deserves a lot of credit for finding and implementing a formation that makes this Chelsea side play like more than the sum of their parts.

Excellent Managerial Fit

Rumor has it that Abramovich was inspired to buy a football club after witnessing Manchester United defeat Real Madrid in an entertaining 4-3 quarter final match (Real Madrid still went through on aggregate). Considering how Chelsea’s global status has increased over the last 14 years, it is fair to say the Russian has been the single most important factor in Chelsea’s success over the years. A strong candidate for second place would be Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese manager set the template for Chelsea’s success from 2005 till 2012 by building a strong spine that served the club well.

So what does this have to do with Conte? Although it can’t be said that Mourinho and Conte have the exact same football ideas, the latter’s methods were always more likely to work than say a Klopp or Guardiola. Conte’s methods—like Mourinho’s – are rooted in pragmatism and as such the Chelsea players have found it easier to adapt to the Italian.

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