Antonio Conte got his reign as Chelsea manager off to the ideal start on Monday as he side got the better of West Ham in what was a lively London derby. I wouldn’t quite say it was a flying start as Chelsea needed a last minute goal to snatch all three points but Conte and his men will now doubt be delighted that they are off to a winning start and already haven’t dropped points to any of their nearest rivals.
You get the feeling that this Chelsea team is going to be a work in progress and the Premier League title returning to Stamford Bridge may just be too big of ask this season but the Top 4 is certainly within reach. That said it’s going to be a very competitive season this time around and a few things are going to have to go right if Chelsea are going to make it back to Europe’s premier club competition.
Here are 3 key areas that Chelsea will have to have covered over the course of the season
Keeping Diego Costa fit
The two seasons previous to this one have seen the best and worst of Diego Costa, the title winning season of 2014/15 saw Costa fly out of the blocks as his early glut of goals put Chelsea in a domination position at the top of the table and it was one they never looked back from. While last season saw injuries, a lack of form and ill discipline as Chelsea’s defence of the Premier League title was non existent.
If you are to win a league title then it always help if you have someone in your side who can score 20 goals or more and Costa was exactly that person in the 2014/15 season. If that Diego Costa can return this season then the outlook for Chelsea looks very promising while for opposition defenders well not so much.
The talk of Romelu Lukaku possibly coming to Chelsea has seemingly lit a fire under the Brazilian born Spanish international and there was no less evidence of that in Monday’s win over West Ham when he scored the late winner. With Pedro screaming for the ball out wide he did what every good striker did, went alone and fired a brilliant low effort past Adrian to give Chelsea a win. That’s the Costa that Chelsea fans first fell in love with, it looks like the romance could be reignited this season.
Can Kante be the new Makelele?
On the basis of his debut in a Chelsea shirt then the answer is to that is that he has every chance. The £32m signing from Leicester will certainly adhere himself to Chelsea fans after his display of tenacious tackling on Monday night. He only needed 3 minutes before going into the referee’s notepad, it may have needlessly put him on a defensive tightrope for the rest of the game but it did show that he’s lost nothing since his move from last season’s league winners.
For the last few seasons Chelsea have been lacking the kind of player who can act as the defensive shield to a back four and let the real stars do their thing further up the pitch. With Conte setting out in a 4-1-4-1 formation it looks as if that is exactly the role that Kante will be tasked with this season.
That role takes on even more importance for Chelsea especially in the early part of the season while they wait for the return of Kurt Zouma from injury, Chelsea’s back four isn’t getting any younger and Kante will be required to make sure that they don’t have too much to deal with. It’s going to be a big ask but Kante has all the attributes needed to carry out the job in hand.
Last season Kante was the midfield destroyer which gave freedoms to Mahrez and Vardy this season it will be about affording those same freedoms to Eden Hazard and Diego Costa
Other teams not seeing the Hazard signs
If you were to the name the player that had the biggest drop off in from from the title winning exploits of 2014/2015 to the shipwreck which was 2015/2016 then the answer would without question be Eden Hazard. From winning personnel accolades such as the PFA Player of the Year and then FWA Footballer of the Year in Chelsea’s title winning campaign he was almost non existent last season.
You could almost say that Hazard’s season didn’t start until April as that is when he registered his first goals, a brace against Bournemouth got him finally off the mark and he would then go own to score two more. Tottenham fans will certainly remember him scoring the goal which finally ended their title hopes but for a player of Hazard’s quality 4 goals last season was no way near enough.
It seemed as if without Hazard pulling the strings last season Chelsea certainly in the Mourinho era looked devoid of any other ideas and bar Willian’s run of incredible free kicks anyone else capable of creating the bit of magic needed to break down opposition defences.
There always seems to be talk of a move to PSG lurking around Eden Hazard and at 25 years old the Belgian international still has his best years ahead of him, whether or not he spends all those years in West London remains to be seen. But should he return to the form of 2014/15 then Europe’s very biggest clubs will certainly be clamouring for his signature once again.