Over a decade ago Chelsea had their very own tinkerman at the helm as Claudio Ranieri was renown for changing his team from week to week, fast forward to 2016 and it looks like history is repeating itself as Ranieri’s compatriot Antonio Conte has been working his way through a number of formations this season but it looks as if he may have finally struck gold.
The start of the season bought 9 points from their first three matches as Chelsea were setup in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Their first two wins against West Ham and Watford required last minute goals from Diego Costa and many felt Chelsea were going to be a work in progress after their forgettable defence of the title the season before.
The signs of how Chelsea could look came just a week later as they cruised past Burnley to give them a maximum points haul from the opening three matches but then Conte’s Chelsea side became unstuck as they were outfought by Swansea and outclassed by Liverpool and Arsenal seeing The Blues go the next three games without a win.
That run of results had heaped early pressure on the former Italy and Juventus manager with some even going as far as tipping him as an early contender for the sack. Now that would not only be remiss but also incredibly harsh to see Conte given his P45 after such an early run of games but it was quite apparent that change was required.
And that change has come in the way of a new formation for Chelsea but obviously not for Conte as he has reverted the style that has suited him so well during his time in charge of both Italy and Juventus and that is one that is not a familiar sight on English soil, that being 3 at the back.
This change of formation has almost transformed Chelsea’s approach over the night as they have gone on to win their last three games since the drubbing to Arsenal at The Emirates as Conte looks to setup his Chelsea side in the same way that his other previous sides were.
At the start of the season it was very much the tried and tested pairing of John Terry and Gary Cahill but injury and lack of form has seen Conte decide that it was time to mix things up. Terry was injured in the almost Rugby like match against Swansea while Cahill’s performance against Arsenal came in for heavy criticism.
Cahill has managed to keep hold of his place almost by default due to a lack of other options but since the change from a flat back four the former England captain Terry has not been able to get back into the starting lineup as Conte decides not to change a winning formula.
Terry’s struggle to get back into the side would have not have been helped by the return of David Luiz to Stamford Bridge. His signing at the end of the Summer transfer window definitely raised some eyebrows but it was quite apparent that he was purchased with exactly the idea of reverting to a back three in mind.
The make of the backline is now Luiz, Cahill and Cesar Azpulicueta being moved inside and replacing the aging legs of Branislav Ivanovic. With Marcos Alonso a £25m signing from Fiorentina occuping a wing back berth and surprisingly Victor Moses on the other side.
Moses will come as a surprise to many as he has spent most of his time as a Premier League journeyman even at his relatively young age. He may have made his 100th league start on Sunday but how many of them have been in the blue of Chelsea.
The back three or back five if you want to look at it like that now has a double protective shield in the way of Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante and that allows Eden Hazard to shake off his defensive duties and for me this is where Chelsea are really feeling the benefit.
With the defensive duties on the wing now carried out by a wing back instead it means Hazard can now focus on creating and scoring goals and more importantly returning to the level that saw him win both the Football Writers Player of the Year and the PFA Player Of The Year back in the 2014/15 season.
Hazard only scored 4 goals in 31 appearances last season and with his goal against Manchester United on Sunday he has already equaled that feat in 22 less outings. If Hazard ticks then Chelsea tick and they are ticking right now and that is all down to Conte not afraid to make a change. A change that is really working wonders the question now is whether Chelsea can reclaim the crown they so softly gave away last season?
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