Having finished 10th in the Premier League back in the 2015/16 season, couple this with the sacking of their most successful manager Jose Mourinho in December 2015 the 15/16 campaign will be looked back on as negative one. For the Blues it was a case of onwards and hopefully upwards.
In April 2016, Chelsea appoint Antonio Conte as their head coach, he would be Chelsea’s 11th managerial appointment under Russian owner Roman Abramovich. Conte would take over from caretaker boss Guus Hiddink. The passionate Italian was managing the Italian National team, before he officially took over at Stamford Bridge, who he led to the quarter finals of Euro 2016. However, many would have known about Conte through his time with the Italian giants Juventus, where he won 3 Serie A titles, and 2 Italian Supercups. In addition to this, he was also the manager who led Juventus to an unbeaten run in the league in the 2011/12 season.
In July 2016, Antonio Conte was formally introduced to the British media, and he faced various questions such as what tactics he would implement, whether he would go with his favoured 3-5-2, which served him extremely well with Juventus and later with Italy. He responded with an analogy stating, “when I was in Italy I liked to say the coach is like a tailor, who must make the best dress for the team’. He continued “three at the back, four at the back is not important. What is important is the right spirit of the team and good organisation.” He also faced questions on whether Chelsea are targeting the title saying, “there is only one team that will win the title, but we must stay there, to fight for the title.”
Chelsea signed five players in the summer; David Luiz, N’golo Kante, Michy Batshuayi, Marcos Alonso and Eduardo Carvalho. Arguably the best signing out of these was N’golo Kante, who provided the foundation for Leicester’s unforgettable title winning season. However, the signing of David Luiz was questioned, over the course of the season, Luiz would go on to silence his critics by letting his performances do the talking.
Conte’s first competitive game for Chelsea was against London neighbours West Ham. Chelsea came out on top, winning 2-1. With goals from Eden Hazard, and a late winner from Diego Costa, with James Collins getting on the score sheet for the Hammers. Chelsea’s next five games were against Watford, where they won 2-1. Burnley where they won 3-0. They then had a draw away to Swansea 2-2. The London club then had back-to-back games against title challengers Liverpool, where they lost 2-1 at home, and then a 3-0 thrashing away to London rivals Arsenal. This meant that they dropped eight points in six games, however after this early stutter they would go on to win 77 points of a possible 90. The 3-0 defeat at Arsenal, was potentially the defining moment in Chelsea season and the reason Chelsea rose to success.
At half time Chelsea were 3-0 down away at the Emirates. And then Conte decided to change the formation from four at the back to three, where he played a back three of Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Gary Cahill. In-front of this he had a midfield four of Pedro, Kante, Matic and Alonso. And then a front three of Batshuayi, Diego Costa and Eden Hazard.
Chelsea then went on a 13 game winning streak, after the Arsenal defeat. With the first of these wins coming at Hull away in which they played a new system 3-4-3, with a back three of Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Gary Cahill. With a midfield four of Victor Moses, Kante, Matic and Alonso. And then a front three of Willian, Diego Costa and Eden Hazard. Debuting a system and personal that would become regular for the 2012 Champions League winners. They went on to win the game at Hull 2-0. The Pensioners then went on to play their title rivals such as Leicester, who they beat 3-0, Manchester United who they beat 4-0, Everton who they beat 5-0, and with one of their best away performances, away to Manchester City who they beat 1-3. After the 13th victory, which came against Stoke in a 4-2 Chelsea were already crowned champions by most pundits predictions. In those 13 unbeaten games, Chelsea played with the same starting 11. Having no changes gave the team consistency, which was a very important factor in their success. In addition to this, they scored 33 goals and conceded only seven goals within those games. Teams struggled to come to terms with the style of play this system offered. This along with Chelsea’s efficiency and organisation made them unbeatable during this period.
However, as the new year approached Chelsea went away to Tottenham, who beat them 2-0 and denied them breaking the premier league record of most unbeaten games in a row.
January brought a whole lot of rumours. Diego Costa being unnerved by the interest and bid from one of the teams in the Chinese Super League. This brought a whole lot of tension and pressure on Conte, which he handled very well. He made sure that this speculation did not affect the dressing room. Chelsea then went on to win their next 4 games and end January with a draw seeing them go unbeaten in the league in this period after the early disappointment against Spurs. The most memorable victories including. including a 3-0 win at Leicester. They also gained a point in a 1-1 draw at Anfield.
As February approached, Chelsea started the month with a convincing 3-1 victory at home to Arsenal, this showed how far Chelsea had come in a relatively short amount of time under Conte. Gaining revenge on the Arsenal side that dismantled them in 45 minutes in their previous encounter must have given the Chelsea camp huge confidence moving forward in their title push. They then went on to draw 1-1 at Burnley and won 3-1 at home to Swansea. In March, Chelsea went away to the London stadium and beat West ham 2-1, they then beat Manchester United 1-0, in an FA cup quarter final. The next fixture was tricky away tie with Stoke, a win there would mean Chelsea went 13 points clear and they did so winning 2-1. A late goal from Gary Cahill helped them to the three points. Chelsea picked up five wins in six games in April, however, a 2-0 defeat at Manchester United saw Chelsea’s well built lead of 13 points cut to just four points! The closest challengers Spurs, had been in scintillating form and put pressure on Chelsea.
Spurs defeat away to West Ham with only two games remaining meant Chelsea were able to clinch the title away to West Brom on Friday 12th May. Chelsea won the game 1-0, with the crucial goal coming late on from Michy Batshauyi in the 82nd minute.
This was a massive success for Conte and his Chelsea side, who deservedly won the league, as they were the most consistent team, as well as playing attractive and attacking football. As the statistics will show winning 30 games, which broke the Premier League record for most wins, highlighting the success was deserved. They also managed to score a massive 85 goals, which is over two a game . In addition to this, they had one of the best defences away from home only behind Liverpool. Overall, Chelsea were the side who were the most stable and entertaining. They are deserving champions and are deserving off all the praises given.
Can they retain their title next season? Only time will tell.