After a comfortable 3-0 victory over last season’s’ Premier League champions, Leicester, manager Antonio Conte should be feeling secure in his position, but he still has work to do.
Betting was suspended on the Italian becoming the second Premier League manager to lose out in the sack race, after Swansea City dispensed with the services of fellow Italian, Francesco Guidolin, earlier in the month. What a difference a couple of weeks makes!
That an experienced manager and Serie A winner could suddenly become favourite for the sack after just 7 games tells us more about the trigger-happy mentality of owner Roman Abramovich than Conte’s abilities as a football manager.
In fairness, it seems as though bookmakers were reacting to gossip rather than any movements made by the owner and with Chelsea now up to 5th in the table and 5th favourite to win the league on football betting sites, his job was never really in doubt.
The game against a struggling Leicester felt like a must win for The Blues and the dominant display at Stamford Bridge will restore faith in Conte to turn things around after losses to both Liverpool and Arsenal.
Chelsea were given an invitation to score through poor marking as Nemanja Matic flicked on Eden Hazard’s corner for a free Diego Costa to smash home their first goal of the afternoon. A David Luiz free-kick struck the post, before Eden Hazard somewhat fortunately, found himself in on goal and was able to round keeper Kasper Schmeichel and slot home. Victor Moses added some sparkle to the result with a neat finish and acrobatic celebration after a one-two with substitute Nathaniel Chalobah.
Leicester failed to register a shot on target as they struggled to cope with Chelsea’s new system of 3 at the back and Claudio Ranieri’s side look set to challenge Chelsea to be one of the worst defending Premier League champions of all time.
It is still early days for Conte’s new system, but the initial signs are positive and things should continue to improve as players become more familiar with their roles.
A back 3 of Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz and the much-maligned Gary Cahill has proved solid, with clean sheets against Hull and Leicester. With Marcos Alonso and a revitalised Victor Moses providing width, it appears that Conte has delivered a solution to Chelsea’s defensive vulnerabilities, despite being frustrated by an underwhelming summer of transfers.
Further up the field, Nemanja Matic appears to be finding form again and partnered with the impressive N’Golo Kante. it’s a midfield partnership that offers protection and an increasing attacking threat.
The return of Eden
By far the greatest bonus of the new system is the change in Eden Hazard that seems to have come about unintentionally as a result of alterations implemented to solve Chelsea’s obvious problems in defence.
Hazard now has the freedom to abandon his post on the left touchline and licence to roam anywhere in the opposition half where he can do the most damage.
To see him wander, probe, find and exploit deficiencies in the opposition defence is a joy to behold and a reminder of the kind of form that won Chelsea the Premier League title.
With Alonso working the line as a left wing-back and Matic and Kante covering central areas, Hazard and Pedro can whirr in, around and beyond Diego Costa to create the kind of movement that perplexes Premier League defenders.
Greater tests are to come and you feel the visit of a Jose Mourinho Manchester United team on Sunday will be a vital fixture for Conte to evaluate his new tactics and finally get a result against one of the supposed title challengers.
For now, he can afford to be dismissive of media and bookmakers suggestions that his job is on the line, but lose to Mourinho and Abramovich might commence the courtship of Diego Simeone.