How Conte turned around Chelsea’s for­tunes

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

LON­DON — Like ev­ery Chelsea sup­porter, An­to­nio Conte feared the worst af­ter watch­ing his side get thrashed by Arse­nal. But, six weeks later, the Ital­ian has in­spired the most dra­matic of turn­arounds.

Chelsea made it five suc­ces­sive vic­to­ries with 16 goals scored and none con­ceded since the de­feat at the Emi­rates thanks to a stun­ning per­for­mance against Ever­ton in which Eden Haz­ard net­ted twice and Diego Costa, Pe­dro and Marcos Alonso were on tar­get.

Asked how he felt in the af­ter­math of the Arse­nal game at the end of Septem­ber, Conte said: “I was wor­ried be­cause we con­ceded a lot of goals in ev­ery game and con­ceded many chances and, for this rea­son, we changed things.” Three at the back Conte’s most ob­vi­ous and ef­fec­tive change has been the switch to a 3-4-3 for­ma­tion, with sum­mer sign­ing David Luiz thriv­ing in the mid­dle of a back three and Gary Cahill re­turn­ing to his best. The set-up has also seen Haz­ard score five goals in his last four Pre­mier League games.

“I wanted to start the sea­son with a 4-2-4 be­cause we have strong wingers and I like to play with two strik­ers very close,” said Conte. “Dur­ing pre-sea­son, when we started, there was 4-2-4 and 3-4-3 be­cause this squad could play these sys­tems. So I changed to 3-4-3 to find more bal­ance de­fen­sively and in of­fen­sive sit­u­a­tions.”

Asked what in­flu­ence the change in for­ma­tion has had on his game, Haz­ard said: “It is just that I have a lit­tle bit more free­dom when we have the ball and with­out the ball. I don’t need to de­fend against the right back, be­cause Alonso is there be­hind me. I just fo­cus on stay­ing in my po­si­tion. When I have the ball I have more free­dom and I can go where I want to go, and be de­ci­sive.” No un­touch­ables For­mer man­ager Jose Mour­inho placed great stock in his Chelsea ‘un­touch­ables’ dur­ing his first spell at the club and had his favourites the sec­ond time around. But Conte has made it clear that he val­ues work-rate and the level of per­for­mance far more than the name on the back of the shirt.

He be­came the first Chelsea man­ager since An­dre Vil­las-boas to drop the hor­ri­bly outof-form Branislav Ivanovic and club cap­tain John Terry has re­turned from in­jury to find him­self on the sub­sti­tutes’ bench.

Even Wil­lian, who scored on his last Pre­mier League start against Hull City, has not been able to win his place back since re­turn­ing to Brazil fol­low­ing the death of his mother be­cause of the good form of Pe­dro.

Con­verted right wing-back Vic­tor Moses,

who spent three sea­sons out on loan un­der Mour­inho, and sum­mer sign­ing Alonso have been two of the big­gest ben­e­fi­cia­ries of Conte’s equal op­por­tu­ni­ties ap­proach.

“Play­ers like Moses, Alonso and Pe­dro, they are play­ing in a fan­tas­tic way,” said Conte. “I hope they con­tinue to im­prove.” Haz­ard and Costa are re­born It took Haz­ard un­til April to score in the Pre­mier League last sea­son, but he has al­ready net­ted seven top-flight goals un­der Conte. The Bel­gian is once again be­ing spo­ken about as one of the best tal­ents in the world, un­der­lined by his two su­perb goals against Ever­ton.

“Last sea­son I was not good, so, for me, it was nor­mal that I was not on the Bal­lon d’or list,” said Haz­ard. “But I want to come back on the list and give ev­ery­thing to be on the list, not to be in the top 23 but to be in the top five. Yes, I want to reach that level.

Eden Haz­ard now has seven goals this sea­son, with two com­ing against Ever­ton last Satur­day.

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