How Conte turned around Chelsea’s fortunes
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.