September 24th, 2016 will go down as a very important date for Chelsea Football Club. The players walked off the pitch at the Emirates Stadium that day crushed, deflated and bettered in every aspect possible. Arsenal had beaten them 3-0, and the future of the Blues’ season was very much in question. Chelsea finished that month 8th in the league after picking just one point from a possible nine. It seemed like finishing in the top 4 would be their most realistic aim, and any slim hopes of challenging for the title was nothing but a whim.

Antonio Conte though, had other ideas. It was always known that the Italian favoured a system with three defenders. There was also little doubt that he would eventually introduce that setup at Stamford Bridge. It was not, however, expected to be so soon and so sudden. Following the defeat at Arsenal, the former Juventus manager wrung the changes. In the next game away at Hull City, Chelsea played with Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso as wing-backs, and David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta as the three central defenders.

The story since then, has been completely different. The starting line-up has seen just two changes till date, and Chelsea’s record has been perfect. Nine wins and seven clean sheets later, they are sitting at the top of the league, three points clear of their closest rivals Arsenal.

Upcoming fixtures

Chelsea’s remaining fixtures in 2016 are:

– Sunderland (away)
– Crystal Palace (away)
– Bournemouth (home)
– Stoke City (home)

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They will be expecting to pick up maximum points from these games and go into the New Year top of the league. Following this, they have a tough run fixtures until the start of February including trips to Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Leicester and the visit of Arsenal to the Bridge. It would be safe to say that if they can come out of this series still perched at the top, they will be massive favourites to go on lift the trophy in May.

Title contenders for sure

Barring a meltdown, Chelsea will be in the thick of the title race come the end of the season. They have the quality on the pitch, and the manager with the tactical nous to take them through. This Sunday’s victory against West Bromwich Albion showed a different side to their game. Against the likes of Manchester United, Everton, Spurs and Manchester City, they were lethal on the counter-attack and clinically dispatched the chances they got. The Baggies though, forced them to go for the jugular and sat back and defended. It may have taken Chelsea until the 76th minute to break Tony Pulis’ men down, but they did manage to get the three points. There are several ways to win a game, and the Blues have shown that they can get the job done in different manners.

Arsenal, in second, are in tremendous form as well, and are unbeaten since the opening day of the season. The Gunners have shown a lot of resolve and fight to win points from games which have seemed lost, most prominently away at Manchester United last month. It remains to be seen though, if they can sustain this kind of form for the remainder of the season. They have had several opportunities to win the title in the last decade, but have always ended bottling it.

Liverpool have the best offensive record in the league, scoring 37 goals so far. Their defence though, is a matter of concern. They are on a three match winless streak, and some sloppy defending cost them 5 points in the last two games – a 4-3 loss at Bournemouth followed a 2-2 home draw against West Ham United.

The fourth team in the reckoning would be Manchester City. After looking like sure-shot favourites after the first few games, Pep Guardiola’s men have completely fallen off the tracks. Their lack of desire was at the forefront of the discussions following a 4-2 loss at Leicester City this weekend. They need to sort things out quickly to get back to their best. On their day, City are unplayable. Those days though, have been few and far between in the last couple of months.

The debate on over-dependence 

There is no doubt that Chelsea are heavily reliant on Eden Hazard and Diego Costa to come up with the goods in front of goal. The duo has scored 20 of their team’s 33 Premier League goals so far, and it was Costa once again who dug them out of a hole against West Brom with a super solo effort which turned out to be the winner. Others have shown that they can chip in too. Pedro and Victor Moses scored in the turnaround win against Spurs, while Willian also has 3 Premier League goals to his name. However, the bulk of the scoring responsibility still lies with Hazard and Costa and an injury to either could see goals dry up.

The flipside to that aspect though, is the defence. With just 11 goals conceded, Chelsea have the best defensive record amongst the teams in the top 4. They don’t need to score a ton of goals to win a game, even though they have the ability to do so.

To sum up, there is little doubt that Chelsea seem to have every box ticked at the moment. They need to keep calm and continue the good work, and there is no reason to believe why Antonio Conte won’t see his men lift the title in hid debut season in charge. 

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