Chelsea welcomed the reigning Premier League champions Leicester City to Stamford Bridge on Saturday and gave them a much different experience than their last visit to the Bridge back in May.
On that day, Leicester’s title parade had begun in earnest, and Claudio Ranieri was congratulated by the home fans for his side’s title triumph.
The Foxes experience this time was a bit different, as the Blues handed them a comprehensive 3-0 defeat and will welcome Manchester United to Stamford Bridge on the back of good performances against Hull City and Leicester
Antonio Conte’s vision of 3-4-3 is taking shape.
International breaks aren’t always the most exciting and often come at inconvenient times. This one, however, might have come at the perfect time for Antonio Conte.
With Conte employing a three-man defence for the first time against Hull City, there was speculation that it might take some time for that system to take hold, especially given how that system didn’t quite click in the first half against the Tigers.
The good thing for Conte is that two of the three centre backs that started against Leicester and both wing backs/wide midfielders didn’t head off for international duty, although Victor Moses did withdraw due to an injury.
With two weeks of work, Chelsea’s back three looked a lot more solid against Leicester on Saturday. Although Leicester didn’t provide the toughest test, it does appear to be the way forward for the Blues this season.
Against Hull City, Moses and Marcos Alonso were caught in two minds an awful lot. As the wing backs, they weren’t always sure whether to push on or whether to drop deep, so they sort of did neither. It made Chelsea’s play much too narrow for a lot of the match.
Against Leicester, they understood their roles a lot better, with both pushing high enough up the pitch to be considered almost wingers and maintaining the width from their positions.
The knock-on is that it now frees up players like Eden Hazard and Pedro to look to move a little more inside, knowing that they’re not responsible for keeping the width.
The result was a much more dynamic performance from the three attackers, with Pedro, Hazard, and Diego Costa all looking threatening. If you couple that with David Luiz being given more freedom to dictate play and Cesar Azpilicueta doing his best impression of Andrea Barzagli, and you see Chelsea side that look a lot more comfortable and solid as a unit.
Diego Costa may have found another manager that understands how to get the best from him.
Diego Costa has always been an interesting figure. There’s no doubting his ability to play. The fact that he has 39 goals and 11 assists in the Premier League in 62 appearances speaks to that fact. The frustrating side of Costa is that he sometimes goes too far with his aggression and doesn’t always channel his energy the correct way.
Coming into this season, one of the questions surrounding Costa was about his behaviour on the pitch. Would Chelsea get the dynamic presence from his first season at the club who terrorised opposing defences with his relentlessness, or would they see the Costa that encouraged defences to try and frustrate him in order to get him to pick up senseless bookings?
A poignant moment happened around the 70th minute on Saturday. Chelsea was 2-0 up and comfortable when Costa shouted at the bench and gestured for a substitution.
Costa started the match against Leicester City just one booking away from a suspension that would rule him out of next week’s match against Manchester United, and perhaps that was on the striker’s mind that he wanted off in order to avoid that booking.
His pleas fell on deaf ears. As with 20 minutes to play and up just 2-0, Conte left his talismanic striker on the pitch as he felt that the game wasn’t won just yet, but more importantly, he didn’t acquiesce to Costa’s demands.
With Costa, he seems a conundrum of a player to manage. Not only does his manager need to have the strength of personality to be forceful with Costa, especially when his aggression starts to go over the edge, but he seemingly also has to show the striker that he has complete faith in his abilities and make him feel wanted.
At Atletico Madrid, he had a manager with those qualities in Diego Simeone, and in Antonio Conte, he may have found another one. If indeed Conte has found a similar path in his relationship with Costa as Simeone had with Costa at Atletico Madrid, then expect Costa’s performances to continue this season.
Eden Hazard’s midweek comments about his preferred position appear to be justified, for now.
While on international duty with Belgium, Eden Hazard made a comment to the media that he believes that his best position is as a number 10. It’s the role that he excelled in at Lille and it’s the role that Roberto Martinez has given him with Belgium. Many criticised Hazard for his comments, suggesting that he’s out of order, but he may actually be correct in his assessment.
When deployed in the typical 4-2-3-1, Hazard’s ability in one-on-one situations has often seen him played on the left. But in that role, part of his job is to maintain the width on the left-hand side. At times, that responsibility has sometimes limited his influence on the match, as he often likes to come inside and play more centrally.
With the switch to a 3-4-3, Hazard now has the license to play more freely inside, as the left-sided wing back/winger maintains the width on the left. Against Leicester, the effect was noticeable. Hazard linked up well with Costa in central areas, and he looked more of a threat by making runs beyond the striker when needed. In fact, on three occasions he broke through the center of Leicester’s defence and scoring a goal.
It remains to be seen whether Hazard can maintain this form in this new role, but he has looked more dangerous now that he has been given licence to roam a bit more centrally and freed of his responsibility to stay wider. If it does continue, it can only mean good things for Chelsea.