After the debacle of Chelsea’s 2015-16 campaign, expectations were modest this time around. Antonio Conte was inheriting an unbalanced squad that included a number of players who had let the club down during the final weeks of José Mourinho’s tenure.
For the Blues to be mounting a Premier League title challenge going into December is a significant achievement, for which Conte deserves most of the credit, particularly as he has been operating on a much smaller budget than his main rivals.
The Conte revolution didn’t begin until September, when Chelsea lost successive Premier League games, to Liverpool and Arsenal. Those defeats prompted the Italian to introduce his favoured three centre-halves formation, and the Blues have looked unstoppable ever since, going on a run of six Premier League wins without conceding a goal.
Despite Chelsea’s strong form, betting markets still favour Manchester City. The quoted odds are constantly changing, and if you want to see what the current market says about Chelsea’s chances, you can head on over to SmartBets.com to keep up to date on the latest odds. However, Pep Guardiola’s City have been stubborn favourites, alongside Liverpool, in the Premier League title markets.
City and Liverpool have their problems though. Both are a little too loose at the back, a weakness that could cost them if not corrected, whereas Chelsea have a system that looks watertight defensively while enabling them to create plenty of chances at the other end.
There is also the fact that Chelsea, unlike most of their rivals, are not playing in Europe this season. In fact, they can concentrate on just two competitions: the FA Cup and the Premier League, which will help, given their comparatively small squad.
Indeed, it is squad depth that Conte is likely to be targeting in the January transfer window. The Chelsea system is not reliant on any individual player, but Conte will be keen to retain the services of a number of back-up players, such as Jon Obi Mikel, Cesc Fàbregas and Oscar, who could be needed next year. He may also be tempted to bring in one or two young players, such as Burnley defender Michael Keane or Internazionale’s Geoffrey Kondogbia
Diego Costa is probably the only player in the team who can’t be replaced. His work rate, physical strength and shooting power have made him indispensable in this system, and with no suitable alternative in the squad, Conte will be hoping that Costa stays fit until May.
Few pundits were tipping Chelsea to win anything in what was considered by many to be the first year of a two or three-year transition plan. However, right now, Conte’s side have a winning game plan and two clear targets to aim for. Assuming that they have a reasonable run of luck with injuries, and a little January strengthening, they are looking good to win at least one piece of silverware this season, against the odds and ahead of schedule!