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Ever since the catastrophic 3-2 defeat at home to Burnley on the opening afternoon of the Premier League season, Chelsea have won every single match in every single competition. Antonio Conte has galvanised his charges, they have rediscovered their form and confidence just at the time they are welcoming back their stars.
Eden Hazard missed the start of the season as a result of a broken ankle suffered on international duty at the end of the 2016/17 season, yet he has hardly been missed as the Italian has managed to lift a squad up off the floor and get them performing in a way few thought possible a short number of weeks ago.
The Blues’ squad list for the Charity Shield defeat to Arsenal verged on the comical; the sheer lack of numbers on Chelsea’s available list was hugely alarming to supporters. The Burnley defeat followed and it was suggested that an unhappy Conte could even walk away from the impending crisis.
It is no secret that the former Juventus coach was not pleased with his club’s actions in the transfer market. He doesn’t feel he was backed sufficiently, he desperately wanted to add Romelu Lukaku to his team and it is understood he still isn’t convinced that he has been given a team strong enough to truly challenge for the Champions League.
Credit goes to Conte
Difficult as it is to disagree with any of that, credit has to go to the 48-year-old for being able to guide the ship away from choppy waters in recent weeks.
Chelsea have put together a string of performances that have been a throwback to the brilliance they showed en route to the championship last season. The 2-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley was a crucial result, the Blues managed to conjure up a top class display, despite being without several key first-teamers.
Everton and Leicester City were then dispatched comfortably before Qarabag suffered a 6-0 drubbing at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.
Despite all talk of a crisis reminiscent of that which engulfed Jose Mourinho’s final months in charge at Stamford Bridge, the Italian coach has managed to arrest the slide.
It could be argued that the experiences of the turbulent final Mourinho months have helped many of the current squad members to avoid a repeat, yet credit simply has to go to Conte.
Hazard not missed
Hazard’s absence was expected to seriously hinder Chelsea’s early season efforts and to a degree it has. The Blues haven’t been the attacking force they were last term, but other members of the team have rallied and made Chelsea productive in a different way.
Alvaro Morata has arrived and settled to life in the Premier League with ease. The Spaniard looks sharp whenever he is on the pitch and he stretches opposing defensive lines.
It has already been noted how alive the former Real Madrid star is within the penalty-area, with his two headed goals against Leicester and Everton both examples of world-class centre-forward play.
Stamford Bridge is now a serene environment in comparison to a fortnight ago. The arrivals of Davide Zappacosta and Danny Drinkwater have given the Italian extra rotation options.
The Chelsea squad is now stronger than it was at the beginning of the season and the general mood has been improved with results.
Arsenal are the visitors on Sunday and the Gunners represent the true acid test of the Blues’ credentials.
Everton and Leicester are not in particularly good form and whilst Arsenal endured their own mini-crisis before the international break, they clearly have far more quality capable of damaging Chelsea.
Conte has the full complement of stars available to him on Sunday, Diego Costa the obvious exception. This ensures the Italian can put a full strength team out for the visit of Arsenal and play in the same manner that made them so successful last term.
Sign of a championship-winning team
Every single Premier League club will have to deal with a disastrous run throughout the course of any campaign. These challenges are part and parcel of the game, yet the characteristic of the better clubs is just how well they deal with such challenges.
Chelsea started the season against what on paper appeared tough opponents, whilst not having their full squad available. Off-field distractions were also prevalent yet Chelsea have managed to negotiate this period and avert disaster.
This is the sign of a championship-winning team and whilst issues with the board may eventually cost the Italian his job, for the moment his work on the coaching side is proving absolutely crucial to the Stamford Bridge club remaining a contender this term.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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