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Chelsea won the 2016/17 Premier League trophy against all odds, many gave them no chance especially after their dismal performance in the previous season when the club had one of the worst campaigns the club has ever seen, finishing far below the acceptable league position and failed to qualify for any European competitions.
They also saw their most decorated manager in Jose Mourinho sacked during the forgotten season and was replaced by Guus Hiddink.
The 2016/17 season started with Antonio Conte at the helms of affairs at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea started the season brightly, winning their first three games but were unable to replicate their bright start to the season in their next three games, losing 0-3 to Arsenal, 1-2 at home to Liverpool and only an 81st minute strike from Diego Costa helped Conte’s men to a 2:2 home draw with Swansea City.
Antonio Conte was doomed after, many called for his head, rumour fly all over the internet; Conte was going to be sacked; club owner is not happy with him etc. But Antonio Conte appeared completely unmoved and imperturbable. He regrouped his men, tactics changed and the rest was history.
Chelsea won 13 consecutive games after that loss to Arsenal starting with a 2-0 win over Hull City, and they clearly deserved all the accolades received at the end of the season. Chelsea were crowned the English Premier League winners for 2016/17 season. Fully deserved.
Now, the new EPL season has started, top teams bought and bought well, and the rest of the EPL teams were not left out. Manchester United and Manchester City started very well just as they did in the 2016/17 season, the Manchester clubs won their first games of the season, United beaten Swansea 4-0 away while the Citizens also recorded a 2-0 away win to Brighton.
Chelsea in the other hand started badly, they lost 2-3 at Stamford Bridge to Burnley finishing the game with 9 men. The following six games followed and Chelsea find themselves in the same similar position in terms of points garnered at this time of last season; 7 games, 13 points.
Chelsea had a stellar performance at Atletico Madrid in their first game of this season UEFA Champions league, it was one of the best games football lovers have ever seen from Chelsea in a long time. The men from Stamford Bridge that night became the first team ever to beat Atletico Madrid at their new Metropolitano Stadium, Atletico were defeated 2-1 thanks to goals from Alvaro Morata and Mitchy Batshuayi. They deserved the points.
Many expected Chelsea to have similar performance three days later as they host Manchester City, the first game between the two sides this season. Manchester City came with force and they were deserved winners after 90 minutes thanks to Kevin De Bruyne Stunner from the edge of the box in the 67th minute of the game. Chelsea were tactically beaten by Pep Guardiola’s men.
The City game highlighted some weaknesses from the Chelsea team, they looked tired and laboured throughout the game, City won the tactical battle and lots of stories follow; many football pundits voiced their opinions and most came to many conclusions; the EPL top spot is almost a forgone story for Chelsea; it belongs to one of the Manchester clubs; Chelsea are not equipped for it; Antonio Conte is tired and unsettled at the Bridge etc.
But the league is a marathon not a sprint.
Easier fixture schedule
Focusing on the so-called top 6 teams in Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham. Chelsea have played three games already against the top 6; beaten Tottenham away, drew at home to Arsenal and were beaten at home to Manchester city gaining four points out of nine along the way.
They have also played away to stubborn Stoke City where they came away with the points. Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City have played two games each against the top six, Tottenham played one while Manchester United are yet to play against any team from the top six. The two Manchester clubs are presently six points away from Chelsea who occupied the 4th position; but the next ten games could change all these.
Next ten games: Chelsea are expected to play Liverpool and Manchester United, Manchester United play Tottenham, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester city; Manchester City will meet Arsenal and Manchester United; Tottenham play Liverpool; Manchester United and Arsenal; Arsenal meet Manchester City, Tottenham and Manchester united while Liverpool will play Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea.
The top teams will play each other with Chelsea and Manchester City playing two games each, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool three games each while Manchester United are expected to play five games!
Chelsea and Manchester City on paper have the upper hands in these fixtures. Manchester United have the toughest schedule; United will play the high flying Manchester City and Tottenham at home while playing Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal away. It won’t be easy for the Jose’s men and they could find themselves far below the top three at the end of these games.
Football is not mathematics but mathematically, Chelsea and Manchester city face six points each; Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal face nine points each while Manchester united face fifteen (15) solid points.
These fixtures would be decisive in the race for the top four and could create a struggle among these teams from now till the end of the season especially with the European competitions at full force but it should be noted that Chelsea along with Manchester City have the easiest league games.
The Conte factor
Antonio Conte is a good motivator and a good tactician, he studies everyday to become one of the best football managers around.
The Italian tactician who last season became the first manager in the Premier League to win three consecutive Manager of the Month awards for October, November and December is not new to these situations as could be seen from last season.
He has had good track records from his days with Bari who he led to the 2008/09 Serie B title or Siena who he also led to the promotion two years later. He joined Juventus in 2011 where he won three consecutives Serie A titles with the Turin giants before taking over the Italian national team.
Antonio Conte is a man that addresses situation as it comes, never rain blames on his players, shoulders every responsibility, his players trust him and he trust them. He is an animated manager, he fights with the team, runs with them, tackles with them, scores with them and together, they celebrate.
His squad are learning with him everyday and with the forms the likes of Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata and N’Golo Kante are at the moment, it would be very hard for any team to stop them when they are fully at their pace, who knows if we are going to witness another unbeaten runs from the men from Stamford Bridge again this season.
Time to believe
Chelsea will come back from these negatives and the next ten EPL fixtures could be the turning points for the Blues. Seven games into the new season, 31 more games to play. It is not over until it’s over.
Chelsea will bounce back, and I think it would be premature to rule them out of the title race at this moment of the season.
Written by Adeleke Olawale
Follow Adeleke on Twitter @cfc_wale
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