After Chelsea recently left White Hart Lane following the abrupt end to their 13-game long winning run, there appeared to be clear logic in Antonio Conte’s decision to recall Nathan Ake from his loan at Bournemouth.
Ake had impressed in the first half of his season-long spell on the south coast and Conte, apart from understandably wanting to cast a closer eye on the youngster’s progression, was to use the 21-year-old to ease the workload on Marcos Alonso, who has been reportedly suffering with muscular discomfort in his upper leg.
The Spaniard had to wait 3 weeks to make his debut following his £23 million August move from Fiorentina and though the injury has been manageable, Alonso has started 15 of his team’s 21 league games, Conte had grown concerned that the rigours of the season, notably the hectic festive period had begun to take its toll.
Anybody who witnessed Alonso struggling to get to grips with Christian Eriksen and Kyle Walker during that 2-0 defeat to Tottenham would have empathised with Conte’s worries as his left-back, far from the only Chelsea player to do so on the night, seemed uncharacteristically off the pace.
Alonso watched on as a shadow side, offering its own boost in the form of a returning Kurt Zouma, overcame Peterborough United in the FA Cup, but he was restored to his usual place on the left of Chelsea’s midfield in the 3-4-3 they utilise so well for the trip to Leicester.
Conte had spent the pre-match build-up dealing with an unsettled Diego Costa so he would have been pleasantly surprised with who sealed the win over the defending champions.
Silencing the doubters
There appeared no injury troubles bothering Alonso as he roamed forward to clinically take advantage of Eden Hazard’s composure in a packed box for the first, or when he popped up on the edge of the box to fire home, via a deflection, the second.
The King Power Stadium was the scene of Jose Mourinho’s final act last season when his Chelsea, in a state of ‘palpable discord’ in the words of technical director Michael Emenalo, were beaten 2-1 but the contrast on Saturday evening was immense.
As the squad rushed to Alonso to celebrate his second the togetherness and harmony within the squad, not yet affected by Costa, was clear.
It spoke volumes of the spirit and unity Conte has instilled in his squad and of Alonso’s standing within it.
“It was a great performance” said his team-mate Nemanja Matic, “I’m very happy for him and for the team.”
Alonso, who has grown accustomed to life in England through previous spells with Bolton and Sunderland, has settled in comfortably at Stamford Bridge following his move from Italy even if he has had to adapt his game and fitness, “it is the hardest I’ve ever trained” he says, to fit in with Conte’s demands.
“I go to attack maybe eight times in a game instead of around four”, says Alonso who made full use of his licence to attack at Leicester while also remaining diligent to his defensive demands, shutting Marc Albrighton out of the game and winning all 4 of his tackles.
The Spaniard’s vast engine, only Spurs’ Eriksen covered more distance than him during November for instance, allows him to motor up and down the left flank, covering defensively for Eden Hazard while also providing an option on the overlap should the Belgian feel the need to embark on one of his mazy in-field dribbles.
The 26-year-old also has his own insurance in the presence of 3 centre-halves covering the space in-behind should he be exposed, giving Conte chance to flood the midfield, an asset that was so pivotal in the win over Leicester.
A shrewd acquisition
The signing of Alonso, to much less fanfare than the deal for David Luiz which was completed later the same day, for £23 million, a fee which some inside Stamford Bridge believed to be ‘ridiculous’, has proven to be a shrewd acquisition.
It is no coincidence that his first start came in the victory at Hull that started the 13-match winning run, his introduction allowing Cesare Azpilicueta to move to the defensive three while Victor Moses has been a revelation in the opposite wing-back position.
A tactical switch that Conte used to give the team added compactness and the ability to play with a high-line, features that Moses and Alonso are tailor-made for.
Both are enduring runners, disciplined defensively as well as comfortable moving forward in the opposition half.
It’s Alonso however that has thrived the most in terms of reliability; in the Chelsea squad, only the imperious N’Golo Kante has made more blocks or interceptions than the Spanish left-back.
Ake left in his wake
Chelsea left Leicester on Saturday evening with the bandwagon beginning to roll once again after it was knocked off course at Spurs.
If one player’s future remains uncertain then another cemented his with a two-goal salvo as Ake, who has not started a game for Chelsea since May 2013, watched on in silence alongside John Terry.
If Alonso carries on like this, allaying any fears about his problematic leg, Ake will need to wait a while for his chance.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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