The Mind of Conte: How Chelsea played their cards right in April

On the last day of April, Chelsea consolidated their four point lead ahead of Tottenham Hotspur by ending Everton’s nine home games unbeaten run.

Looking back at the month of April, Chelsea players and fans alike will feel it has been a good month for the team leading the league with four games to go, and an FA Cup final awaiting.

Looking back at the beginning of the month though, things could have gone much worse.


The slip-up

On April 1st, Crystal Palace sent shock waves through the Premier League by inflicting a rare home defeat to the the league leaders.

Coming into the tricky part of their remaining fixtures, Chelsea would’ve been disappointed to let go of three points which should have been theirs on paper.

The following fixtures throughout the month, would be at home to City, away to Bournemouth and United, then receiving Southampton at the Bridge, prior to wrapping the month up with a visit to Goodison Park, facing an in-form Everton side.

The small matter of an FA Cup semi-final against Spurs, squeezed in between these fixtures, should not be forgotten.

Following the slip-up against Palace, Chelsea had several opportunities to lose further ground to Spurs by the end of April.

They rebounded nicely against Bournemouth, but suffered a comprehensive defeat against Mourinho’s United. Contrary to the Palace defeat, the Blues were clearly outplayed by United, and deservedly lost the game.

Jose Mourinho came in with the clear plan to man mark Eden Hazard, take him out of the game, and leverage Rashford and Lingard’s pace behind the Chelsea backline.

For once Conte seemed to have no response to his counterpart, which was epitomized by how subdued he appeared on the touchlines.


The reaction

Following the Palace and United defeats, Chelsea’s next high profile game was against Spurs in the FA Cup semi-finals.

Losing that game would have meant three defeats in the same month, and would’ve without a doubt affected Chelsea players’ confidence.

Conte approached the game with spot on tactics and player rotation.

Leaving the likes of Hazard and Costa out of the starting eleven raised eyebrows, however he was vindicated when Hazard came on with about thirty minutes to go, and decided the game with a goal and an assist.

Chelsea ended up winning the game 4-2, and registered a massive victory against their toughest opponent all season, securing a spot in the FA Cup final in the process.

With the FA Cup final ticket in the bag, Chelsea’s biggest remaining fixture would be against Everton.

Eden Hazard’s former Lille teammate, Idrissa Gueye, attempted to mark him out of the game, following Mourinho’s template. However, in doing so, Everton ended up creating more space for others to show their quality.

That being said, Chelsea couldn’t get a breakthrough until past the hour.

Pedro’s fine solo effort gave them the lead out of nowhere, and from that point on, they never seemed to look back.

Once again, Conte’s excellent decision making would come into play with Fabregas and Willian combining as passer and scorer, minutes after both coming onto the pitch.

In the end, Everton were dispatched 3-0.


The final stretch

On paper, Chelsea seem to have done the hardest with their last four games being against Middlesbrough, West Brom, Watford, and Sunderland.

However, Conte will need to keep his players fully focused to avoid any missteps, and maintain charge of their destiny.

Having navigated through a difficult month, they are that much closer to a much unexpected domestic double. Conte will need his players completely turned on to achieve this goal.


Written by Charles Codo

Follow Charles on Twitter @soccerCrave

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