5 reasons behind Chelsea's resurgence under Antonio Conte
Chelsea were toiling in defence of the Premier League title 12 months ago but now are being considered challengers once again. Here, Press Association Sport looks at five reasons for a resurgence under Antonio Conte.
A TEAM, NOT INDIVIDUALS
Under Jose Mourinho, Chelsea swiftly disintegrated from a functional to dysfunctional unit. Conte has fostered a collective desire to play for and with one another that used to be the hallmark of Mourinho's teams. And rather than jettisoning young talent, Conte is incorporating and trusting the likes of Nathaniel Chalobah. The Blues are thriving as a result.
EDEN CAUSING HAZARDS, NOT CREATING THEM
Rather than imploring him to track back and castigating him for not doing so, as Mourinho did, Conte has given playmaker Eden Hazard freedom. And the Belgian, Chelsea's outstanding player in their title success of two seasons ago, is flourishing and punishing opponents by popping up across the attacking third of the pitch, scoring and creating for the likes of Diego Costa.
Defeats to Arsenal and Liverpool and the regular concession of goals saw Conte take action, switching to a back three. He perhaps also benefited from the injury-enforced absence of captain John Terry, who in his one start in the new formation struggled in the EFL Cup loss at West Ham. Terry now has time to adjust from the substitutes' bench. Midfielder Nemanja Matic is back on form and has the perfect partner in the energetic and intelligent N'Golo Kante, which is bad news for Cesc Fabregas.
Chelsea are not in the Champions League for the first time since before Roman Abramovich's purchase in 2003. They are not even in the Europa League. Like Liverpool in 2013-14 under Brendan Rodgers, it gives the players an opportunity to recuperate and to work with Conte on a single domestic focus. They are following his instructions and it is paying dividends so far.
PASSION AND PROGRESS
Conte, who played at the highest level with Juventus and Italy, kicks every ball and shouts himself hoarse through matches. He cajoles and encourages, focusing on positives. He is a demanding and dominant presence on the touchline and his team is responding on the field, with the same impact.