The Season So Far
Chelsea’s has been a season in three parts: first, the hard-fought narrow wins, typically decided in dramatic fashion late on in games against teams they should really have beaten sooner; second, the worrying and then humiliating defeats to Liverpool at home and Arsenal away, which made them look miles off the pace; third, the post-formation-change six-game winning streak, which by most accounts has seen them look the best team in the country again.
In a division as topsy-turvy as the Premier League, it’s impossible to say whether these six most recent games, which Chelsea have won by an aggregate score of 17-0, amount to anything other than a great run of form. Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City started the season in similarly devastating fashion and were seen as inevitable champions until Tottenham knocked the stuffing out of them. Plenty of neutrals will be hoping Harry Kane and company can repeat the trick.
The Season Ahead
Without the hassle of European football draining their energy, Antonio Conte will have the benefit of a relatively clear schedule throughout the campaign. Now that he’s hit upon a winning formula from a tactical perspective, there’s little reason to expect anything other than a serious title challenge. Diego Costa is back to his demonic best, David Luiz appears to be a calming, constructive presence at the heart of the defense and Eden Hazard seems hell-bent on regaining his title as the best player in the division. It all bodes very well for Blues fans, and very badly for everyone else.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of months, you’ll be aware that Chelsea’s shift from a rather miserable 4-2-3-1/4-2-4 system, employed until Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil humiliated the Blues at the Emirates, to a sturdier 3-4-2-1 has changed everything about their season.
Antonio Conte was widely expected to use this system from the moment he arrived at Stamford Bridge, given the success he had with it at Juventus and with the Italian national team, but he held off until it became apparent there was no alternative. Throughout the first half of the season it was readily apparent that his midfield wasn't able to control games the way it should have done, and they weren’t able to protect their ageing back four in the slightest. Their attacks were stodgy and predictable, and they generally found a way through only by piling on the pressure in the last minutes and by physically outlasting the opposition.
The signing of David Luiz has allowed Conte to add a third centre-back to steady the ship and also to designate a playmaker at the back. This has in turn created more space for Diego Costa, and for Eden Hazard and Pedro, operating as uber-versatile/constantly-involved endlessly aggressive number tens/inside-forwards. The solidity comes from a muscular central midfield of Nemanja Matić and N’Golo Kanté, while the dynamic Mikel Alonso and Victor Moses add huge amounts of energy and drive from the wings. It’s an obviously winning setup, and no side has had even the slightest idea how to counter it so far.
Their strengths are numerous at the moment: while they don’t average a great deal of possession, they do have the second highest pass completion rate in the Premier League (85.1%) and they average 16.6 shots per game. Additionally, they make 14.1 successful dribbles per game, the 2nd highest figure in the league, and they’re fouled 13.3 times per game. Additionally, no team creates more chances from corners, only two create more using throughballs and only two create more from open play generally. Basically, they win the ball, drive towards goal with ruthless efficiency and admirable creativity, and the only way to stop them at the moment is to commit a foul.
As so many Chelsea defenses have been, this is one mean outfit: they only allow 8.7 shots against per game (the league’s second lowest figure), of which 2.3 have been hitting the target (the lowest figure). Their work-rate off the ball is massive: they make 18.6 tackles per game, 14.1 interceptions per game and they’ve blocked 8.2 passes. The preventative work in midfield means the back three and goalkeeper are extremely underworked: 20.7 clearances per game is the second lowest figure in the league, while 2.8 shots blocked is the third lowest, 2.3 crosses blocked per game is the fourth lowest and 9.8 fouls per game is the second lowest.
TL;DR: they’re absolutely dominant.
Diego Costa is due a meltdown. David Luiz hasn’t fucked everything up in spectacular circumstances yet. Gary Cahill, generally speaking.
That’s about it.
Spurs are gonna need to play a blinder.
Antonio Conte has no need to change the settled eleven which has destroyed everything in its path of late. An injury-hit Spurs team has a lot to worry about.
It’s very difficult to see Spurs getting anything from this game. After a long and admirable unbeaten streak in which Mauricio Pochettino and company have had more than enough luck, we should expect a first league defeat since May here. 2-1, unless Diego Costa does something monumentally stupid and gives Spurs a man advantage.