After their narrow one nil victory on Monday, Chelsea joined neighbours Arsenal and Tottenham as well as Manchester City in the semi-final of the FA Cup. They have been drawn against Tottenham and are still very much on for an unlikely double.
At the start of the season not maybe punters will have predicted that Chelsea would walk the league. After a very disappointing campaign in 2015/16, former Juventus and Italy manager Antonio Conte took over the managerial role at Chelsea. Early doors, Chelsea looked like they would struggle to get top four, let alone be on for a double. However, after ditching the 4-3-3 formation used by so many in modern football, Conte swapped to his much preferred 3-4-3.
This formation has brought him a great deal of success in Italy but many managers have tried it in England and failed. We saw under Louis Van Gaal, Manchester United tried to adopt this formation but it was quickly ditched after suffering a 5-3 loss to Leicester – who at the time were fighting to stay up under Nigel Person. But it has worked miracles for Chelsea. They went on a long unbeaten run and have never really looked like faltering.
While the three centre backs may not be the best individuals as a unit they complement each other very well, with Luiz and Azpillacuta using their passing ability to play out from the back and Cahill sweeping. Their wing-backs Alonso and Moses have really flourished in the role, offering great defensive support but most importantly excellent wing play going forward. This has allowed Hazard Willian and Pedro to play free roles behind Costa, making it extremely hard for teams to defend against. Likewise Matic and Costa have both found their form from the year they won the title under Jose Mourinho. But the lynchpin of this team must be Kante. Without him this system would not work – we saw on Monday how important he is to the team, not only sniffing out rare Man Utd attacks but also getting the winning goal. But are Chelsea the real deal?
It is unquestionable that they have been by far the best team this season in England. The do not concede many goals and always look a threat going forward. Teams have not really found any weakness in their team and have found it difficult to stop a rejuvenated Hazard. It looks like they will win the league but will they complete the double? I think if you were to ask Chelsea who they wanted in the semis Tottenham would have been their last choice. They have been the only team to find a chink in Chelsea’s armour, after beating them earlier in the year. Crosses from Chelsea’s left into the back post exposed the right side of Chelsea’s defence for their lack of height, I was surprised Man united did not deploy this tactic in the quarter-final. But I do think that Chelsea will have too much for Tottenham – who could be missing Harry Kane.
The real test for the blues will come next season. It will be interesting to see who they sign and how they cope in Europe. Conte has been lucky that without European football this season he has had a lot more time to prepare his team. How will Chelsea cope against the best teams in Europe. I think they will need to buy at least one more centre back – especially if Terry leaves. I think they will pose a difficult task to any team in Europe. I can’t say that they’re the real deal just yet but they’re certainly looking like a team who can dominate Europe for the foreseeable future.
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