Who would’ve thought that a 10th place Chelsea team, with a lack of squad morale, deprived of any confidence and belief, could pull off one of the most emphatic title winning campaigns in the Premier League era?
The answer? We all know who.
After the losing to Germany on penalties in the quarter-final of EURO 2016, Antonio Conte arrived in London with a pleasant smile, and a fantastic suit. On the first day of his career being Chelsea manager, he all gave us hope. With one of the most iconic pictures of Antonio, he stood outside Stamford Bridge, admiring the statue of the late and great Peter Osgood. Already caring about our club – that’s all us fans wanted a man who bothered, a man who would be concerned about our previous season.
Antonio Conte was poised to bring in a technical centre back. A bizarre choice of the familiar name of David Luiz was bought back to West London. There were many mixed emotions about the second coming of Luiz. When he signed from Benfica, he didn’t live up to his reputation. An awkward defender to watch on the ball with a huge eye for the ‘killer pass’, he took many chances during games which didn’t go his way. However, many of us were silenced. After the all important change of 3 at the back (which I shall talk about later) the Brazilian looked terrifically composed on the ball. An eagle eye of a pass from defence to attack ensured Diego Costa many chances at goal. Geezer.
After Leicester’s terrific title winning season, a lot of praise was heaped on the likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez. A little man called N’Golo Kanté also played a vital role in the road to Leicester’s Premier League title. Signed from French side Caen to the Foxes, he was consistently brilliant, with a huge number of tackles and interceptions. By the end of that season, Kanté made 175 tackles (31 more than any other player) and 157 interceptions (15 more than any other player). A vast majority of the top clubs in Europe were impressed with Kanté’s performances in the midfield, but only one club was for him.
N’Golo Kanté signed for Chelsea in the summer for a fee of just £32 million, pocket money for a club like Chelsea, and it proved to be one of the best ever signings in the Premier League era. Kanté went on to being named in the PFA Team of the Year for the second consecutive season. He was also later named the PFA Player of the Year, the FWA Player of the Year, and the Premier League Player of the Season. £32 million? I’d take that all day long.
Following an emphatic 2-1 over one of our London rivals West Ham at the Bridge on the first day of the season, our fans were in sheer delight watching the scenes of Conte’s celebration over Costa’s winning goal. Since that day, he brought the fans something to cheer about again, by being top of the league by the end of August – the squad morale was at its peak. September was a month of very mixed emotions at Chelsea. Two losses and a draw saw us go from 1st to 8th, and questions were asked over Conte’s tactical decisions. However the game at the Emirates proved to be massively important to our season.
After going 3-0 down to Arsenal, on a very miserable and terrible defensive display. Antonio Conte decided to go for 3 at the back. That legendary image of Marcos Alonso holding up 3 fingers as he came on as a substitute for his 10 minute debut was one of the highlights of our season. The 3 at the back remarkably changed our form, by going on a nearly-record breaking 13-game winning run, that ensured us top of the league and 5 points clear by the start of January.
It felt like nobody could catch us. Antonio had a purple patch when it came to choose his starting eleven week in week out. Every single player played their role to almost perfection. The likes of Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses as our new wing backs gave them the opportunity to attack and defend freely. N’Golo Kanté bossing the midfield allowing Fabregas/Matic to have a much more freedom in the centre of the park. The perks of having a depth of fantastic wingers for Conte to enjoy stressing over who should start over who. We were literally unbeatable.
Our most standout performances was our 3-1 win away to Manchester City at the Etihad. We showed brilliant team spirit after going one-nil down to a Gary Cahill own goal. A strong Diego Costa showing off his great hold up play allowed a number of world class counter attacks, carried out by Hazard, Pedro and Willian.
Our long run came to end up against a very strong Tottenham Hotspur side at White Hart Lane on a Monday night. I personally was at the game, and we struggled from the start to get a grip in midfield. Spurs had played the game tactically well, stopping Kanté on his every move and preventing our wing backs from going forward.
For the rest of the season we held out strongly ahead of title catchers Spurs, winning our 5th Premier League title on a Friday night at West Brom. Our last game was the historic FA Cup final against London rivals Arsenal. The Gunners were the better team on the day and won 2-1 on the day. We either were still hungover from the title celebrations or the absense of Didier ‘the King’ Drogba allowed Arsenal to capitalise.
What next for Chelsea?
After signing a new deal with Nike worth an extraordinarily amount of money, I would like to see a strong LWB signing. Chelsea have been linked with Juventus’ Alex Sandro, a left back who has shown he can perform on Europe’s biggest stage, where we will be next season. Sandro would be a great addition to the squad to boost our defensive power.
The biggest speculation in Chelsea’s summer is the big man up front, Diego Costa. Diego told Spanish press that Conte does not want him in his plans next season, which ultimately makes him want to leave. Take nothing away from Diego, he has been our best striker since Didier without a doubt, helping us to two more Premier League titles with a number of vital goals in important games. The Brazilian born Spanish international prefers a move back to his old club Atletico, no hard feelings. Thank you Diego.
Most of all, thank you Antonio. He has been crucial to our fantastic title winning season. Now that we are in the Champions League, I only expect more success with the Italian. He loves this club, and we love him.
We look forward to the upcoming season.
Written by Luke Newton