Things are not going to plan for Pep Guardiola, who was cast as the star role for the new managerial super league in England this year – or at least supposed to fight for that spot with Jose Mourinho.
Another summer arrival, however, has quietly gone about a small revolution at Chelsea, and Antonio Conte deserves immense credit after taking the Blues to the top of the Premier League this evening.
Chelsea moved ahead of Manchester City in first place with a thumping 5-0 win over Everton, which many pundits are calling the best all-round performance by any team in the top flight this season.
Of course, there’s a long way to go yet and Conte knows all too well already that one or two bad results can paint a very different picture in this league, but here’s how the Italian is – for the moment – eclipsing Guardiola as the best managerial import of 2016/17…
His side have the best stats
Pretty straight forward really, but Chelsea are looking stronger than any other team in pretty much every department so far.
They are, as already mentioned, in first place by virtue of having more points than anyone else. They’ve also scored more goals (26) than any other side and only Spurs (5) have conceded fewer than their 9 goals – and let’s not forget that an off-form Tottenham face a daunting trip to Arsenal on Sunday.
After the same amount of games played last year, Chelsea were 15th in the table and 14 points worse off than they are now. That’s quite a turnaround in just twelve months.
Conte has unleashed a previously unseen skill in this Chelsea star, stats show
He inherited a totally demoralised group of players
Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, Nemanja Matic, Thibaut Courtois…the list goes on – there were plenty of big names unhappy with life at Chelsea this summer, but not anymore.
Conte had a huge job to do when he came in to rebuild this squad of players that had had their confidence totally dashed by Jose Mourinho last season.
Matic recently spoke of his ‘humiliation’ when Mourinho subbed him off after just 20 minutes in a game against Southampton, and now he’s become a surprise creative force in the Blues’ side, more than doubling his tally for assists from last season.
Last season, Hazard didn’t score a league goal until the 23rd of April, now he’s on seven for the season already and playing some of the best football of his career.
Costa looked to have his heart set on a move back to Atletico Madrid after his treatment by Mourinho, now he’s the Premier League’s leading scorer on eight goals.
Yes, City were also poor last season, but Guardiola didn’t have anything near these kinds of problems to deal with.
He’s spent less money
Okay, Chelsea aren’t exactly paupers in the transfer market, but considering their situation, they’ve done well to avoid a massive overhaul of their squad.
Conte could have been tempted to spend his way out of trouble with a raft of new big-name signings, with many of those such as Paul Pogba and John Stones who ended up at Manchester United and City respectively also long linked with the Londoners.
Chelsea spent £116million this summer on a squad that finished 10th. City, meanwhile, on the back of a fourth placed finish forked out a whopping £150million on new players, including 33-year-old goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, who looks a more and more baffling choice by the week.
He’s avoided controversy
Can you imagine it? A new manager coming in and NOT looking to ruffle feathers at every opportunity?
We’ve become so used to the Mourinho-Guardiola soap opera and everything that surrounds it that it’s become barely comprehensible that an incoming coach could actually just try to restore the harmony to a team.
And, Cesc Fabregas aside, that’s precisely what Conte has done in what was by no means an easy environment at Chelsea.
While Guardiola has gone about making enemies in semi-legendary City figures like Joe Hart and Yaya Toure, as well as flirting to do the same with Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany, Conte has done brilliantly to keep unhappy players at the club when they could well have walked.
As already mentioned, Hazard, Matic and others were at all-time lows last season, and even John Terry’s future looked in doubt as the club stalled on offering him a new contract.
Despite taking a pay-cut and playing less regularly, the veteran defender has seemingly accepted his new role happily to keep things moving smoothly in the beginning of the Conte era.
He’s winning the tactics battle
Long before Guardiola even set foot in Manchester we’d heard all about his amazing tactical quirks.
The Spaniard was the inventor of ‘tiki-taka’ at Barcelona, and went even more experimental at Bayern Munich with players moved into unusual positions and new formations tried out almost on a weekly basis.
Conte did not arrive with such a reputation, portrayed instead largely as a very shouty Italian man who liked his players to run around a lot. But he’s now undeniably come up with the tactical master-stroke of the season so far.
Since changing to a 3-4-3, Conte’s Chelsea have won five Premier League games in a row, scoring 16 goals and conceding zero. ‘I never saw a team playing so well this system,’ said a shell-shocked Ronald Koeman after today’s match.
It’s taken a while for anyone to notice due to all the fuss about managers elsewhere, but Conte’s Chelsea revolution is just starting to take shape and it’s very exciting indeed.