Signing N’Golo Kanté
Rarely has a £30 million signing been described a bargain, but Kanté has been just that for Chelsea – particularly when you consider he often does the work of two men. The midfielder was voted PFA Player of the Year he has even managed to improve on his performances in Leicester’s title-winning season. Conte has stressed the need for Kanté to look to pass forwards more often and he has taken that on.
The switch to a back three
Three has been the magic number for Chelsea. Three goals down against Arsenal after 55 minutes, Conte sent on summer signing Marcos Alonso to replace Cesc Fabregas in perhaps the most significant change of the season. Chelsea’s new-look back three did not concede any more goals and Conte had found a system that he trusted. Victor Moses stepped in at right wing-back for the following victory over Hull and Conte had cracked it. Even Arsène Wenger has followed suit.
Winning at Manchester City
This was the moment in December that Chelsea really started to believe they could win the title. A year earlier, they would have been comfortably dispatched by Pep Guardiola’s team after falling a goal behind and struggling to get hold of the ball. But Conte’s men displayed the kind of clinical edge that became a feature of their success to secure a victory that flooded the squad with belief. It also proved to be a turning point for Fabregas under Conte.
Equalling Arsenal’s record
Chelsea beat Manchester United, Everton, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur during their winning run that equalled Arsenal’s record in a single season.
From October through to January, the Blues were untouchable and opened up a six-point lead at the top of the table. After victory
No 13 against Stoke City, Spurs were fifth and 13 points back, which ultimately proved too much to make up. Conte out-coached, out-thought and out-performed Guardiola, Mourinho, Wenger and Jürgen Klopp.
Dropping Diego Costa
This was the moment it could have all gone wrong. Costa had his head turned by a big January offer from Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian and rowed with Conte at the training ground. The Italian took the gamble of dropping Costa for the trip to Leicester City and the decision worked as Chelsea won 3-0, Conte had reaffirmed his authority and Costa made a goalscoring return against Hull City the following week. It was a lesson in management and proved Conte would not stand for any nonsense.
Getting Hazard to lose weight
Conte knew he had to get the best out of Eden Hazard to succeed and the first job was to reduce the Belgian’s body fat. That was achieved over a gruelling pre-season in which the Italian cut pizza, ketchup and fizzy drinks out of the diets of his players. The result has been that not only has Hazard been better than ever, he has also worked harder than ever. The pick of Hazard’s magic moments came with the superb individual goal against Arsenal in February.
Pedro’s Goodison goal
Conte would not say it publicly, but Chelsea felt the trip to Everton was the game in which they could win the title. This was the last big test of Chelsea’s run-in and they passed it in large part thanks to Pedro. The Spaniard, who has been so crucial this season, scored with a second-half screamer and from that minute on Chelsea cruised to the win that practically killed off Tottenham’s hopes. Pedro’s strike will surely live long in the memory of the supporters who travelled to Merseyside.