After the fourth goal went in, Jose Mourinho made a gesture of an exasperated man and quickly put water in his mouth before spitting it out in disgust. The Man Utd manager had just witnessed the annihilation of his team and there was absolutely nothing he could do to stop it. A contest had become a walk-over in a matter of seconds. For the critics who have been calling for his head, the devastating loss was further evidence to buttress their point, but for Chelsea, the emphatic win has shown the world that we are still very much in the race for the League title.
Much was made of Mourinho’s homecoming to Chelsea: Will the fans cheer or boo him? If his team scores, will he celebrate? It was after-all only the second time that the Portuguese would bring another team to Stamford bridge (Inter Milan being the first). The blues had to do something sensational to take the spotlight away from Jose. And boy, were we sensational!
Barring the UEFA super cup final in 2013 – where Chelsea played mind-blowingly well until big Romelu ruined it – the match against united was our best in a long time. We attacked relentlessly throughout. Pressing. Choking. Hassling the united players every single time they had the ball. What’s more, the players didn’t even look tired at the final whistle. The match was a strong testament that the intense double training sessions, the new eating regime and the entire management of Antonio Conte is reaping fruits.
The Italian stallion, who was purchased for his expertise in winning, has taken time to implement his philosophy into the team gradually. He was largely expected to continue right where he left off at Juventus with a three-man defensive partnership set-up when he signed for Chelsea. Yet he started with the traditional 4-2-3-1. First, the team was scrapping for victories with two last-gasp goals in the opening two league games and then we were humiliated by Arsenal, eight days after we lost to Liverpool at home. Something had to change. Conte had to revert back to his old tricks. Enter the 3-4-3 – ever since we started with this beauty, the team has won three straight games, scored nine times and conceded none.
The basic premise of the 3-4-3 is fluidity. Two wingbacks provide width options by hugging the touchlines – exactly what Marcos Alonso was doing when he laid the pass for Pedro’s goal – in order to stretch the opposition. This allows much room for Hazard and the likes to operate. When the team is under attack, the wing-backs fall back to a 5-man shield to protect the goalkeeper. The central midfielders also play prominent roles in the set-up. The more defensive of the two (Kante) acts as a buffer for the central man in the three-man defense (David Luiz). The Brazil international’s ball-playing ability is being utilized perfectly by Conte as when he ventures forward as he often does, Kante falls back into defense. There is also reduced defensive duties for the likes of Eden Hazard and Pedro, notwithstanding, they are assigned to press rabidly higher up the pitch as replays from the match had shown.
At the start of the new season, we weren’t even listed as top four candidates. Manchester city, who had just got Pep Guardiola, was tipped to run away with the League title. It was certainly looking set to go that way after City had a 100% record in all competitions until Tottenham ran their way to a rampant victory and city became winless ever since. And now with only one point separating first from fourth (our current standing) on the log, Chelsea have become title challengers again, but so are Manchester city, Arsenal, Tottenham, and Liverpool, in the tempestuous community that is the premier league.
Thursday, we face a somewhat rejuvenated West ham side for the EFL cup match at the Olympic stadium. The team is expected to be changed very much, with Oscar, John Terry, and Willian all in contention for a starting place. Win this match alongside the upcoming league fixture with Southampton, and the blues could be on an audacious procession to the double. Breathe, people now.
(Side note: Just how emotionally mad is Antonio Conte! The godfather shouts, barks and conducts the teams every move. He should never leave!)