The Premier League is often earmarked for its unpredictability, its competitiveness and above all the pure sporting spectacle the league offers to viewers around the world. The 2016/17 season has been no different, though as March dawns there is a notable early run-away leader at the top of the Premier League table, and that team is Chelsea FC.
Antonio Conte’s appointment at Stamford Bridge was far from underwhelming at the close of the 2015/16 season, though filling the boots of an iconic managerial hero in Jose Mourinho was set to be a task many would describe as unassailable and daunting. If ever there was a handbook written on assailing the unassailable, I’d give Antonio Conte a ring right now. The Italian had previously overseen title-winning spells at Juventus and his managerial tenure with the Italy national team was considered a success by many: Abramovich was aware he was bringing in a man of passion with a winning mentality instilled within.
What Mr Abramovich would not have perhaps anticipated is the regime of sheer dominance Chelsea were set to embark on following Conte’s appointment. Whilst there have been blips; notably 2-1 and 3-0 defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal respectively in September, Conte has found a starting XI that works in a somewhat mesmerising style. The return to form of Eden Hazard has played a role of indescribable importance in Chelsea’s ascent to the top, whilst Diego Costa’s 17 league goals have also been integral to the teams success, though a Summer purchase; £32m to be exact, has surely been Conte’s smartest piece of business that has borne an impact of surreal proportions. That man is Ngolo Kante.
Kante was arguably Leicester’s most important player in their mesmeric title win in 2016. Whilst Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez won accolades of a national and international nature, Kante was quietly going about his business though increasing his £5.6m transfer fee from Caen in the process: a 570% profit for Leicester following their dealings with Chelsea in the close season. This is a player who can quite simply be described as phenomenal, and I firmly believe he is on course to succeed his previous counterpart Riyad Mahrez as the PFA Player’s Player of the Year for 2017/18: watch this space.
David Luiz’ re-emergence for the Blues has been timely, and a process of maturing has unquestionably occurred in between his trip across the channel to PSG. Luiz alongside Cahill and Azpilicueta have given Chelsea a footing of defensive stability that is unrivalled with regard to their Premier League opponents, whilst Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses have shone in Conte’s infamous 3-5-2 tactical system. This is a team that are quite clearly playing for their manager in a way that is almost incomparable to the deflated, defeatist attitude shown by the players under Conte’s predecessor; Mr Mourinho, and the Italian mastermind deserves huge credit for this. Should Mr Abramovich’s latest leader steer Chelsea to their 5th title since 2005, they will have matched Manchester United in Premier League titles in that time.
The era of Mancunian dominance has evidently begun to diminish, and with Spurs knocking on the door under the increasingly impressive Mauricio Pochettino, are we about to encounter a shift in the dominant forces within the English game? It’s far too early to make such a stark prediction, but amidst the uncertainty there is one inevitable guarantee. Antonio Conte is coming for the title, and with a few tweaks and an impetus of financial support from one Roman Abramovich, Chelsea FC are set for big, big things. How big? Only time will tell.