Nobody envisaged that one substitution at the end of September, when Chelsea was trailing Arsenal 3-0 in North London, would mark the turning point of the Blues’ season. Antonio Conte replaced Cesc Fabregas with Marcos Alonso after 55 minutes, changing his formation to 3-4-3 in the process with Alonso playing at wing back – a position that Victor Moses and Alonso would later claim themselves. Since then, Chelsea has remained unbeaten in five games, scoring 16 goals while conceding none.
After beating Everton 5-0 last weekend, Ronald Koeman observed, “I’ve never seen a team so strong playing this system. This system is very difficult to play against.”
It is a change of formation that has sparked life into Conte’s Chelsea adventure.
Conte was famous for his 3-5-2 formation when in charge of Juventus and he knows very well how to effectively use three defenders. But it has proved difficult for others to implement, particularly in England where the likes of Hull City and West Brom have tried and failed in recent seasons. In Conte’s case, his players have benefited from the new formation, because Alonso is a great runner while Moses – an offensive player turned right wing-back – also has great speed.
With the two runners at each flank, defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic can roam freely, creating space for Eden Hazard. Matic has created five assists in the league, while Hazard has scored in four consecutive league games – more than just a coincidence.
In the past two months, no Premier League side has figured out how to deal with Chelsea’s new winning formula. But most importantly, as a team that under-performed last season, players like Hazard and Diego Costa suddenly have their confidence restored and are playing like champions again.