Chelsea had a rough September. After starting out their first EPL season under Antonio Conte with three up-and-down wins, they tied lowly Swansea, then lost two in a row to Liverpool and Arsenal. With both of those teams resurgent and Manchester City rounding into form under Pep Guardiola, it appeared that Chelsea’s goose was more or less cooked two months into the season. The Premier League is outlandishly competitive and coaches can get shitcanned over a bad two weeks without hesitation.
Instead of going belly-up, Chelsea turned on the jets and have not dropped points once since their Sep. 24 loss to Arsenal just under three whole months ago. Almost halfway through the EPL season, they hold a six-point lead over Liverpool and Arsenal, and a seven-pointer over City. Chelsea have allowed just two goals over their last nine games and banged in 24 of their own.
And they’ve done it all without truly overhauling the roster that farted its way to an anonymous tenth place finish. Diego Costa looked like a broken man under Jose Mourinho, and he was supposedly considering slinking back to Spain this summer. Instead, he’s the EPL’s leading scorer and looks better than he ever has in England. Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic played like worn out husks under Mourinho last year, but they’ve returned to running opposing midfields ragged this year.
Victor Moses has perhaps been the biggest surprise of all. Moses seemed destined to become one of the many young players who can’t break through into the Chelsea first team, end up going to Stoke or something when they’re 27, and are referred to as a “former Chelsea man” for the rest of their careers. Moses, however, has been the poster child for Conte’s switch to a 3-4-3 formation and has found new life as a right wing back and torn up opposing full backs in one-on-ones.
Of course, N’Golo Kante, David Luiz, and Marcos Alonso have also anchored the team, and Kante in particular makes the new formation tick. Conte still inherited more or less the same team that Jose Mourinho drove into the ground and he has them singing. Today against lowly Sunderland, they only won 1-0, and have Thibaut Courtois to thank more than anyone else for their three points.
Winning a title isn’t about winning every game 3-0, it’s about grinding and maintaining form over the slog of an entire season. Ironically, Chelsea have Mourinho to thank for their success this season, since they are not contending any European competitions. Both Arsenal and City are still in the Champions League and both teams will be without critical midfielders for long stretches. Tottenham is also still in the Europa League. Because Mourinho burned it down so thoroughly last year, Chelsea will not have to travel across Europe and tire themselves out. Liverpool are strong and dangerous under Klopp, and the aforementioned European travelers still have the firepower to mount a run should something go wrong at Chelsea, but everything is tilted in Chelsea’s favor right now.