Blues’ Hard-Fought Stoke Victory Shows They Have the Mettle to Claim Premier League Crown

Credit: Chelsea Football Club via Facebook.

Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over Stoke City may not have been as convincing as Blues fans were hoping for, but the ability of Antonio Conte’s squad to overcome the spoiling tactics employed by the tenacious – often overly aggressive – Potters proved more than ever that they are a champion side.

For most of Saturday afternoon, it appeared as though Stoke boss Mark Hughes’ gameplan was set to return dividends for the ninth-placed side. Despite Chelsea taking an early lead through Willian, Stoke hit back with a 38-minute penalty through Jon Walters, who had been ruled to have been pushed by Cahill.

From that point on, the Potters looked as though they had Chelsea’s number, with their aggressive and resilient defence roughing up Diego Costa – who gave back as good as he got – in an attempt to unsettle the notoriously fiery forward. Numerous players ended up in the book as Costa found himself a frequent target of both opposition players and fans; the Spaniard himself received a yellow card following a typically angry outburst directed towards referee Anthony Taylor in the first period.

Later, Hughes would deny his Stoke side deliberately picked out the Blues’ number 19 for special treatment. “People are trying to say we targeted him – absolutely not,” Hughes insisted. “I played in that position many, many years”, he says, calling Costa an “outstanding” striker. But at the same time, “he has elements of his play you don’t need. It takes away from his image as a player. It’s not necessary… he went over too easily on numerous occasions and he stays down.”

Despite such criticism of Costa being nothing new, the Spanish international cut a different figure in the second half, with his focus now thankfully being more on his football than tussling with opponents. That’s not to say Stoke let up their aggression, however; Phil Bardsley would eventually see himself sent off in the game’s closing stages for two bookable discretions.

With 20 minutes remaining on the clock and no signs of a breakthrough, Conte decided to gamble on changing up a 3-4-3 formation that has proved so successful this season by sending on Cesc Fabregas for Victor Moses – who has reportedly aggravated a calf injury.

Credit: Chelsea Football Club via Facebook.

As it happens, the gamble ultimately paid off, with Cahill making up for giving away the penalty in the first half by firing home the winner from a corner on 87 minutes. In the game’s final quarter, the Blues could well have gone for broke as the scoreline became increasingly frustrating. However, the side were able to remain admirably patient, turning the screw on their scrappy but admittedly outclassed opponents until they eventually got their reward.

The scenes of jubilation on the bench and stands that followed both Cahill’s goal and the final whistle were telling: Chelsea had been made to work damned hard for the three points that now take them 13 points clear at the top of the table heading into the international break and 1/25 in the Premier League betting to claim the crown.

Make no mistake about it: while those celebrations no doubt included a healthy dose of relief, what fans really applauded was the fact that the Blues had the mental fortitude go down to the wire to grind out a scrappy win in the face of some aggressive defensive tactics; the hallmark of a successful Premier League – and some may daresay double – winning side.

Conte: ‘Incredible’ Chelsea would never play for draw

The Blues boss has praised his team’s mentality and revealed how his team feel like they can beat anyone, even when faced with hardship during a game

Antonio Conte is proud that his Chelsea side pushed so hard for victory against Stoke City and says that his team have the mentality to fight for all three points against any opposition in the Premier League, making them favourites to win their next home game against Palace, according to footballbets.tips.

Stoke is a famously hard place to win and Mark Hughes’ men looked to impose themselves phyiscally on the league leaders on Saturday, but Gary Cahill’s 87th minute strike earned Chelsea all three points.

Willian opened the scoring, but Chelsea had to come back after Anthony Taylor’s harsh penalty decision gave Stoke and Jonathan Walters and equaliser against the run of play.

And Conte underlined that his side will always go for the win, and that they have learned a real winning mentality under his leadership.

“This must be Chelsea’s mentality. Chelsea are a great team and must play always to win,” Conte told reporters after the win. “When we play this type of team, you must have, you must build and you must work on this aspect and the mentality to grow.

“I think that today we showed, from the start until the end, the will to win the game. Not to come here only for one point. To try to manage the game. We try to play the game to win. In the end I think we deserved to win.”

Conte has been reluctant to get sucked into talk of a league and cup double as Chelsea remain in the FA Cup semi-final as they lead the league title race with a strong lead.

But he admitted that his side’s journey has been “incredible” and seemed a little taken aback by how quickly his new team have taken to his ideas this season.

“It is incredible, our path,” he added. “It is incredible what we are doing. For sure, if we think in the first part of the season, when we started this league. For sure, we put Chelsea with the teams to fight for the title.

“At the start of the season, it wasn’t bad after three wins, then we changed a lot. Now we stayed on top of the table, we are deserving to stay there. I have to tell thanks to my players because they are working a lot. Working hard.

“They trust our football, in our idea. They show in every game a great commitment. Great will to fight. Great will to show we can win the league.”

Chelsea And Conte May Come To Regret EFL Cup Exit

Chelsea continued their excellent start to their Premier League campaign at the weekend by beating Middlesbrough to not only record another win but to bring up their sixth consecutive clean-sheet in the competition. The Blues have not conceded a goal now in the Premier League in 590 minutes since Mesut Ozil was the last man to beat Thibaut Courtois between the Chelsea goal in Arsenal’s 3-0 victory in the London derby at the Emirates Stadium back in September.

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Conte nuovo “allenatore” della Nazi” (CC BY 2.0) by NazionaleCalcio

Conte arrived in the summer at Stamford Bridge after a two-year spell with the Italy national team. He came with a reputation of fielding sides which are very hard to break down and that is finally rubbing off on the Blues who top the table by one point ahead of Liverpool and Manchester City respectively.

The Chelsea boss has particularly had success with the system he has adopted with his new side. Chelsea have used a 3-4-3 formation this season with David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta bringing up his defensive line. In front of the back three, summer signing N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic have offered protection in midfield, while Diego Costa is arguably the most in form striker in the league with 10 goals to his name already in the campaign.

Wins over Manchester United, Southampton, Everton and defending Premier League champions Leicester in recent weeks has sent a message round to the rest of the clubs in the league that Chelsea are serious title contenders this season. They were more or less out of the running this time 12 months ago in a very poor attempt at trying to retain their trophy so it’s been an impressive turnaround.

However, although Chelsea have got themselves in a great position in the league going into the very busy Christmas schedule, Conte may come to regret not advancing into the quarter-final of the EFL Cup.

Chelsea fell in the 4th round of the competition to London rivals West Ham back in October. Goals from Cheikhou Kouyate and Edimilson Fernandes put the Hammers through to the last eight at the expense of the Blues.

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Wembley Stadium” (CC BY 2.0) by HerryLawford

 

Former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho was always keen to do well in the League Cup as it is the first opportunity to win silverware in the season. Success at Wembley in the competition takes the pressure of a club going into the final few months of their league campaign. The Portuguese boss has taken that approach to Manchester United where his side remain in the tournament and are 7/2 in the League Cup betting to lift the trophy in February.

With Chelsea not in Europe this season, you would expect the cup competitions to carry extra significance. Conte does not have the disadvantage of having to juggle his squad between midweek European trips and domestic games at the weekend. The Italian does still have the FA Cup though which you would expect him to take very seriously considering it is one of only trophies he can now win this season with the Blues.

Who could join Chelsea before the transfer window closes?

New Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has not made wholesale changes to the Chelsea squad he inherited this summer after joining the Blues from the Italian national team, but he has strengthened well with the acquisition of two world class players.

The first signing the former Italy boss made was striker Michy Batshuayi from Marseille who cost the club £33.2 million. The Belgium forward scored 17 goals in Ligue 1 last season and is expected to be suited to the physical demands of the Premier League.

Conte also splashed out over £30 million on N’Golo Kante from Leicester. The Frenchman played a key role in helping the Foxes win the title last season so should be a great signing for the Blues as they look to regain their Premier League crown in a market where they are 11-2 with Betway.

Here are five players who could also join the club before the window shuts later this month:

Kalidou Koulibaly – Napoli

Napoli defender Koulibaly is likely to leave his Italian side this summer and there are a number of clubs chasing the Senegal international who could £50 million before he leaves Serie A.

Conte will be very keen to add another defender to his squad given the injury to Kurt Zouma, while John Terry is now into his final season at the club and at the age of 35 may not be able to play a full season.

Romelu Lukaku – Everton

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?????? ?????? / Romelu Lukak” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by  Aleksandr Osipov 

Jose Mourinho allowed Lukaku to leave Chelsea for Everton back in the summer of 2014 but it now looks like the Belgium striker could be set for a return to Stamford Bridge. Since leaving the Blues, the 23-year old has developed into one of the top strikers in the Premier League.

Lukaku is thought to be keen on a move away from Goodison Park however, Arsenal are also in the hunt to add the striker to their ranks before the transfer window shuts later this month.

The Everton forward scored 25 goals in all competitions last season, his best tally to date since moving to England from Anderlecht in 2011.

Blaise Matuidi – PSG

Matuidi missed PSG’s recent 4-1 victory over Lyon fuelling speculation that the Frenchman could be leaving the Ligue 1 champions this summer.

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_MG_2839” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by  xavnal 

If Chelsea do manage to get this transfer over the line it could cost them over £40 million for one of Europe’s leading midfielders.

The 29-year old played a key role in helping France reach the final of Euro 2016, while he has a wealth of experience of playing Champions League football with PSG.

Shkodran Mustafi – Valencia

German international Mustafi started his career in England with Everton, but he failed to make a single appearance for the Toffees in the Premier League.

The German made his mark in Italy with Sampdoria before moving to Spain to join Valencia. His performances for the Spanish club earned him a spot at the 2014 World Cup which he won which Germany.

Mustafi would likely walk straight into Conte’s starting XI if the Chelsea boss can get beat his rivals for the signature of the German.

Simone Zaza – Juventus

Zaza is a player Conte knows very well given he has managed the striker with the Italian national team and a deal could be done with Juve including Nemanja Matic who may head in the opposite direction to Zaza.

Juventus have recently sold Paul Pogba to Manchester United and see Matic as an ideal replacement and they may be happy to let go of Zaza to make that deal happen.

The unmanaged expectations of Chelsea FC

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Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea FC” (CC BY 2.0) by  Ben Sutherland 

 

On the back of a disasterous 2015/2016 campaign which saw them forfeit their Premier League crown in the most feeble of fashions, Chelsea have undertaken a rebuilding project which has bred new optimism around Stamford Bridge this summer.

 

Getting down to brass tacks, the project has also incurred its fair share of heavy costs financially. Off the pitch, highly-regarded Italian boss Antonio Conte finished up his successful stint with the Azzurri at Euro 2016 to come and manage in West London whilst on the pitch  N’Golo Kante has swapped his Leicester City shirt for a lighter shade of Chelsea Blue and we as a club, have incurred a not-too-paltry transfer fee of £30 million for the privalege.

With the acquisition of a manager of Conte’s pedigree not coming cheap neither, all the cash being thrown around in the lead-up this year’s Premier League campaign has only ramped up the pressure. The Blues are currently 11/2 to win the Premiership according to the football betting and considering the fact supporters have had their heads and indeed their expectations firmly in the sky since Abramovich took over last decade, anything less than Champions League football next year will be seen as an unmitigated disaster. Even then some Chelsea fans will argue we’re still setting the bar too low and they have every reason to think that.

Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt), the protaganist for the hit 2011 film Moneyball – a movie about a prudent baseball scout who uses disregarded stats as opposed to face-value judgements to sign players who have been massively undervalued in the market, once proclaimed to his down-on-their-luck Baseball team:

“You may not look like a winning team but you are one.”

Whilst we can see the irony in the fact Chelsea’s transfer policy has been anything but moneyball in these past few years, the sentiment uttered by this Oakland A’s coach can be firmly applied to the Blues’ lost bunch of footballing misfits.

A winning team on paper but not by nature (or is it the other way round?), the first task at hand for Conte when he opens that dressing room door this summer will be reminding his ailing stars that they are indeed winners. The way in which Jose Mourinho master-minded this same group of players (mostly) to their 2014/2015 Premier League championship should be evidence enough that they’re a team built to win football matches.

With other high profile acquisitions reportedly on their way – Leicester City’s other sought-after midfielder Riyad Mahrez has been linked with a move to Stamford Bridge this week, reinvigorating the old guard whilst bedding in the fresh new talent is the key to building a Chelsea side who can challenge for trophies this season.

With old foes Manchester United and indeed their neighbours Manchester City also building title-challenging sides worth envying over, Conte as well as many of Chelsea’s expectant fans should be made aware of the task at hand they face this season.

As the old adage goes, ‘the road to sucess isn’t paved in gold’, even if you’re spending said gold like it’s going out of fashion.