1. Appointing Antonio Conte
Put aside how Conte has dragged this team up from mid-table to top of the tree for one moment and consider his influence off the field.
In so many aspects Conte is the opposite to Mourinho; he is a gentlemen, courteous to players and journalists and never abrupt or rude about other managers. It is notable how Chelsea just feels like a far happier club this season.
2. Beating Arsenal to N’Golo Kante
Only one player of Leicester’s title-winning side left and they have dropped from first to ninth as things stand. Meanwhile Chelsea have risen from 10th to first.
Of course it’s not all down to N’Golo Kante but his impact on Chelsea has been absolutely incredible. Bar one or two matches this season he has dominated in more or less every game and that has been particularly important given Nemanja Matic’s struggles and Cesc Fabregas’ lack of defensive work.
3. Bringing back David Luiz
However off the field he may have had a bigger impact. Continuing on the earlier theme that Chelsea seem happier a lot of that could be down to Luiz. His team-mates have spoken of how his personality is great to have around and he may have filled the gap that emerged when Didier Drogba left the club after the 2014/15 title success.
4. The Arsenal defeat and tactical switch
When Conte first came to England it was widely expected he would use three central defenders. However the Italian stressed that wouldn’t necessarily be the case, pointing to when he first joinedJuventus and managed Bari, preferring to use a 4-2-4.
But they were savaged by Arsenal and Conte went into brutal mode. Captain John Terry was left out as were Branislav Ivanovic and Oscar whilst Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses came in at wing-back to great effect. Now the system is being adopted up and down the division, including by Arsene Wenger. Conte didn’t invent the system, but he set the trend this year
5. Beating Manchester City home and away
The win against Tottenham Hotspur in November was key, particularly because Chelsea didn’t play particularly well, but beating Manchester City home and away was crucial. Last season Chelsea were turned over 3-0 home and away by City and on both occasions City put down a marker.
In the first game it was their first victory away from home against a big team, following up that win against Spurs, and the second came just a few days after losing to Crystal Palace. The Palace defeat was a shock to everyone’s system. It was only Chelsea’s second defeat of 2017 and this was a Palace team, who despite an upturn in form, were expected to be beaten pretty easily.
6. Revitalising the Spanish core
With the signing of Marcos Alonso over the summer Chelsea’s Spanish contingent rose to five but at various stages it could have been less, with the only member certain of his place being CesarAzpilicueta.
7. Giving Gary Cahill the captaincy
When it became clear that neither Terry nor Ivanovic featured in Conte’s first-choice team, with the latter leaving in January, Conte had a decision to make over his captain.
There were certainly a few options within the squad such as Azpilicueta, Matic and Fabregas but he went for Cahill, and he’s been rewarded for his choice.
Not only have Cahill’s performances stepped up from last season as he has become the leader of the team, he has also scored crucial goals at crucial moments, just like Terry did, and he is the one driving the team on during difficult moments.
8. West Ham ending Spurs’ winning run
Chelsea fans were confident going into the final few weeks of the season but there was a slight sense of apprehension given Spurs’ incredible run. Mauricio Pochettino‘s men won nine Premier League games in a row between February and May and it almost felt as the momentum that was with them could see them overhaul the Blues.