Jul. 20, 2017
The Rise of Chelsea
Premier League 2016/17 started as another season filled with hype. The two Manchester clubs were the favorites with two proven managers making numerous big money signings. Combined, Jose and Pep spent over 350 million pounds including the most expensive player ever: Paul Pogba for 89 million. Midst all the hype of the title race, the team who had won the title in 2015 – Chelsea was not even considered in the race due to their woeful title defense.
Endorsing the hype, by September, both Manchester Clubs had won all 3 of their games, dominating their opponents convincingly. Chelsea too had 3 wins, however they were unimpressive at best with 2 of the wins coming through late winners. Post their humiliating 3-0 defeat to Arsenal, Chelsea had tanked to 8th on the table, making many think of Antonio Conte's appointment as a failure.
One game-week later, the inclusion of Victor Moses in the starting eleven raised many eyebrows. Victor Moses, a player who had multiple failed loan spells from Stoke to Liverpool to West Ham. By the end of the game however, all doubts were laid to rest as Chelsea beat Hull City 2-0 with Victor Moses putting in a solid performance. The switch to a 3-4-3 with Moses and Alonso playing as Wing-Backs seemed to have worked. The win was a relief, but it didn't do much for the morale, Chelsea were still in 7th and Hull had been in poor form coming into the game. The confidence did however pick up, as Chelsea beat the struggling reigning champions Leicester 3-0, playing the same formation.
The true clincher, the game to prove the merit of Conte's tactics had yet to be played: Chelsea vs Manchester United. Manchester United had Jose Mourinho: A manager who knew Chelsea inside-out (Having managed the club for more than 4 seasons in 2 stints).United had a great team with quality new signings all around the pitch including Zlatan up front, Pogba in Midfield and Bailey in Defense. Conte had lost the previous 2 games he had played against the 'Big Teams'.
Though all the odds were stacked against Chelsea, Conte proved the doubters wrong, as Chelsea emphatically won 4-0. This was the turning point; Chelsea became serious title challengers. The Blues won every league game in 2016 and ended the year in pole position beating every team in their way.
This outstanding run finally came to an end when the second-placed Spurs beat the Blues 2-0. However, this was a small blip and Chelsea stayed unbeaten till April carrying a 10 point lead.
The Blues suffered a bigger blip in April losing 2 in 4 games, and then came the biggest test of the season: Chelsea vs Spurs in the FA Cup Semi-Final. Spurs were on a huge winning streak and cut the gap between them and Chelsea to just 4 points after Chelsea dropped points. To top it all key players Hazard and Costa were left out on the bench, making many question Conte's seriousness towards the FA Cup. As usual, Conte proved the haters wrong as Hazard's replacement Willian scored 2 goals. However the score was 2-2. Spurs started to dominate the game when Conte made a bold move. The Italian removed Willian (who had scored 2 goals) and brought on Hazard for the last 30 minutes. The substitution worked as Hazard scored 1 and assisted 1 as Chelsea won the game 4-2.
This was a huge morale-booster and after spurs lost a game against West Ham, Chelsea sealed the title by winning 2 more games. They finished the season with 2 more wins ending the season with 91 points, the second-highest in the History of the Club.