The Inside Track: Chelsea

By SFC Media Thu 27 Oct Saints vs Chelsea

Get the lowdown on this weekend's opponents Chelsea, from London Evening Standard football correspondent Simon Johnson.

How would you sum up Chelsea’s start to the season?

I think it’s been a mixed bag and inevitably so because they’re getting used to a new manager in Antonio Conte and he’s still figuring out the players he can rely on.

He’s changed system because defensively they were having problems last month so there’s inconsistency and it’s been going quite well recently, with three straight league wins, but the strength of the squad was put under question because of result at West Ham in the League Cup.

If you were to offer Chelsea a top four finish right now, I think they’d shake your hand, walk away and be quite happy with that.

What sort of an impact has Antonio Conte made since his arrival?

Overall, you’d have to say it’s been a positive one. He didn’t get all the players he really was looking for in the summer.

I think what has been the most impressive aspect is that he’s probably the first Chelsea coach in a number of years to genuinely arrive at the club and give everyone at the club a clean slate.

He hasn’t picked players on reputation but sort of said look if you perform for me, I’ll pick you. We’ve started to see players who perhaps had no future at the club, for example Victor Moses, reborn under Conte as a right-wing back.

For all the criticism of the Academy, you’re also starting to see youngsters like Nathaniel Chalobah being given a chance in the first-team.

Nathaniel Chalobah in action against West Ham

He’s still got a lot to learn but no one can dispute his passion for the job, as anyone who has seen his celebrations on the sidelines will testify!

What has the style of play been like under Conte's stewardship?

He’s still trying to find a balance but whilst he was very perturbed by the amount of goals they were conceding, he doesn’t want to sacrifice the attacking threat just to keep clean sheets.

It’s still very attacking as the 3-4-3 formation would suggest and it’s not a negative formation. He wants the wing-backs to bomb forward and it also gives Eden Hazard more freedom.

He’s got the best out of Diego Costa who is probably playing his best level of football since joining the club.

It’s entertaining to watch but conversely that means the opposition always have a chance to score so they’re involved in a lot of end-to-end kind of games which is perhaps not what they’ve been renowned for in the Roman Abramovich era.

Who have been the key men so far this season?

You can’t not mention N’Golo Kante who is clearly the best signing Chelsea made in the summer and arguably one of the best signings anyone made.

For £32m I think it’s an absolute steal as he’s been tremendous most weeks. They have moved his position as he was originally in more of a 4-1-4-1 formation.

He was being picked as a shield in front of the back four but it stifled some of his more attacking attributes, and in the 3-4-3 system he’s much more of a box-to-box midfielder.

Also, Nemanja Matic was someone who spent a good year in the doldrums but next to Kante he has rediscovered his form and those two form an impressive duo.

N'Golo Kante celebrates against Manchester United

What sort of game are you expecting?

I’m expecting a tough game for Chelsea because Southampton have been in good form and it’s great to see Charlie Austin scoring goals.

At QPR it was clear to see his ability and he’ll give Chelsea’s defence a tough afternoon.

Chelsea nicked a win last season but St Mary’s is a difficult place to go and I think if they win this one they’ll be very happy going back up the M3 afterwards.

If nothing else, I think it’ll be an entertaining game with lots of action at both ends which is what any football fan wants.

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