May 15 – When Chelsea announced last April that Italian Antonio Conte would become their manager, they knew they had signed someone with a proven track record of success. But having finished 10th the previous season, getting back to winning the Premier League title straight away seemed too tall an order.
Yet within the space of a few months, the former Juventus and Italian national coach has taken Chelsea back to the pinnacle of English football.
The Italian – whose charisma and passion have endeared him even to those who despise Chelsea – was always expected to improve the club’s Premier league standing.
But not to win it in his first season, upstaging the likes of Pep Guardiola (Manchester City) Jurgen Klopp (Liveprool) and former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho (Manchester United) in the process.
“We are underrated a bit, and we might slip under the radar,” Conte said when he first took over. “But I hope there is a small flame flickering here that can grow into a blazing inferno.”
You can say that again.
Conte’s success, as has been well chronicled, can be traced back to his early Chelsea days and a 3-0 setback at Arsenal in September which had the bookies rating Chelsea’s title chance at 25 to 1.
The rest is history. Conte was brave enough to switch to 3-4-3 and Chelsea never looked back as he got the best out of players who needed a new motivator and master tactician to get them firing on all cylinders – and someone who could inject an all-for-one mentality.
It should not be forgotten, however, that Chelsea had no European fixtures to worry about this season. Whether they will be able to maintain the same intensity and level of fitness now that they are back in the Champions league remains to be seen.
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