A month to savour
Seb Coe Sat 12 Nov 2016
What a month it has been. Five league wins, no goals conceded and a hatful of goals to boot.
In that time, I have been travelling around six continents, watching Chelsea matches all over the world. I saw us beat Man Utd at four in the morning in a casino in Sydney and I saw us beat Southampton from Johannesburg, so it has been a busy time but I did manage to get to the Everton game at the weekend.
While beating Man Utd was a big moment, it wasn’t quite the joyous football that beating the Toffees provided. At no stage on Saturday did it look like we had anything other than a vice-like grip on a side that has been playing good football.
I thought the atmosphere at Stamford Bridge was fantastic too. It was noisy, and what I’ve always known about Chelsea fans is that of course we want to win, but we want to play good football, the Chelsea way, whether that’s as we did in the great side of the 1970s, the approach with Eddie McCreadie’s young team or the gung-ho, fluid stuff that Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti both played.
There is a great number of people that want to be excited and entertained and that’s what Antonio Conte’s men served up on Saturday. And of course, the five goals could be important by the end of the season. It’s so tight at the top so every little advantage could help.
I have seen on this very website that John Motson has suggested it’s the best team performance he has ever seen. When I started writing for The Sheffield Morning Telegraph, my editor would always put a thick line through any such claims, saying, ‘How could you know? You haven’t seen everything.’ So I’m loathe to say it was the best but I have to say I can’t remember leaving a ground feeling so uplifted by the quality of what I saw.
The only shame now after hitting such a vein of form is to have the hiatus of an international break. I think the manager would have preferred to be playing again this weekend after this run. Once you hit form you want to take it as far as you can. But Antonio and the players will deal with that and will utilise the time they have to come back just as hungry.
Great coaching skills come to nothing unless you have a hungry team with an appetite to improve, and that’s what Conte has.
What he has done is something I wrote about previously. There is a mental resilience to the side which comes from supreme physical conditioning. As an athlete, when I was at my best mentally it was because I knew I’d covered everything I needed to in training.
We all know he gave them a tough pre-season and has conditioned them well between games too. This season he has the advantage of setting them up for one game a week. It’s a disappointment we’re not in the Champions League, but it allows us the time to prepare for games and focus fully on the task in the Premier League in this transitional year.
Look at how well the team has adapted to playing three at the back. David Luiz has settled into the back three and we have seen textbook defending, while Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses have been revelatory. The new system is also good for Eden Hazard, who doesn’t have to track back and can position himself ready to run at defences. All these things are helping and the bench also looks very strong again.
Now we have to pick up where we left off against Middlesbrough next weekend before the big London derby against Spurs on 26 November. There is no doubt the Stamford Bridge atmosphere will be just as lively then, and I for one cannot wait.