Working Hard: Reaction to the Game

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Chelsea 4-0 Manchester United. This was the kind of result I would have dreamed of the night before. Chelsea were firing on all cylinders from defense, to midfield, and ultimately to attack. Not only did the Blues defeat a top opponent, they completely outclassed United in every aspect. Chelsea were great as United were dismal. And to top it all off, it was the return of our once beloved manager Jose Mourinho. The media focused on the build up of the game with Mourinho’s return, but all Mourinho received from the encounter was his biggest Premier League defeat in history where he once called home.

Chelsea were dominant from the beginning courtesy of Pedro’s finish after only 30 seconds. This was followed by a Cahill finish from a set-piece to give us a two goal lead by halftime. Once the second half began, United tried their hardest to get back in the game but a clinical finish from Hazard and even a goal from Kante (I’m still surprised by that one) solidified that Chelsea were definitely the better team on the day. Mourinho and United had no answers. Mourinho’s only answer was that Conte shouldn’t humiliate him after such a lopsided defeat. Oh Jose.

Conte’s tactics, not only in this game but the two prior victories against Hull and Leicester, have proved to be the difference. After losses from joint table toppers Liverpool and Arsenal, Conte made a drastic alteration in formation by deploying a 3-4-3 system. The three center backs have kept a clean sheet in each game the system has been utilized. Luiz is looking like a smart purchase, Cahill seems to have his confidence back after a tumultuous couple of outtings, and Azpilicueta is just a versatile defender who can operate anywhere in the backline. The marauding wing-backs we have in Moses and Alonso do an exceptional job in both defense and attack. The midfield duo of Kante and Matic dictate play with their passing while also shielding the defense. Costa and Hazard are in great form in front of goal. We even have decent squad depth. Willian and Pedro are both viable options to start, providing each other with healthy competition. It’s especially worth noting the emergence of Nathaniel Chalobah. Conte begins to trust him enough that he has made appearances off the bench in four of the last five matches.

Chelsea’s recent run of form have seen the Blues sit 4th in the Premier League table, one point off the top. If this form continues, along with our top rivals dropping first, Chelsea could be first in no time. I believe that we are not only in the hunt for a top four finish, but we can challenge for the title. The defeats against Liverpool and Arsenal made me think for a bit that it was all but over in the league. It appeared that we couldn’t bump shoulders with the best of them. However, back to back demolitions of the reigning champions and Mourinho’s star-studded United have led many to think otherwise, myself included. There’s no reason that Chelsea shouldn’t be challenging for the title and that’s what Conte has instilled in the squad.

In every pre-match and post-match presser I’ve seen, I’ve noticed that Conte puts a great emphasis on “work”. He always says how hard the team have worked and how much work still needs to be done. It shows how much effort the squad has put in during training sessions because they replicate it with tremendous aplomb on the pitch. Hard work does pay off.

Ahead of the EFL Cup game against West Ham, squad rotation is imminent. I’m sure Conte will reiterate the importance of working hard so that Chelsea can continue in the competition and end the season with a trophy or two in the cabinet, but for now Conte and the squad are taking it one game at a time and continuing to work. Around the 20th anniversary of the great Matthew Harding, rest his soul, it is truly rewarding to see how far the team have come and how they intend on maintaining this working mentality.

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Deadline Day Signings

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The summer transfer window has come and gone with a dramatic conclusion on deadline day. Chelsea had already added some depth to the squad by signing Michy Batshuayi, who seems to be involved in goals whenever he is on the pitch, N’Golo Kante, protector of the back-line and overall hard working midfielder, and Eduardo Carvalho, the European Championship winning backup goalkeeper. However, with the aforementioned signings and having won the first four matches played, Chelsea still looked a bit vulnerable defensively. It had been clear for some time that defensive reinforcements were needed and that is exactly what Chelsea sought to fix on deadline day. The signing of left-back Marcos Alonso and the return of an old favorite David Luiz have improved our defense and now have given us a considerable amount of options going forward.

Marcos Alonso was signed from Fiorentina in Italy and becomes Chelsea’s third left-back signing in as many years. Starting his career at Real Madrid’s academy, he had stops at Bolton and Sunderland, giving him prior experience in the English game. While mainly playing as a left-back, he is also comfortable playing on the left side of midfield as well as in a back three. Like many modern fullbacks, Alonso is rather technical and doesn’t have a problem marauding forward in support of the attack. His defensive acumen could use a bit of polishing as many reports have given mixed reviews on his defending. One article I’ve read said Chelsea have overpaid for an average player while another article said he was a “defensive masterclass.” My opinion on him, from the few Fiorentina matches I’ve had the pleasure of watching, is that he’s more than comfortable on the ball but isn’t the best tackling, “no nonsense” defender. However, only time can tell if he is worthy to be a Blue but one thing is for sure that we needed defensive signings so I am not complaining with this transfer.

On the topic of Chelsea’s need for defensive signings, I felt that a center back was just as, if not more, crucial than signing a full back. Seeing transfer rumors such as Kalidou Koulibaly and Alessio Romagnoli not manifesting into anything were disheartening but a familiar face returned to the Bridge. David Luiz made a sensational deadline day return to the club he lifted Europe’s biggest trophy with. I do not need to speak on the Ol’ Geezer’s behalf. He spent three and a half season with the club, lifting an FA Cup and Europa League along with the Champions League on that memorable night in Munich. Upon leaving Chelsea, he joined PSG where he lifted even more trophies while being a mainstay in the center of defense. He even managed to come back to Stamford Bridge and score for PSG. He may be known for having a mistake in him but few could argue about how top class of a footballer he is. His return is nothing but I positive in my eyes. Adding depth to our defense has made me very optimistic for the future.

Seeing that Chelsea fans are already familiar with David Luiz, I’ve taken the liberty of adding a video of Marcos Alonso for those that haven’t gotten an opportunity to see him play. A special shout-out to ScoutNation and their YouTube channel for always producing quality videos that show more than just the goals.

Marcos Alonso | Goals, Skills, Assists | Fiorentina | 2015-16

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Preseason Roundup: US Tour & Trip to Germany

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Preseason friendlies have ended for Chelsea . The club completed the US portion of their preseason tour by playing three matches against Liverpool, Real Madrid, and AC Milan before flying to Germany to face Werder Bremen. The International Champions Cup especially provided a good analysis for Conte (and the fans) on the strengths and weaknesses of the squad before the start of the season. It was helpful to see how the Blues played against stronger clubs after spending time in Austria.

Chelsea beat fellow Premier League club Liverpool 1-0 thanks to a Gary Cahill header from a corner kick. The goal came early and from there Chelsea seemed to sacrifice possession and let Liverpool have the majority of the ball. Although they had 65% possession, Liverpool couldn’t muster too many attacks. Chelsea were very good without the ball and seemed very defensively sound. It’s worth noting that some key players did not participate, especially in attack (Costa and Hazard). Ruben Loftus-Cheek started up front as Conte tries to mold him into a forward. I, for one, don’t think Loftus-Cheek has much to offer going forward. That was more evident in the following game as he seemed to fade away completely.

Chelsea’s next game was against Champions League winners Real Madrid. The weaknesses in the squad were much more noticeable as Real Madrid took a 3-0 lead. They easily cut through our defense time and time again. Chelsea wasn’t good with or without the ball for the first half and Conte made note of that after the match. Once Real Madrid took a more youthful approach during the second half, Chelsea began to attack better. Chelsea subbed in Batshuayi, Cuadrado, Hazard, and Moses in the second half and that attack looked much more dangerous. Hazard rounded the keeper twice and scored to spare us some blushes with a more respectable 3-2 loss but there was still much to do. I’d like to point out that Chalobah played exceptionally well and is forcing his way into Conte’s plans. His passing was quality and many can agree that he should stay with the first team this season.

Chelsea’s last game was against AC Milan. This was a game I wholeheartedly expected Chelsea to prosper in and they came out as 3-1 winners. Chelsea were making more of their attacks early on as Moses’s shot was parried for Traore to score in an open net. After a superb freekick from Milan’s Bonaventura and the second half started, it was all Chelsea from there. N’Golo Kante made his debut for the Blues and Conte seemed to switch his tactics, opting with a 4-1-4-1 formation. This formation appeared to suit Chelsea better as the squad dominated proceedings. Oscar scored the final two goals and many of the players looked sharp as the tour of the US ended.

Chelsea traveled to Germany for their final preseason friendly against Werder Bremen, who humbled Chelsea in preseason two years prior. Conte started with the same formation that Chelsea ended with against AC Milan. It paid off early on as Hazard and Oscar scored before ten minutes. After a Matic tackle conceded a penalty that former Blue Claudio Pizarro scored, Hazard dribbled his way through defenders and found Costa who in turn found the back of the net, giving Chelsea a 3-1 halftime lead. The second half was much quieter. Bremen pulled another one back through Thy and they continued to attack Chelsea’s back line, pulling defenders out of position regularly. Kante, who received his first start, had the task of shielding this defense and by all accounts he did a good job but there’s only so much he can do. The substitutions started coming and Chelsea’s final goal was a well worked passing effort involving Fabregas, Batshuayi, and Pedro the goalscorer. Chelsea’s final game ended 4-2 and they finished preseason with 5 wins and 2 losses, much better than last year’s preseason.

Final thoughts before the start of the season: I favor utilizing a 4-1-4-1 instead of a 4-2-4, strengthening our defense is the #1 priority before the transfer window closes, youth products (Aina, Chalobah, Traore) should be trusted this season, Loftus-Cheek shouldn’t play up top, and I’d rather see what the likes of Batshuayi and Traore can do up front before we spend a huge amount of money to get Lukaku back.

Let the season begin!

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Preseason Roundup: Tour of Austria

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Chelsea have completed the Austrian portion of their preseason preparations. The players are slowly returning one by one following an extended break for those who participated in international tournaments this summer. Antonio Conte is working hard to achieve the right level of fitness for the upcoming campaign by implementing two training sessions a day. The series of friendlies that followed gave Conte and the fans a good gauge of the squad, while also utilizing new formations and tactics.

Chelsea’s first friendly was against one of the best teams in the nation, Rapid Vienna. Rapid had already played a few friendlies and even one game in the Austrian Cup  so they were a bit sharper than Chelsea. This showed early on as the host took the lead in the 8th minute. They moved the ball around well against Chelsea’s defense with great aplomb, as young Brazilian Joelinton rounded Asmir Begovic and put the ball in the back of the net.

Going down a goal seemed to light a fire under the belly as Chelsea pressed for an equalizer. The wide-men in Willian and, especially, Victor Moses proved to be our main threats by dribbling past many a defender and delivering crosses at each end, but to no avail. Diego Costa, who has been subject to several rumors linking him on a return to Atletico Madrid, worked hard up front in his usual bravado; trying to muscle his way through but shooting just wide.

The second half allowed Oscar and young defender Ola Aina to come on at halftime for Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Baba Rahman respectively. Aina subsequently played at left-back. Although usually played at right-back, he didn’t seem out of his element as he played with great confidence. Moses and Oscar seemed to be creating the most in the attacking third as Chelsea retained most of the possession. Nathaniel Chalobah came on for John Obi Mikel and fired a ferocious shot that was parried away. Later on Aina managed to hit the post from very deep but an equalizing goal eluded the Blues. Rapid were able to double their advantage late on as Chelsea lost their first game of preseason.

Four days later, familiar friends WAC RZ Pellets welcomed Chelsea again after hosting them in the 2014 preseason. The formation was changed by Conte who seemed go for a 4-4-2 or 4-2-4 of sorts. Costa and Traore were coupled as strike partners. Willian and Moses continued out wide while Matic and Oscar were together in the center of the park. The defense had only one change, Ola Aina at left-back while Djilobodji, Terry, and Ivanovic remained in front of Asmir Begovic.

This was a much better result for Conte’s men as they seemed to dominate on all fronts. The defense protected the goalkeeper much better than in the previous fixture. I was thoroughly impressed by Oscar as a center midfielder, something I’ve been hoping to see for a while. His tackling was on point and even allowed Matic to be move around more freely in the middle. Moses impressed once again, as he seeks to continue to be Chelsea Preseason Player of the Year. Playing with two strikers seemed to pay dividends for the squad as chances were abundant between Costa and Traore. Traore even managed to score the first goal right before halftime.

This second game seemed to emphasize the quality of our younger players. Aina, who played well at left-back for the first half, was slotted to right-back for the second to accommodate Baba Rahman. They both advanced well up-field while providing extra numbers in the final third. Loftus-Cheek came on with new signing Michy Batshuayi who combined well from the very start. Loftus-Cheek, who was playing in a more forward position, looked really dangerous every chance he could. Batshuayi looked threatening as well on several occasions.

Hector, Chalobah, and Atsu came on as well and each looked ready to impress Conte. Hector had little to do in the back as we continued to press for more goals. Ruben doubled our lead with a header from a corner kick. The pick of all the goals came from Chalobah who received the ball from Atsu and proceeded to dribble past a few defenders before finishing a great solo effort with the last kick of the game. Chelsea’s young contingent played exceptionally well and will be hoping to continue this fine form as the preseason tour continues.

The following day, Chelsea played a behind closed door friendly against local fourth-tier side ATUS Ferlach where Chelsea came out as 8-0 winners. This friendly was used for many of the players who returned later as well as the ones who haven’t played as many minutes compared to others in the previous two matches. A hattrick from Remy, a couple of braces from Batshuayi and Pedro, and a surprise goal from Mikel ( he scores when he wants!) completed the rout.

The mighty Blues now make their way to the States where they will play Liverpool, Real Madrid, and AC Milan.

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New Signing: N’Golo Kante

Chelsea have completed the signing of French central midfielder N’Golo Kante. The 25 year old, who had a breakout first season in England last term, becomes Antonio Conte’s second signing, joining us from the reigning Premier League champions Leicester City. Leicester surprised the entire football world by claiming the title after nearly getting relegated during the 2014-15 season. The whole team played tremendously and Kante was an integral member to them lifting the trophy.

Kante is a player that many fans of not only Chelsea but the entire league have become very familiar with. He brings defensive prowess from the center of the park with his abilities of tackling and interceptions, statistics that he led Europe’s top five leagues in. His ability to recover the ball for his team, coupled with his remarkable endurance, have made many pundits and football followers to liken him to Chelsea legend Claude Makelele. Considering his rather diminutive and light frame, he personifies that big things do come in small packages.

His career has taken a meteoric rise since he first became a professional footballer. After spending a few seasons in the lower leagues of France, he started finding his form with SM Caen where he was regularly in the starting lineup. He spent one season in Ligue 1 until Leicester signed him, subsequently being scouted by the same person who brought Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez to the club. During last season his fantastic play earned him a call-up to the France national team, after turning down invitations to play for Mali. He also earned a place in the France squad that finished runner-ups in Euro 2016.

Kante is a player that could most likely be inserted in the Blues starting eleven, regardless of what formation we end up playing. If we play a formation which utilizes three central midfielders (i.e. a 4-3-3 or Conte’s preferred 3-5-2), he would be accompanied by Fabregas and Matic. A midfield with those three, assuming that they are all healthy and not suffering from lack of form, would be most formidable indeed. In the tried and tested double pivot that Chelsea has been using for quite some time, I can see him playing alongside Fabregas more often than not. However, I, along with many Chelsea fans, would rather not see the 4-2-3-1 formation but whatever brings the desired results is fine in my eyes.

Amid all the rumors prior to the completion of the transfer, I watched this fairly long video N’Golo Kante’s skills for Leicester. I’ve taken the liberty to add it to this article for any who would like to see what we are getting. All credit goes to GAEBBA and their YouTube channel.

N’Golo Kante: 2015/16 Overall

Welcome to Chelsea, N’Golo Kante!

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New Signing: Michy Batshuayi

Chelsea have completed the signing of young Belgian forward Michy Batshuayi. The 22 year old Batshuayi joins us from Olympique Marseille in France after a considerably good season in front of goal. Not many Chelsea fans know who he is, however. Signing a relatively unknown striker for a commanding fee of around €40 million could seem alarming to most, but he has been building a pretty good reputation for himself.

Although Michy has flown under the radar of most, I have been lucky enough to have seen him play since his early days at Standard Liege in his native Belgium. At first, I would catch a few Standard games when I could so I could keep tabs on a different young forward; Imoh Ezekiel of Nigeria. He was making waves in the Nigerian football circle so I had to watch him. I initially kept my eye solely on young Ezekiel but I noticed that his teammate in Batshuayi was just as, if not more, impressive. I would look up the weekly Belgian Pro League scores and see that both of them had been scoring regularly. However, Batshuayi’s name started appearing on the scoresheet more frequently that Ezekiel’s. I expected great things for both of their futures

After the 2013-14 season, both young forwards made very different career choices. Imoh Ezekiel decided to move to Qatar while Batshuayi sealed a move to Marseille. A move to Ligue 1 is for more lucrative than the Qatari league (no disrespect) so it seemed that Batshuayi was progressing better. I wondered if he could continue his goal-scoring prowess in a tougher league. He found starting opportunities scarce but was able to find the back of the net when called upon from the bench.

The most recent Ligue 1 season saw Batshuayi as Marseille’s starter up front. Marseille had a pretty poor season by their usual standards. A team usually finishing in a European cup position saw themselves finish in 13th place. The only bright spot for them was Batshuayi’s incredible form in front of goal. He netted 23 times in all competitions, 17 of those in the league. He had a hand in just over half of Marseille’s Ligue 1 goals. He was clearly the focal attacking point in a sub-par team. Many of his goals came in losing efforts so it makes sense that a player of his talent would grow frustrated and seek a move else. That being said, we should welcome him at Chelsea with open arms.

The last forward we signed from Marseille turned out to be pretty decent. Perhaps Michy Batshuayi can emulate Drogba’s success.

I know Youtube compilation videos aren’t the best way to gauge talent, but I’ve taken the liberty to add a video of all the goals young Michy scored last season. All credit for this video goes to Martovskyi’s Youtube channel. Enjoy.

Michy Batshuayi – All 23 goals in 2015/16

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Loan Army Feature with “London Is Blue”

Recently, my thoughts on Chelsea’s many loanees were featured on the London Is Blue podcast. I haven’t been around as much as I would have wanted due to me graduating from university and then subsequently going on a trip to Florida. However, I would like to share the link to their podcast website.

The great group of guys over at London Is Blue allowed me to add my input on the loanees by playing a rousing game of “Keep, Sell, or Loan” for the next season. I’m very grateful for the opportunity they gave me and hope for many more chances to work with them again. These guys are Chelsea experts with superior knowledge. You can follow them at @LondonBluePod on Twitter and also there Soundcloud page “London Is Blue” where they have many episodes on various topics about the club. Give ’em a follow!

Loan Army Update with @JustBeduIt

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