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Antonio Conte

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FK Qarabag vs Chelsea Preview: Blues Looking to Secure Champions League Progress

European football is back on the agenda for Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, who make their longest-ever Champions League away trip as they head to Azerbaijan to face FK Qarabag. The home side have adapted to life in Europe’s premier club competition well after a difficult start. The Blues sit second in Group C, one point behind group leaders Roma and can secure their qualification for the knockout stages if with a win – provided other results go their way.

Alvaro Morata Reveals Brilliant Post-Match Routine

Alvaro Morata was signed by Chelsea in the summer from Real Madrid in a deal amounting to around £60 million and he has hit the ground running in the Premier League. The Spanish centre-forward has already managed seven goals in the top flight since the beginning of the campaign. Despite a hamstring injury that kept him out for three weeks, only Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero have found the net more.

However, it is his off-the-field exploits that have been picked up by the media in the last few days as he brilliantly admitted to Cadena Ser that he enjoys a beer on the way home after home matches! The 25-year-old claimed that after they have won a game at Stamford Bridge, he will walk home (without his Chelsea tracksuit for obvious reasons) drinking a beer. While I’m sure that Antonio Conte doesn’t approve of his star striker’s drinking habit, the Chelsea fans absolutely love it!

After this story becomes headline news, there’s no doubt there will be hundreds of Blues fans waiting on Fulham Road after successful home matches looking for a tall bloke with a beer in his hand. The former Real Madrid man also said that he wears a hat when walking home; not just for disguise, but also because he finds the English climate much colder than in his home country of Spain – who can blame him?

Morata has returned to the Chelsea side after the injury he sustained away at Crystal Palace and with a goal and an assist in his last two games, it’s as if he was never injured. While his side have had a below-par start to the new term, he has been brilliant and will need to keep up this top form if Conte’s side are to push for another Premier League title. After the international break, it’s a trip to the Hawthorns as the Blues face West Brom and he will be desperate to get on the scoresheet once again. Have a pint on us, Alvaro!

Header image by Brian Minkoff [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Why Conte Shouldn’t Exclude David Luiz

After a brilliant title-winning campaign in his first Premier League season, Antonio Conte is struggling in his second term as Chelsea manager. The Blues currently find themselves in fourth place and are already nine points adrift of Manchester City at the top of the table. The Italian boss has already had a bust-up with Diego Costa and the Spanish striker has agreed a deal to move back to Atletico in January. This got the alarm bells ringing amongst Chelsea fans and now there has been another problem between Conte and one of his star players.

N’Golo Kante Hamstring Problem Adds to Chelsea’s Injury Woes

Fresh from his maiden Ballon d’Or nomination, N’Golo Kante has suffered a hamstring injury on international duty with France, leaving Antonio Conte desperately searching for positives.

At first glance, the international break couldn’t have come at a better time for Chelsea, with the Blues still reeling from being completely outplayed in the 1-0 defeat to Manchester City. Record signing Alvaro Morata limped off in the first half of the loss with what has been confirmed as a month-long hamstring injury, with Kante’s issue heightening the ill-feeling around the Bridge even further this week.

Early season beset with injuries

For much of last season, Chelsea were blessed by a lack of injuries within the squad, a situation that allowed Conte to retain a familiar side on a weekly basis in the Premier League. This term, however, has posed different problems, with Eden Hazard missing the first month of the new campaign through an ankle injury and new signing Danny Drinkwater yet to be fit enough to feature for his new employers.

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The squad’s relatively clean bill of health was cited by most observers as a major factor in the Blues winning the title last term, along with the absence of any European football. Indeed, having a larger fixture list already looks to be taking its toll on the squad this term.

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Kante didn’t feature in the 5-1 demolition of Nottingham Forest but has still played 12 games in 56 days – a greatly increased workload on last season – and his all-action approach looks to have got the better of him momentarily. Morata’s injury is similar in nature and the Blues medical staff will be sincerely hoping that the increased amount of injuries is nothing to do with the training methods used by the staff at Cobham.

Irreplaceable talent?

Morata and Kante have been the two star performers for Chelsea already this season and replacing both of them would be a huge challenge for Conte. Injuries are inevitable and squads are built to fight on four fronts – which is something Chelsea are looking to do this campaign.

During his time in the Premier League, Antonio Conte has shown himself to be an innovative coach that can deal with the ever-changing environment of English football. Whilst he and the Chelsea faithful will be praying Kante and Morata’s injuries are not as serious as they first appear, finding a tactical answer to the problem could be the Italian’s biggest test to date at Stamford Bridge.

Header image by @cfcunofficial (Chelsea Debs) (CC BY-SA 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Chelsea’s Early Form Continues to Defy Critics

Despite what looked to be a precarious situation for Antonio Conte and the West London Blues, Chelsea have grown into their early season form over the opening five games of the domestic and European season.

The cracks probed after an opening day loss to Burnley left the Premier League champions, who were so imperious last term, feeling vulnerable.

Discord with their powerful goalscorer Diego Costa, defensive rock Gary Cahill dismissed to the stands and electric talisman Eden Hazard struggling for fitness all seemed to be pointing to a long season.

Things were also amiss in the transfer market, as strangely, a side who have won two out of the last three league titles, back in with the European elite, could not get their transfer targets over the line.

But underestimate the Italian manager at your peril. He is not a man to get on the wrong side of, as even the villain Costa has found out.

With much of the title talk focused on the Manchester clubs, as United are finally back to fighting form and City off to their usual silky August performances, Conte’s men have flown under the radar, producing hard-fought wins over Spurs, Everton and Leicester. Not straightforward opposition but dealt with firmly to move up to third place in a classic granite-like Chelsea style.

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What’s changing?

Largely, the squad remains unchanged from the championship winning side, with any new faces slotting in comfortably. Alvaro Moratta looks confident and assured leading the line, providing some power with a deft touch. Fabregas looks back to some more regular form after and in-out season last year and Willian is a match winner that can cover for Hazard. You have to think he will be disappointed if he drops to the bench upon the Belgian’s return.

Defensive switches have been adept after the suspension of Gary Cahill, and Davide Zappacosta sparkled on full debut, helping secure a 6-0 win over Qarabag.

The loss of Nemanja Matic continues as an area that needs finessing over the coming weeks, and a large piece of the jigsaw could be slotting Danny Drinkwater’s ball retention back in with N’Golo Kante’s Duracell energy.

Not too many are tipping the Premier League trophy to remain at Stamford Bridge for another year now that the extra stress of Champions League football is on the horizon. Squad depth is still to be fully tested but the form is building slowly. A test again Arsenal is always a good measure of confidence and crunch encounters with Atletico Madrid and Roma will really provide the evidence of how Chelsea shape up for the bulk of the season.

Davide Zappacosta: Who is the New Face of Chelsea’s Defence?

Confusion spread among Chelsea fans on deadline day, after the announcement that the club had reached an agreement with Torino for the £25 million transfer of Davide Zappacosta. All in all, it had been a disappointing transfer window for the Blues. Oxlade-Chamberlain had decided to leave London for the lofty heights of Liverpool, Juventus continued to play hard ball on Alex Sandro, Fernando Llorente decided to go valiantly attempt to dislodge Kane from his guaranteed starting position in the Tottenham XI, and even a reported late bid for Rafinha failed. The purchase of Zappacosta seemed to shout of desperation and a sheer lack of other ideas for defensive reinforcements.