Chelsea completed their sixth consecutive victory in the Premier League on Sunday with a 1-0 win at Middlesbrough. The game also saw the Blues keep a sixth consecutive clean sheet.
It was not a win comfortable, as Boro made it difficult for Conte’s team. However, they prevailed in the end to move to the top of the Premier League table.
Chelsea can grind out results
Chelsea under Jose Mourinho were criticised for ‘parking the bus’ or grinding out results. In reality most teams have to grind out wins if they are going to win the big trophies.
Maybe the reason criticised Mourinho was because it was his style of play for much of the season, rather than just selective games. Conte does not come across as a Mourinho park the bus boss. The Italian wants his team to play attacking football, as his Juventus teams mostly did.
However, he knows his team can dig in when they have too, though. They can do the rough stuff as well most teams in the Premier League. The game against Middlesbrough was the perfect example.
Aitor Karanka’s team were never going to pass the Blues off the pitch, so decided to take the direct route, especially in the last half hour of the game. Nobody can criticise them for that, they were up against a team with far more expensive and experienced players.
Everything that Boro threw at Chelsea they managed to deal with. The likes of David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill made the tackles they needed to. When the three centre-backs were finally beaten, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois came to the rescue to save an Alvaro Negredo effort.
Chelsea have tough players
The difference between Chelsea and Arsenal for example is maybe the toughest of the players, both mentally and physically. The likes of Nemanja Matic, Diego Costa, N’Golo Kante and John Terry are prepared to do the dirty work and put their foot in when needed.
Teams need this sort of steel in their team to win big trophies. Arsenal were criticised for years for not having a central midfield enforcer. The Gunners went and bought Swiss star Granit Xhaka in the summer in an attempt to solve that problem. However, Xhaka has been in and out of the team since his arrival.
When the going gets tough Chelsea can produce a sort of back to the walls display when needed, under a boss they believe in anyway. Arsenal may have defeated the Blues 3-0 earlier this season, but that was before the change of system and the reverse fixture should be an interesting one.
Arsenal have had a history of caving in at vital moments in the campaign in recent seasons. Just when they have looked like winning the title they have slipped. Their mental strength has been questioned numerous times over the years.
If it came down to choosing between which team I would fancy for the title right now it would be Chelsea.
Going to be a tight title race
For me it is a straight race between Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool for the title. City are current title favourites at odds of 7/4. However, the other teams at the top cannot be ruled out.
Arsenal’s history of caving in at vital times lets them down, while Tottenham have a good starting eleven, but seem to pick up key injuries at very bad times. Spurs also ran out of steam during last season title race.
The Premier League title race can change so quickly though. At the moment Chelsea looks the unstoppable force. In a couple weeks’ time it could be Liverpool or City. It does not seem like any team is going to run away with the title though, which is good for the excitement of the league.
Antonio Conte’s management has made a big difference at Chelsea this season. His fight for the title with City’s Pep Guardiola and Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp could be a fascinating one.
Chelsea have showed impressive mental strength to maintain their recent good run. If the Blues can continue in a similar vein then they will certainly be there or thereabouts come what May.
Which team has the strongest mentality in the title race?