Friday, May 26, 2017

Defence winning Chelsea the Premier League title

David Nugent in Editorial, English Premier League 2 Feb 2017

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Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has created a very solid backline at Stamford Bridge

The old American adage about ‘offense wins games, but defense wins championships’ rings true when we are talking about the Premier League.

It is difficult to remember a team winning the title without having a very good defensive record in recent years.

Only Tottenham and Manchester United conceded fewer goals than last season’s champions Leicester, even then it was 35 compared to Leicester’s 36.

Spurs the only team to challenge Blues defensive record

This season Chelsea seem to be hammering home the cited phrase. The Blues have the joint-best defensive record alongside second-place Tottenham.

Blues ‘keeper Thibaut Courtois has kept 13 clean sheets in the top-flight, compared to just eight kept by Spurs counterpart Hugo Lloris, although the Frenchman has missed four Premier League games this season.

Spurs have been outstanding at the back under Mauricio Pochettino in recent seasons. The side from north London seem to have got the balance right between defence and attack. However, Tottenham are a naïve side at times, as shown in their recent 0-0 drawn at Sunderland.

The likes of Liverpool and Manchester City can be exhilarating when on attacking form. They are woeful at the back at times, though. Liverpool’s defence tends to lift their displays in the big games, but struggle against the so-called lesser opposition.

City’s defence does not discriminate, as they seem to be vulnerable whoever they are playing. Both these sides are fine when they are on the front foot, as City’s 4-0 win at West Ham on Wednesday showed. However, when they are asked defensive questions they wilt.

If Chelsea win the title at the end of the season, the fact that they can defend well will have played a major part in the triumph. When they need to defend and play on the counter-attack they can. They can win ugly, something City and Liverpool seem incapable of at the moment.

As for Arsenal, they seem to slip up more than a toddler on a slip and slide. The Gunners just seem to have a propensity to shoot themselves in the foot at the most unexpected moments.

Defensive midfielders the key

Chelsea’s defence deserves the credit for their defensive record. However, defensive midfield duo Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante almost deserve immense credit this season.

Matic for most of last season looked like a liability. This season though he has been in decent form. He is playing close to the form that once saw him labelled as one of the best defensive midfielders in European football.

His midfielder partner N’Golo Kante has just continued from where he left off from last season at Leicester. The 25-year-old is back to covering every blade of glass and looking highly assured after a very shaky start to his Blues career.

The Frenchman is proving to be one of last summer’s most influential buys by a Premier League club. His absence at Leicester is highly evident in the team’s current struggles near the bottom of the table.

Antonio Conte a shrewd tactician

Chelsea’s Italian boss Antonio Conte was always regarded as a shrewd tactician at Juventus. He finds formations that suit the players available to him and he wins games, it’s as simple as that. The Italian comes across as a nice guy and his players seem to want to play for the former Juventus boss.

I actually predicted that Chelsea would be strong title challengers at the start of the campaign, simply because of Conte’s presence in the Blues dugout. It seems my prediction may have some substance to it considering the Blues are title favourites at odds of 1/5.

Conte will not be counting his chickens just yet about the title being in the bag for the Blues. There are still plenty of points to play for this season.

The Italian knows what it takes to win titles and knows when he needs to operate a bit of pragmatism. Since the switch to their current formation Chelsea have looked very impressive. Only Spurs and Liverpool have stopped the Blues gaining maximum points in the league after the tactical switch.

The likes of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa are likely to get the headlines if Chelsea are crowned champions in May. However, for me, it will be Conte and the Blues defensive players that should receive the bulk of the credit for the triumph.

Is Chelsea’s defence the reason they are performing better than their title rivals?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Nugent


David is a freelance football writer with nearly a decade of experience writing about the beautiful game. The 33-year-old has written for over a dozen websites and also an international soccer magazine offline.
Arguably his best work has come as an editorial writer for Soccernews, sharing his good, bad and ugly opinions on the world’s favourite sport. During David’s writing career he has written editorials, betting previews, match previews, banter, news and opinion pieces.

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