September defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal led to Chelsea being effectively written out of the Premier League title race in September, but a run of three wins to nil have forced the bookies to scribble the Blues back into the picture.
Antonio Conte’s troops have been whittled into 13/2 fourth favourites to win the Premier League title after destroying Manchester United 4-0 last time out and the Italian has rightly been showered with plaudits for the turn around.
A tactical shift that, among other things, has unshackled Eden Hazard in a devastating number ten role, is the primary factor behind the upturn in form, but an uncelebrated deadline day signing is also due credit.
David Luiz’s unanticipated return to Stamford Bridge hogged all Chelsea-based headlines on September 1st, 2016, a deal which almost entirely eclipsed the same-day arrival of Marcos Alonso from Fiorentina.
A side note in the Luiz-generated furore, it was the £24m the Blues allegedly paid to sign the former Bolton and Sunderland defender that dominated brief discussion on the deal, not that they’d finally recruited a left-footed full-back capable of contributing both in attack and defence.
The Spaniard’s arrival has facilitated ancillary left-back Cesar Azpilicueta’s switch into a back three, where his defensive prowess has been utilised to great effect. Similarly, Alonso’s installation on the left has improved the balance of the team.
It’s a move that’s yielded instant improvements, with Chelsea keeping three Premier League clean sheets in each of the games Alonso has started at wing-back and, while the performances of others in these games have stood out more, the tactical reformation wouldn’t have been as effective if Conte couldn’t call on a player familiar with that particular position.