At this stage last season, Chelsea had the exact same record. The Blues had won 4, drawn 1 and lost 2 of their opening 7 fixtures, and nobody really gave them a chance of challenging for the league title.
What followed was an absolute masterclass from Antonio Conte, as the Italian switched to a 3-4-3 system and oversaw a 13-match winning streak that between the start of October and the first week of the New Year. From being outsiders, Chelsea suddenly became heavy favourites for the title, sitting pretty at the summit even when this run came to an end at White Hart Lane. They never relinquished their swagger, and saw out the season to win the league with a massive 93 points on the board.
Once again, the Blues are looking far away from being contenders. The two Manchester clubs have already opened up a seven-point gap over them, and are both looking in imperious form. Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola were both hurting after missing out on the league by a huge margin last year, and are extremely intent to make amends.
So the question is – Can Chelsea do it again?
Chelsea had some good fortune with the lack of injuries last season, and all their best players played all the games. This was helped in no small part thanks to their absence from the UEFA Champions League. They only had the Premier League to concentrate on, and could focus all their energies towards establishing national dominance.
This time however, things are different and the effects have already started to show. Two key players – Alvaro Morata and N’GoloKante are facing injury layoffs, and are expected to be out at least for the month of October. Morata has been incredible since coming in from Real Madrid to replace Diego Costa, with 7 goals in all competitions thus far. Kante, on the other hand, has been an ever-present since joining Leicester City in the summer of 2016 and was one of the most important cogs in the title win last season. This is his first long injury layoff at the club, and it remains to be seen how the Blues cope without him.
No element of surprise
Last year, the tactical shift to 3-4-3 came as a bolt from the blue for every other team in the league. Nobody knew to react to the advent of wing-backs in the Premier League, along with the organization and stability the system brought with it for Chelsea. Ultimately, it led to many sides adopting the very same strategy and putting it to good use.
Hence, that element of surprise is now gone. There is nothing Conte can do, especially since he is also handicapped with injuries, which will catch the others off-guard. Everyone knows how Chelsea will set up, as well as their strengths and weaknesses.
It will certainly be interesting to see what happens going forward at Chelsea. They should be good enough to beat Crystal Palace this weekend but with Morata and Kante out, it remains to be seen how well they cope in the big games. They have a Champions League double-header against Roma coming up later this month, along with the visit of Manchester United in the first week of November. In his three years at Juventus and one at Stamford Bridge, Conte has won the league every single time. Can he pull the rabbit out of the hat again?