So far this season the big stories of the year have been City’s thrilling attack and derpy defense under Pep Guardiola, Liverpool’s emergence in year two of the Klopp era, and Manchester United’s continued struggles in the early days of Jose Mourinho’s regime.
Two clubs that had not received as much attention heading into week eight were Chelsea and Arsenal despite the fact that both have been Champions League fixtures for most of the past 15 seasons. That should change after the impressive results both posted in week eight.
Here are the results, again via the generous Michael Caley:
Chelsea Throttles the Defending Champions
Antonio Conte has had a stop-start beginning to his career at Chelsea. That said, this game showed what the Italian manager offers. His teams defend well and he is more inventive tactically than he is sometimes given credit for. His work at Juventus wasn’t just about having superior players and being defensively solid, although those things certainly helped. Conte was also creative enough to recognize that if he could flank Andrea Pirlo with a couple all-action midfielders like Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba then he could extend the Italian’s career by a few seasons. He did this and rode that midfield trio to three straight Scudetti.
Now at Chelsea he is doing it again. His 3-4-3 with David Luiz in a kind of libero role at the back has revitalized Chelsea, given Eden Hazard and Willian sturdy platforms to attack from, and has reinvigorated the career of Victor Moses. The midfield duo of Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante is also an energetic, robust tandem that has worked well at stifling the opposition’s attack.
The other feature with this 3-4-3 is that it is highly fluid going forward. With Cesar Azpilicueta in as the right sided center half, he can easily push forward more as a right back opposite left wing back Marcos Alonso. Right wing back Victor Moses can then tuck in and form an attacking three with Hazard and Willian (or Pedro) behind Diego Costa. In this way, the shape is not unlike the 3-4-3 that Fiorentina used at times last season.
Leicester, meanwhile, are probably OK. This was a bad result, but it’s not a catastrophic one by any stretch. They went to Stamford Bridge and got hammered by Chelsea. It’s happened to many other clubs. They’ll be OK. Their realistic target should continue to be breaking into the top six or, failing that, finishing comfortably in seventh.
Arsenal put on a masterful attacking display.
Bob Bradley’s Swansea had a rough debut as they faced an Arsenal team that is rounding into form just in time for the North London Derby. Theo Walcott scored a brace and Mesut Ozil grabbed what turned out to be the winner for Arsenal.
Walcott’s form is especially noteworthy as the Arsenal attacker once again has strung together a nice run of strong performances. As always happens with Walcott, the question is if he can sustain that form. Typically the time when everyone is starting to ask if Walcott has finally become a star is when Walcott either gets hurt or goes invisible for several straight fixtures. That said, the partnership with Mesut Ozil in the attacking band is clearly effective and he’s also finding ways to get into dangerous positions inside the 18-yard box. So maybe he is finally turning a corner?
Stoke is beginning to turn things around.
In the season’s early days, there were rumors that Mark Hughes’s days at Stoke may be numbered as the Potters looked downright abject in the opening fixtures. Those days are increasingly dim in the memory of Stoke fans as their team has now put together a few nice performances and looks much more like the solidly mid-table team we all expected in the pre-season.
To be sure, this is only what we should expect from a team with Stoke’s talent. Even so, they have looked a surer thing in recent weeks than the still sporadic West Ham and look like they likely will be hanging out with Leicester, Everton, and Southampton on the edge of Europa League qualification this season. Hughes hasn’t gotten much credit for the turnaround, but he should. It’s been neat work by the Welshman since his side’s home capitulation to Spurs in August.