I wondered which Chelsea the players would deliver after the Burnley crisis klaxon was blown. The 3-2 defeat had a lot of ills in it but these were compounded by headlines hungry for the first storyline of the season’s soap opera.
Three results later and the feeding frenzy has been moved on to other waters. Chelsea rediscovered the art of working through problems calmly. Antonio Conte got the entire squad to buy into an idea against Spurs that hid almost all the weaknesses. There was good sense in the organisation of the side and demonstration of confidence in its quality at punishing Spurs’s mistakes. From there, look at the finesse displayed by Cesc Fabregas in his finishing and passing against Everton and Leicester respectively. Far from 2015-16, where he confessed that he forgot how to play football as the crisis of results deepened, he picked up from his Burnley mistakes with an authority befitting his experience and ability. Alvaro Morata keeps making his runs and keeps getting his goals. And now Eden Hazard is back. How quickly the narrative can shift.
Chelsea’s transfer window dealings may not have included additional bolstering at left back or up front in the final cut but, in the main, it’s not overly shabby. There may be some small grumbles about Danny Drinkwater but considerations should be made about a couple of things in his case. First, the fact that Gary Cahill is the only English player in the senior first team squad. You read that right. Second, the number of title winning, Champions League experienced English midfielders with pedigree and experience of dovetailing with N’Golo Kanté. Third, the need for a player ticking these boxes who would be willing to come and do a job, without fuss. Gentle reflection on these points ought to make Drinkwater’s signing easily explicable, even if the circumstances leading the club to it are less than satisfactory.
Left back still needs addressing because of the importance of Marcos Alonso to Chelsea’s attack. If he becomes injured, there’s still no real alternative for him. No Nathan Ake to recall and no confidence in the success of another player on the books filling a position that demands a specialist/real talent. This isn’t sound planning but then there is still another window to correct it. The right side of the pitch, however, has been addressed. Davide Zappacosta is an Italian international and specialist in the position we bought him for. Now, Victor Moses has genuine competition for his place and the squad is that much more balanced. That unusually precise way of solving a problem ought to be a cause for celebration in a SW6.
Michy Batshuayi has the ability to eliminate the striker topic as an issue for discussion but he must present a better response to his critics, even so early on in their judgments. He can only do so with goals and better association with his teammates than was on offer from him at Burnley. It feels hard to make such judgments on one or two league appearances (after a successful pre-season) but these are the narrow parameters strikers like him work in at big clubs.
I also still feel that the Diego Costa situation may yet present a surprising twist. This is especially so while no club paid the required sum for him and he reflects on the time being lost to this huff. It would be strange if Costa felt absolutely nothing about losing the opportunity to be fit and match sharp in the season before a World Cup. And stranger still if the club and Antonio Conte didn’t secretly think they had acted clumsily over the issue.
The club also ought to know, from its own history, the dangers of expecting the entire burden of delivery to fall on too few players. I still wonder whether we are a European Cup and/or Premiership light because of our refusal to properly equip ourselves defensively, as we should have done, in 2006-7. Alvaro Morata is flourishing now but, by virtue of being human, he will need rest or competition for form or fitness reasons. Costa’s reintegration must be considered in such circumstances, while he remains a Chelsea player. It’s not perfect, but Carlos Tevez’s return to Manchester City after a similar infighting in 2012 (assisting them in winning the league that season) shows that these incidents are not the events of no return they once were. A few goals and a few victories make many forget old wounds, rightly or wrongly. As a former PM once said, “when the facts change, I change my mind”. When the transfer business stops perhaps all the nonsense should stop too.