The Story So Far
Antonio Conte's debut season couldn't have gone much better. The Italian has led Chelsea to the Premier League title, becoming just the 4th manager to win the trophy in his debut season, and could end the campaign with a double after they play Arsenal in the FA Cup final next Saturday.
A win against Sunderland on Sunday will see Chelsea break their own record - set in 04/05 and 05/06 - for the most wins in a Premier League season, and to be fair it's hard to see anything but win number 30 for the Blues this weekend.
A stuttering start to the season, by Chelsea's standards at least, saw Conte abandon the 4-2-3-1 he had initially adopted, and reverted to a three-man defence that had brought him so much success with Juventus. There was a slight switch from his days in Turin, with a midfield four (as opposed to five) and an attacking trio (as opposed to two strikers).
The system is built from the back, with a three-man defence allowing Chelsea greater control of the ball. Typically a full back, Cesar Azpilicueta operates almost as a 'half defender.' He has license to push wide and create attacks; no player has made more passes than him this season (2071). This allows Victor Moses, or whoever players on the right, to push further forward and look to link with his attacking teammates.
The system is all about creating space and attacking options. The presence of the wing backs allows the likes of Eden Hazard and Pedro to play as inside forwards and play closer to Diego Costa. With their quality and attacking threat, this in turn creates space for the wing backs to overlap; it's a very cyclical system that created mutliple attacking opportunities. The 'wide' starting players in Conte's system have contributed to 50 goals, such is its effectiveness.
Scoring goals. No team has scored more goals than Chelsea's 80. They score at a highly impressive rate of 1 goal every 2.5 shots on target, and one every 7 shots in total. They're slightly more conservative than most of their typical rivals, but they still manage to create an average of 11.5 chances per game. It should come as little surprise that they've scored so many.
Conte's setup is perfect for the counter-attack, and Chelsea lead the league in goals from counters with 6 (tied with Manchester City). They also excel in set piece situations, scoring a league-high 21, while conceding just 6 - the joint best record with Arsenal.
In defence, Chelsea have conceded just 32 goals. Only Spurs and Manchester United have allowed fewer. Thibaut Courtois' is well protected, with Chelsea allowing just 8.5 shots on their goal. 8.8 pass blocks, 17.3 tackles and 13.7 interceptions are decent numbers for a leading team used to dominating games. They make just 22.6 clearances per game, but they make them very effectively; even if the opposition do somehow get through - they have to face one of the world's top stoppers.
Don't expect a long paragraph. Chelsea have been the best side in England this season. But if we could pick anything out, Chelsea win just 14.3 aerial duels per game. Only Bournemouth win less. It hasn't really translated to conceding goals though; just 7 of the 32 goals conceded have come via headers. To put that into context, Spurs have conceded the least goals to headers with four, so it's not exactly 'bad.'
Key Player - Eden Hazard
The Belgian has been back to his sparkling best under Conte after a difficult 2015/16 season. Playing between the lines, 'inside' Chelsea's attack, Hazard has been able to counter-attack and create to devastating effect.
Hazard trails Diego Costa as Chelsea's top scorer with a superb 15 goals, while also contributing a further 5 assists. The former Lille man has displayed an impressive chance conversion rate, scoring those 15 goals from just 32 shots on target. He has also taken responsibility as Chelsea's chief creator, creating 84 chances for his teammates. Blessed with electric pace, Hazard has completed more take-ons than any other player (141), with a success rate of 77%.
While his record against Sunderland is decent enough, with 2 goals and 3 assists from 7 appearances, Hazard will view Sunday's encounter as a great opportunity to improve those stats.
- A win for Chelsea will see them break the record for most Premier League wins in a season (30);
- Chelsea have won 20 of their last 24 Premier League games against Sunderland (D1, L3), although two of those losses have come in the last 6 games;
- Sunderland have lost 22 Premier League games against Chelsea; only Manchester United have defeated them more (23)
- Chelsea have scored at least 3 goals in their last 3 home games;
- Sunderland have failed to score in 11 of their last 13 games