Ask the Opposition

Ask the Opposition 48: Chelsea

As City search for their first home win since September, the opponents couldn’t be much tougher. Chelsea travel to the Etihad off the back of a seven game win streak, and they will be eager to extend that run when they visit Manchester on Saturday. Antonio Conte’s side look like they will be in the mix for the title come the end of the season, and a win against Pep Guardiola’s men this weekend would certainly make their doubters sit up and take notice.

We caught up with Jenny Brown, a Chelsea fan and employee of WhoScored.com, in order to get her thoughts on the fixture, and her feelings towards the two sides in general.

Hi Jenny, thanks for joining us. First of all, what have you made of Chelsea’s start to the season, and has it altered your targets for the year ahead?

Hi Jordan! Thanks for having me. Always fun to chat with the opposition ahead of the match – as it’s often not so fun after. Result dependent of course. I honestly didn’t know what to hope for or expect this season. Not just after the shocker Chelsea had last season, but I didn’t really know what to expect from Conte or what he could bring to what was by and large the same group of players as Mourinho / Hiddink had. It’s been an exciting couple of months. I feel a lot more confident about securing Champions League football for next season than I did six months ago.

Antonio Conte didn’t quite hit the ground running, but after seven wins from seven he now looks to have made his mark on the team. How impressed have you been with him?

Antonio Conte has won me over a lot quicker than expected. Unsurprisingly, I was a big fan of Jose Mourinho. Despite the despondency of last season, he’s earned a deep admiration. And will often be the marker to whom other managers are compared. It’s natural with the success and swagger he brought with him – moreso in his first incarnation at the club.

Beyond results, Conte has very quickly endeared himself to the fans. It’s difficult not to be completely caught up in the energy he brings to the touchline – every minute, every game, every week. His enthusiasm is infectious. The results help, but had he not turned things around as quickly I think he had enough about him to win over everyone at Stamford Bridge.

In footballing terms, the turnaround has been incredible. It’s cliché to say, but the players look like they’re enjoying the football. They’re functioning very much as a unit and players like Eden Hazard have been given a free role to express themselves on the pitch rather than being tasked with additional duties that can limit the impact they have on games.

Conte inherited a very good squad, but Chelsea did strengthen in the summer transfer window with the additions of N’Golo Kante, Michy Batshuayi, David Luiz, and Marcos Alonso. Were you pleased with the business conducted?

To know me is to know my incessant love of David Luiz and insistence that he was in fact a very good central defender. I was genuinely over the moon when I heard that there was a chance he’d be returning. Part of what Chelsea seemed to lack last season was the presence of a big personality – they still had Didier Drogba as number one cheerleader in the dressing room last season. And say what you will about David Luiz but he is a big personality. The fact he wasn’t ‘first choice’ meant nothing more than Conte hadn’t really had the opportunity to scout outside of Italy while at Juventus and with the national team. So it was natural that most players the club were linked with throughout the summer were in Serie A.

N’Golo Kanté was hands down Leicester’s best player last season. While Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez drew the headlines, it was Kanté pulling the strings in that midfield and shielding a defence that included Wes Morgan. It was a coup and has also meant Nemanja Matic finding the form he had when he first returned from Portugal.

Michy Batshuayi had been a long time target for Arsenal and more recently Tottenham. And he managed to score nearly 20 goals last season with a very poor Marseille side. He’s still young and I think he could do well. The few matches he’s played alongside Diego Costa I thought they linked up well.

Marcos Alonso is definitely the player I knew the least about and expected him to be a bit part player. He’s been a happy surprise. It will be interesting to see how he develops over the course of the season. All in all a decent transfer window.

Is there an area of the Chelsea squad that you believe to be particularly strong/weak?

This will likely be my most controversial answer with all the plaudits he’s received as of late, but I think Chelsea could upgrade on Victor Moses. It’s brilliant that he’s surpassed expectations. And his speed has come in handy but he’s not as defensively sound as he could be for a wing-back. Azpilicueta is almost doing double duty at times in terms of defensive cover. I realise I’m very much alone here. He’s been voted the PFA player of the month for November — a month in which he failed to make a single tackle.

On to Manchester City now. What are your perceptions of City as a club, both past and present?

Obviously Manchester City are one of the most formidable clubs around and have been for some time. Most impressive is often the quality in depth you’ve had throughout the squad. Just a few years ago, you could have probably fielded two complete teams and you’d be the two sides challenging for the title. Currently, there’s a bit of an issue with the overall age of the squad. A lot of your big players, while by no means ‘past it’ are getting on – and all at the same time. Quite a few players may have to be brought in. John Stones was definitely a good start to the overhaul. He’ll definitely be a key player in the next few seasons.

If you could have one player join Chelsea from the current City squad, who would it be and why?

I’d take Kevin de Bruyne back. In part, to right a wrong — I’d not have let him go in the first place. His time was cut way too short and wasn’t given a proper chance. He’s an incredible playmaker and has great vision. Would have loved to see how he’d develop alongside Eden Hazard.

And finally, please can we have your predicted Chelsea team, and your prediction for the final score on Saturday?

The predicted team is easy enough as Antonio Conte doesn’t change it unless an injury gets in the mix. So barring any little knocks in the warm-up it should be Courtois – Cahill – Luiz – Azpilicueta – Alonso – Kanté – Matic – Moses – Hazard – Costa – Pedro.

I’m going with a terribly boring prediction of 1-1. As fun as all the winning is, I don’t think it will go on forever, and Chelsea don’t have the best of records at the Etihad as of late. We’ve won once in our last eight trips. And you are currently having a pretty serious relationship with 1-1 draws at home right now. Will just have to hope that Liverpool and Arsenal both drop points this weekend to ensure neither of them go top!

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