After a muddling start to the season, people began to question whether Chelsea could recover from an abysmal season. With the same failings, as last year happening again, doubting that Antonio Conte really the savior and looked more like just another pretender to the throne.
However, five games on, five wins and everyone is purring at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea are a roaring lion that are putting everyone else in the division to the sword at the moment, so what has changed?
First of all, the 3-4-3 formation has really brought the best out of this group of players. The favoured formation of Conte back at Juventus, it allows both attacking full-backs and wide players without too much danger of being caught on the counter attack.
How it works like that should be pretty clear from the setup, three centre-backs and two defensive-minded central midfielders hold the fort. The two wing-backs are encouraged to join in with attacking play, allowing a former winger like Victor Moses to be a success as almost an extra wide player rather than some tasked with simply defending and joining in when they can.
With that behind them, it allows the three forwards to sit high up the pitch without any stringent defensive responsibilities. Keeping the likes of Eden Hazard and Pedro up the field has caused defences nightmares, freeing them to counter-attack and run at will, with devastating results.
Especially in Hazard, who has been reborn under Conte and this formation. Five goals and an assist in his last four fixtures shows how being further up the pitch more often has affected him and with his confidence flowing back in his veins, he has returned to his scarily impressive best.
That attacking ability combined with a strong core has been a force no one has worked out how to unlock. Teams seem to allow Chelsea to push further and further up field, overloading four and even five man defences with too many bodies as they recycle possession in your half to start it all over again.
It was good against Hull City and Leicester City but the real statement of intent came against Manchester United. After an early goal, they absolutely dominated the Red Devils by keeping possession and the two wingers in narrow positions bamboozled a four-man defence.
Forced to bring their wingers back to help, United were essentially left with a six-man back line that could not counter attack in fear of giving Chelsea too much space in the final third. The Blues never let up, continuously pushed and repeatedly found space in dangerous attacking areas to grab four well deserved goals.
Worryingly for everyone else, they seemed to do even more in their 5-0 thumping of Everton at the weekend. As they continue to settle and find a rhythm in the new formation, they are finding even more exploits against teams that are even looking to set up as a counter.
With Ronald Koeman playing a 5-3-2, he looked to match Chelsea in the key areas and make sure his team were not overloaded when Chelsea were in possession. Instead, the slick interchanging of passing in the final third killed them off, Conte’s men have simply created a great understanding quickly of this formation and add confidence to that, you can see the results.
It was fast-flowing, unselfish football at its best. All they did was shock and awe Everton with their passing play, not allowing them a moment’s rest and without an outlet to get the Toffees further up the pitch, Chelsea simply picked them off at will.
So how do you solve the riddle? Do you attack at will, hoping to overpower them? Do you defend like your lives depend on it? Do you try to counter through the wide areas left exposed when Chelsea push too far forward?
It’s quite possibly a mixture of them all but much like anything in world football, eventually someone will work a worthy counter. The two-game run against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City will be the biggest test that will really show if this formation makes Chelsea title front-runners or just another within an ever-increasing pack.
What it has been is a breath of fresh air. It’s always interesting to see something a little different in the Premier League and Conte has done that, with a thoroughly interesting formation that has left his opponents perplexed, at least for now.