Chelsea’s inconsistent start this season coupled with Manchester City’s electric record-breaking start has seen boss Antonio Conte suggest that a top-four finish for the champions would be a major success for the club.
The Blues went into the season with a relatively weak team, lacking depth in the squad and top replacements in key areas after they were unable to sign their major transfer targets. Following flirtations with big names like Robert Lewandowski, Alex Sandro, Danilo, James Rodriguez and Ross Barkley and the failure to seal their signatures to the club, the Blues ended the transfer window signing Alvaro Morata, Antonio Rudiger, Tiemoue Bakayoko and completed deadline day signing of Danny Drinkwater and Zappacosta.
Since signing for Chelsea, Alvaro Morata has struggled for fitness and is yet to settle in well in England, but his growing partnership with Eden Hazard up front in the Chelsea attack and his overall tally of 12 goals and four assists show signs of promises from the Spaniard.
French international, Tiemoue Bakayoko, started the season poorly, but has in recent times been showing signs of improvement, and is beginning to display performances that convinced Chelsea to pay £40 million to seal a transfer from Monaco.
On the other hand, deadline day signings, Drinkwater and Zappacosta, have yet to fully integrate themselves into the team, with the Italian yet to oust Victor Moses from the right wing back role despite being a natural fit for the role, But their recent showing against Stoke in the last match shows improvements in the side and that would definitely please Conte.
Chelsea head into the new year on the back of a 5-0 humiliation of Stoke City – their highest against a team this season – 7 home wins in a row and 14 points behind Manchester City, and this could serve as a boost for the other half of the season.
Chelsea face Arsenal, Manchester United and Leicester City in what could be deciders for the outcome of the League in the first two months of the year and also play against Barcelona in a two-legged Round of 16 game in the Champions League, which serves as their highlight of the start of the new year.
Antonio Conte is known for tweaking his teams and he has already done that this season, having switched to a 3-5-2 formation when Hazard and Morata are present for selection, switching back to 3-4-3 in the absence of the strikers.
The recent change in the system has seen the Blues line up more in an overly defensive manner, playing less attacking football, leaving Hazard as the only performing attacker in the team most times across the season.
Why Wilfred Zaha?
There have been concerns about the Chelsea defence, especially the issue of no replacements to cover Marcos Alonso in the left wing back role, but the Stamford Bridge side’s attack seems to be the biggest concern for the club.
Chelsea have been stale in attack and have lacked the attacking cut to break down teams the way they did on their way to the title last season, especially when facing a tactically assembled defensive team. One-nil victories over Bournemouth, Swansea and Southampton, along with a goalless draw against Everton (the second leg match of the season), have been evident of an attack, lacking incisiveness.
Among the in-forwards and perhaps in the overall team, Hazard has been the brightest and is mainly Chelsea’s source of attack. Pedro has been out of form while a rejuvenated Willian is starting to improve and play more like the man who was the Blues’ best player two seasons ago.
Antonio Conte has a style of play in the first half of the season, which has shown that he wants to stick with the new 3-5-2 or 3-1-4-2 system and therefore needs another sort of player to complement Hazard and give the Belgian more fluidity, and this is where Wilfred Zaha comes in.
When Chelsea faced Crystal Palace in their encounter this season, the Eagles were yet to win a game and had not scored a single goal in 7 matches. While Zaha had been injured in the previous 6 fixtures, the Ivorian returned against the Champions and was the chief tormentor as Crystal Palace outclassed Chelsea, scoring a goal in that match.
The former England youth player is known for his quick runs, pace, strength, dribbling skills and hold-up play. Also able to play across any part in the attack, he could also feature in an attacking midfield role and, as such, he represents the kind of player Conte needs because of his versatility.
The Blues need more sting in the attack and Zaha represents the man for the job. Playing alongside Hazard, cutting across the attack and running in behind defenders, the duo would surely wreck defences.
Since returning to his boyhood club, after an inglorious stint with Manchester United, the 25-year-old has been rebuilding a promising career that set him for greater things as a youngster and a move to Chelsea will definitely be a breakthrough for a player of his abilities.
Crystal Palace have already said they won’t let the player go, but Chelsea must do everything within their power to sign him, especially now that Liverpool have set the tone with a huge transfer for a defender. Crystal Palace would definitely up their price, but the Champions must avoid a repeat of the summer and be ready to pay if they want to end the season successfully with a trophy and not in the top four.