TERRACE TALK: Chelsea - Jose who? Faithful falling for fiery Antonio Conte

Leicester winning the Premier League last season made anything seem possible. Before that, who would ever have believed that Donald Trump would be president of the most powerful country in the world, or that Victor Moses would become a first-team regular (and cult hero to some seriously deluded individuals)? 
TERRACE TALK: Chelsea - Jose who? Faithful falling for fiery Antonio Conte

Most importantly, that a Chelsea manager could finally make me see beyond Mourinho — especially one sporting a weave.

But here we are, well into the season and the Stamford Bridge faithful are in love with Antonio Conte — as much for his passion as for the way he has turned around the fortunes of the club.

The result against Arsenal made many of us fear the path back to the top four was going to be a long one, with more than a few casualties along the way and certainly some new blood needed to bolster an ageing team.

Instead, Conte took that as an opportunity to bring forward his revolution and dramatically change the way we play. The upturn in our fortunes has been just as dramatic.

Our clash against Spurs was always going to be test — they are a quick side and one that has improved year on year, and despite everything positive we have seen under the Italian, speed does still seem to be something of an Achilles heel for us.

Certainly, in the first half, Alonso and the Nigerian Messi (yes — someone actually went there) were run ragged.

But a few tweaks at half-time, mainly ensuring that our midfield didn’t sit too deep, and we were once again flying.

So not everything is possible then — a Tottenham win at Stamford Bridge seems to be beyond Spurs: 27 years and counting.

Five of Chelsea’s starting line-up weren’t even born last time Spurs tasted victory at the Bridge, and long may it continue.

For Chelsea, the win was significant for a number of reasons. To see if we had the mental capacity to overcome the one-goal deficit.

I was almost glad we conceded — I didn’t want this stat about not conceding to become a bit of a millstone around our necks.

And I wanted to see how Conte reacted.

I was pleased that he stuck to his plan and his formation and only made the slightest tweaks. This proves a couple of things — firstly that he knows and believes in his best formation. Secondly, that he also has the gravitas to give a half-time team talk that the players listen to and act upon — something I believe Jose was unable to achieve when the manager/player relationship broke down last season.

For the record, I never really believed we were in with a shout of the title this season. I thought it was too soon for Conte, there was too much surgery needed and there were too many other teams further along with their plans.

But suddenly we’re all like five-year-olds at Christmas again.

However, the losses to Liverpool and Arsenal rankle, as these are the teams we need to beat to reclaim our place in the elite, which makes this week’s clash with City key.

Beat the team with the best squad and arguably the best manager (not my belief, by the way) and we could be playing Champions League again next season at the very least.

The other thing that came out this week was murmurings of extended contracts for Costa and Courtois, which a year ago would have been unfathomable as both had made it very clear that they saw their futures in Spain.

Even after Mourinho left the club, many of us believed Costa would only remain until we found a suitable replacement.

Courtois was being very openly courted by Real Madrid and he was seemingly making cow eyes back.

Even Hazard was flashing his well-turned ankle at the Spanish giants and we were all fearing a decimated squad.

But Conte has brought harmony and the squad seem happy really finally a group once more.

There are still a few issues to sort out — are we just one or two injuries away from disaster?

When teams finally figure out a way to play against our system (and they will, eventually) does Conte have a Plan B? Should the money become too much to turn down for Hazard, could we even begin to cope without him? Only time will tell.

More in this section

Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
Home Delivery


Have the Irish Examiner delivered to your door. No delivery charge. Just pay the cover price.


Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox