After early promise gave way to a worrying wobble, Antonio Conte has firmly settled on a system that appears to have established Chelsea as genuine contenders for the Premier League title.
While some of Chelsea’s star men have been reinvigorated by the Italian’s change of approach, others have been forced to watch on from the sidelines as their hopes of first team action slowly evaporate.
The chief victim of Conte’s revamped side appears to be Cesc Fabregas, whose fall from grace has been so alarming it appears he’s on the verge of being forced out the club in January.
From the architect of their last title winning season to being deemed surplus to requirements in the space of 18 months, why has it gone so wrong for Fabregas?
Fabregas was hardly alone in suffering a dip in form last season as Chelsea embarked on a spectacularly unsuccessful defence of the Premier League title, with Eden Hazard’s decline the most alarming of all.
The Belgian was slow in adjusting to the demands of Conte’s tactical approach and was particularly culpable from a defensive point of view in the 3-0 defeat at Arsenal which prompted the Italian’s switch to his preferred formation.
While Fabregas, nursing an injury, hasn’t been seen in a Chelsea shirt since the Emirates debacle, Hazard has gleefully accepted the creative mantle in his absence, weaving his magic and reminding us why he was the Premier League’s outstanding player in 2014/15.
Conte’s system allows for only one free spirit and it looks like Hazard has got the gig for good.
He’s not N’Golo Kante… who is?
Having failed his audition to become the side’s chief orchestrator, Conte saw nothing in the Spaniard’s make-up to suggest he was in any way capable of protecting a reorganised defence.
Like Hazard, Nemanja Matic has also rediscovered the championship winning form he displayed under Mourinho and, to his credit, has added an extra attacking purpose to his game, as evidenced by his four assists already this season.
Meanwhile, headline summer signing N’Golo Kante has really come to the fore in the new system, recovering from the shock of being outmuscled and outpaced by Mesut Ozil during what appears to be representing a season-turning drubbing.
Pace, power, energy, drive and hunger are all qualities the Frenchman has exhibited in abundance over the course of recent weeks and, along with the Serbian destroyer, is undroppable.
The fact that youngsters Nathaniel Chalobah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have finally been given the opportunities and exposure their talents merit, hardly bodes well for Fabregas’s long-term Chelsea future either.
He’s suffering from burnout and been in decline for years
In truth, Fabregas’s decline has been unfolding before our eyes for some time now, reminiscent of the problems Wayne Rooney has encountered at Manchester United.
Like the United captain, Fabregas has played relentlessly at both club and international level since his teenage years.
Whereas their respective sides used to be built around them, on the rare opportunities they’re being handed first team opportunities, managers are shoehorning them into formations and systems ill-suited to their remaining qualities.
After being disposed of by Barcelona, who upon his departure offered a withering assessment of his performances during the second half of seasons, he rediscovered his golden touch at Chelsea before mirroring his own side’s decline last term.
When he left the Catalan giants he had the likes of Manchester United vying with Chelsea for his signature, while Arsenal were also considering the idea of bringing him back to north London, despite their raft of central midfield options.
It is telling that should he be available for loan in January, a fallen giant like AC Milan are likely to be the highest profile club bidding to snap him up.