Will this be Conte’s best Chelsea lineup this season?

Chelsea left it late again to take all three points at the weekend in a performance that showed they lacked creativity in the final third and weaknesses in defence. While Antonio Conte’s men have got six points from a possible six, they are yet to show any real cutting edge, but as we know, winning games in the style they have is exactly what potential champions do.

While their early form doesn’t suggest Chelsea will win the title this season, they are already grinding out results when needing to. If they can improve performances they will be in a great position to challenge for silverware this term.

It’s obvious there is still work to be done at Chelsea for them to improve. Conte has made it clear he wants another defender and rightly so, as there have been the same defensive issues troubling them in the early stages of this season that were apparent throughout the disappointing 2015/16 campaign.

Conte has been making game-changing substitutions that have without question won Chelsea both of their matches so far. So let’s have a look at their potential best starting lineup and how a formation change could be needed to improve their performances from here on out.

Potential starting XI via lineupbuilder.com

Potential starting XI via lineupbuilder.com

As we can see above, the 4-1-3-2 is a less common formation but something that has a lot of potential to work for Chelsea. Regardless of who has been in charge at the club, 4-2-3-1 has been the preferred Chelsea formation, but it has become predictable and is showing signs of weakness.

The 4-1-3-2 formation allows a completely different dynamic to the setup. While the apparent strength of attacking wingers – who both play high up the pitch and drop in for defensive play – is still a key theme, the option of two strikers will provide a headache for opposition defenders.

Forward play:

Michy Batshuayi has to be starting alongside Diego Costa. The two have played less than a half of football together this season and already appear to have a telepathic relationship brewing. Batshuayi’s knockdown to Costa allowed the Spaniard to net the winner in their opening game against West Ham and both strikers were on the scoresheet at the weekend, with the goals finally coming while they were both on the pitch.

Having a striker next to him affords Costa more room to manoeuvre, get in behind and go unnoticed as he is not up against both centre-backs at the same time.

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In the middle: 

Chelsea lacked creativity throughout their game against Watford at the weekend and it was only when Cesc Fabregas came on that they looked threatening. Fabregas creates so much room for his teammates both on and off the ball, as opponents know they cannot afford to give him space. As soon as the Spaniard gets on the ball he is looking for a defence-splitting pass or to bring a winger into play.

Having Fabregas come in for Matic also allows Kante to drop into the deeper anchoring role on his own, where he is at his best. Kante can then break up play and continually feed Fabregas with the ball rather than having to try and be a creator himself.

Service to the wingers and forwards was evidently weak in the game against Watford, while the partnership of Matic and Kante is excellent defensively, the pair offer little creativity going forward.

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At the back:

Chelsea still look lacklustre at the back. The positioning of their defenders was to blame for going behind to a screamer of a strike at the weekend, while an inability to clear the ball properly under-pressure in their first game saw their backline breached.

In an ideal starting lineup, Kurt Zouma would play for Chelsea but as we know, he is still a long way off playing. Zouma’s pace and strength make him a great option at right-back, a position where Branislav Ivanovic appears to be struggling.

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Playing this XI also leaves an incredibly strong bench to change things if they aren’t going well for Conte, although many would argue the likes of Oscar, Matic, Ivanovic, Pedro and Victor Moses should be getting a look in to start games.

Moses has made a great impact in both his appearances off the bench this season, while the likes of Matic, Pedro and Ivanovic have somewhat struggled to show their class in the early stages.

Playing a 4-1-3-2 formation would also be beneficial for Oscar, as although he may not start every game ahead of Fabregas he still has the ability to take up other positions such as on the wing or rotate throughout the season in the number ten role.

While we aren’t suggesting Conte will opt for this style of play it is something that could potentially work for Chelsea and make them less predictable going forward. It is going to be interesting to see if the Italian makes any further signings before the window closes and how they will continue to lineup in the coming weeks.

Should Chelsea opt for a different formation? Does Batshuayi need to be starting alongside Costa from now on?

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Stats: Is John Stones the answer to Chelsea’s early defensive crisis?

Chelsea have started the new Premier League season in abysmal form by their very lofty standards. The reigning champions fell 3-0 at Manchester City on Sunday, following their 2-2 home draw with Swansea and have just one point from a possible six – their worst start to a season since 1998.

It may not be time to press the panic button, but fingers will be leering towards it as last season’s best defence have already conceded five times in two games, with only Sunderland conceding more.

Young Everton centre-back John Stones has been identified as a man to fix their early defensive woes and Chelsea have stepped up their pursuit with a third bid for the player, believed to be in the region of £30 million.

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The Toffees are desperate to keep hold of the 21-year-old, who already has four England caps, with the Express reporting that Chelsea may have to pay nearer to £40 million to land their man in a deal that would make him the most expensive defender in Premier League history.

But is he worth the risk? At 21, Stones still has a lot to learn. He is improving with every game he plays at Everton and is a guaranteed starter in the heart of Roberto Martinez’s defence alongside fellow England international Phil Jagielka.

Table: John Stones' Premier League statistics over past two seasons compared to John Terry and Gary Cahill

Table: John Stones’ Premier League statistics over past two seasons compared to John Terry and Gary Cahill (via Squawka)

A move to Chelsea would see him partner either Gary Cahill or John Terry, though a regular starting role is far from guaranteed if he does move to Stamford Bridge. Terry was substituted at halftime in Sunday’s 3-0 defeat to City but is expected to remain a first-team regular, so perhaps it is Cahill who is under more pressure.

As the statistics via Squawka in the table above show, John Stones has outperformed Terry and Cahill in terms of successful passes, tackles won, blocks and interceptions per game in the Premier League since the start of last season.

Terry has scored more goals than Stones or Cahill after grabbing five last term but he is outperformed statistically by both defenders in every other key area.

We’re only through two games this season but Stones has already won more tackles (5) than Terry and Cahill combined (2) and looks to be a defender with a really bright future.

The only question remains: What blue will John Stones be wearing after the transfer window closes – Everton’s or Chelsea’s?

Stats: Southampton duo the most effective Premier League centre-backs

Southampton currently have the best defence in the Premier League this season having conceded fewer goals than any other team.

The Saints have let in just 21 goals from their 30 games, four less than the team with the next best back line, which is Chelsea who have conceded 25.

Captain Jose Fonte has missed just one game for Ronald Koeman‘s side in the 2014/15 campaign and he is currently leading the way as the centre-back with the most clean sheets – a total of 14.

Here is the numbers breakdown for the best six Premier League centre-backs based on those with a minimum of 15 appearances and the amount of goals their respective teams have conceded per-game when they play.

Best PL Centre Backs

Best Premier League centre-backs in 2014/15 (stats via Squawka)

Jose Fonte’s teammate Toby Alderweireld is statistically the most effective central defender in the division with the fewest goals conceded-per-game. The Belgian is on-loan from Spanish side Atletico Madrid and also boasts the best record for games-per-clean sheet.

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Arsenal‘s Laurent Koscielny is the next most impressive when it comes to the amount of goals conceded-per-game, although Chelsea defensive partners John Terry and Gary Cahill have shown why the Blues are top of the league as they have the next best games-per-clean-sheet ratio after Alderweireld and Fonte.

Perhaps unexpectedly, Manchester City‘s Eliaquim Mangala statistically has the sixth best record out of the Premier League’s centre-backs and is the most consistent successful passer of the ball, alongside John Terry with a pass completion ratio of 89%.

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Mangala also wins more tackles than the other five, while Alderweireld makes the most blocks and Koscielny the most interceptions.

The most surprising absentee from the top six centre-backs is probably Vincent Kompany. The Man City skipper concedes an average of one goal-per-game and has managed seven clean sheets at an average of three games-per-clean sheet.

Who is the best centre-back in the Premier League?

John Terry better this season than last according to Jose Mourinho

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has claimed John Terry is an even better player this season than last campaign.

Terry, 34, is still waiting for his new one-year contract extension, as per Chelsea’s policy with players over 30 being offered one year at a time.

Both Chelsea and the former England captain’s performances have been helped by the addition of Nemanja Matic in defensive midfield as the Blues have only conceded 22 goals in the league this season.

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Terry is helped by being a player who hasn’t had to rely on pace throughout his career. Despite many players losing that yard of pace as they enter their twilight years, Terry hasn’t showed too many signs of weakness as he has aged.

The Chelsea captain has featured in all 26 of his sides Premier League games this season and has contributed to 10 clean-sheets already.

Terry has three league goals this term and scored the opener in Sunday’s League Cup final at Wembley in the 2-0 win over Tottenham.

His Chelsea career was certainly revitalised as Jose Mourinho returned, having found himself out of favour in the 2012/13 season, making just 28 appearances.

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“John is proving again this season that he is a player for years,” Mourinho said ahead of Wednesday night’s game with West Ham.

“Last season he was good, this season he’s even better so he has time to enjoy his football with us and at the same time we can think of what’s coming next.

“When I came back he was coming from a difficult period, but last season he was very good, this season I think even better.”

Terry made 47 appearances last season and has made 36 so far this year, so providing he stays fit he should eclipse that total by the end of the campaign. He has started as many games as Gary Cahill and isn’t showing any signs of his age.

A statistical look at how Chelsea's centre-backs compare in the Premier League this season (Stats via Squawka)

A statistical look at how Chelsea’s centre-backs compare in the Premier League this season (Stats via Squawka)

Terry is an integral part of the Chelsea defence and has barely missed a game this season so Mourinho is more than happy for his captain to be assessed year on year as the 34-year-old defender is fully committed to the club.

Do you think John Terry is still Chelsea’s best centre-back?