The Premier League has a new champion. Chelsea finally broke down a stingy West Brom defense to claim a 0-1 win at The Hawthorns and secure their fifth Premier League title. It was rarely used summer purchase Michy Batshuayi that delivered the decisive blow in the 82nd minute. A lot went into Chelsea's turnaround after finishing 10th last season, and all their success points to one man: Antonio Conte.
Here are the biggest changes the Italian made to make Chelsea the champions of England yet again.
Getting the best from role players
Antonio Conte inherited a talented Chelsea squad, but the sum was nowhere near the value of the individual parts at the time. Even as he managed to get his stars to shine again, perhaps more impressive was his ability to get Chelsea's lesser-known quantities to contribute in a big way. In 29 league appearances with Chelsea prior to Conte's arrival, Pedro had seven goals and two assists. In his 33 appearances this season he's tallied 8 goals and 8 assists.
It's not just him, either. Perennial misfit Victor Moses blossomed under Conte, and Marcos Alonso — deemed a "panic buy" by most in the summer transfer window — has six goals and three assists in the Prem this season.
Mobilizing Cesc Fabregas
Fabregas arrived at Chelsea in 2014/15 and made an immediate impact, dishing 18 assists to help propel Chelsea to the title. As was the case with most of the Blues, he dropped off significantly the following season. In came Conte this year and Fabregas was pushed more to the periphery with newcomer N'Golo Kante and holdover Nemanja Matic fitting more into Conte's scheme.
The Italian had a plan for Fabregas, though, deploying the midfielder as a substitute when Chelsea needed more creativity. Look no further than matchday 2, when the Blues trailed 1-0 at Watford in August. Fabregas came on in the 78th minute and Chelsea scored an equalizer two minutes later. Then, in the 87th, Chelsea got their winner from Diego Costa, with Fabregas providing the assist. Make no mistake, Fabregas was a huge piece to Conte's title-winning puzzle.
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Maturing David Luiz
Whatever witchcraft Conte used on Luiz, it worked. The Brazilian shored up his defense, resisting the urge to make boneheaded plays that harm his team. Charged with playing in the center of Chelsea's back three, Luiz could ill-afford to go on walkabout runs or attempt senseless tackles. Somehow, he erased that part of his game.
Luiz deserves recognition for evolving as a player, but credits Conte with helping him mature. "I read more of the game now, I can understand more of the game, it is a different pressure now with the big games," he told SkySports. "I love to work with Conte, he loves to work on the details. He's helped me a lot and he's great to work with," he added. The proof is there.
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Having N'Golo Kante, of course
Having the PFA Player of the Year at his disposal certainly didn't hurt Conte's title quest. Kante came to Chelsea from the previous champions, Leicester, and hit the ground running. His relentlessness pursuit basically equates to a man advantage for Chelsea, winning tackle after tackle. He's only getting better, too. With Leicester last season, Kante averaged 39.16 passes per match and had 63 accurate long balls in 37 matches. This year, he's passing just under 61 times per match and has distributed 130 accurate long balls. The 26-year-old is looking like the steal of last summer's transfer window.
Pulling the plug on the four-man backline
Of course, Conte's biggest contribution to changing Chelsea's fortunes has been changing the way his team lines up. After finding little success with the four-man backline through six matches, Conte went with three center backs and deployed wing backs. The formation became very en vogue, as a number of competing managers tried it in an attempt to match up with Chelsea numbers-wise or replicate their success against other sides.
Conte's change did a lot to alter Chelsea's fortunes, but perhaps most importantly it freed up Eden Hazard. The Belgian likely would have won the Player of the Year award if not for teammate N'Golo Kante. With less to do defensively Hazard was liberated to focus on getting the attack going, scoring 15 goals and five assists in the league.
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Keeping Diego Costa's head on straight
Raise your hand if you thought Costa would last the season without seeing a red card, especially after the FA emphasized a rule stating players that swore at referees would be issued reds. Costa didn't keep his nose entirely clean, however, and he picked up four yellow cards (half of them for the newly emphasized dissent rules) in six matches. Yet with a yellow card suspension looming, he made it EPL 10 matches without picking up a card.
The only person in Chelsea's ranks that can match Costa for passion and animation is the manager. Conte got Costa to channel that passion (and anger) into results for the team. The manager also navigated the murky waters of a reported mega-money offer for Costa from China, not to mention a training-ground kerfuffle. There's nobody on Earth that can completely stabilize Costa, but Conte's done as good of a job as anyone can be asked to.
Instilling resiliency in the squad
Chelsea had their slip ups this season, but Conte was quick to have them ready to rebound. Following their demoralizing 3-0 loss to Arsenal in September, Conte pulled the plug on the four-man backline and went to his preferred formation. Chelsea responded with a 13-match EPL winning streak. When Spurs ended that streak, Chelsea fired off a 3-0 win at the home of the defending champs and went eight matches unbeaten. The slip against Crystal Palace was remedied with a followup win against Man City. Their mid-April loss to United has seen the Blues rattle off four straight wins. There's no telling if Conte is a Big Sean fan, but the manager certainly knows how to bounce back after taking an L.
Endearing himself to the players and fans
A manager's relationship with his players goes a long, long way. Conte didn't waste any time showing Chelsea who's boss when he arrived, and he got his players to buy into his philosophy. He lived and died with them on the sidelines, screaming, jumping and gesticulating from the opening whistle to the final one. His desire to win was palpable and the former player looked like a vision of his past after each Chelsea win. He'd congratulate every player, clapping and hugging them and making it a point to go over and applaud away fans when the Blues weren't at Stamford Bridge.
He also did something I've never seen a manager do before after beating Middlesbrough and ensuring the club's relegation. Conte went to the Boro players and staff and offered them encouragement, and even went as far as applauding Boro's traveling fans. It wasn't pandering or patronizing, either, it was genuine. Conte had done the damn-near impossible. He made a Chelsea manager likable to non-Chelsea fans.
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