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A year ago on 4th April,

A certain Italian manager was confirmed to be the new manager of a well below-par Chelsea team.

Season 2016-17: The campaign of Antonio Conte‘The Godfather’, as he is known to many in his homeland, was still in charge of the Italian national team at the time but had already stated that he would part with the job following Euro 2016.

Chelsea Football Club were in turmoil following a disastrous first half of the 2015-16 season, which they began as reigning champions. None of their top performers from the previous campaigns showed glimpses of what they were capable of.

Jose Mourinho was enduring one of the worst seasons of his entire managerial career and fans could not fathom what was happening to their beloved Chelsea. The club was lying in 16th place, only a point above the relegation zone, when the board decided it was time to part ways with the ‘Special One’ for the second time in little over 10 years.

Guus Hiddink was brought in on a temporary basis to help steady the ship and the Dutchman did a fairly good job at that. The Blues lost only three more games for the remainder of the campaign but still ended up in 10th place come season’s end.

Over in Italy, Antonio Conte was preparing his Italy squad for a tournament, in which no one gave them a real chance. Drawn in a group alongside high-flying Belgium, a Zlatan Ibrahimovic-led Sweden and underdogs Ireland, Italy were not expected to go far.

With an ageing squad that included only five players under the age of 25, there was no doubt that Conte had his work cut out for him. But Gli Azzurri started the competition in fine fashion, winning their opening game against the Belgians 2-0. They followed that with a 1-0 win over Sweden, which guaranteed them qualification to the knockout phase.

Their success was largely credited to Conte’s tactical masterclass where he utilised an extremely effective 3-5-2 formation to prevent the opposition from playing their natural game, while hitting them on the counter.

The Italians then met Spain in the round of 16, where Conte’s tactical brilliance drew further applause. His side managed to suffocate the otherwise fluid Spanish passing system and countered at the right moments, scoring two goals to secure passage to the quarters. Despite a solid performance against the Germans in the next round, Conte’s side were eliminated via a penalty shoot out but went out with their heads held high.

Following Euro 2016, few doubted that Conte would fail to make it in the Premier League but many were also sceptical if Chelsea could get back the very top of English football. It is safe to say that 28 games and a 10 point lead at the top of the ladder later, Conte has proven all doubters wrong. The Italian genius started the campaign slowly but after switching to a 3-4-3 formation, Chelsea bulldozed their way to the top with some formidable performances.

Conte managed to get the best out of the likes Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, Nemanja Matic, Gary Cahill and Pedro, players that were very poor in the previous campaign. He also brought in new players in the form of David Luiz, Marcos Alonso and N’Golo Kante to strengthen his team and boy, did they do a good job at that.

Most impressively, he has brought new life to Victor Moses’ Chelsea career, with the Nigerian now an integral part of the starting XI. There is still a bit more for Chelsea to do if they are to lift the Premier League title, but with Conte at the helm, there is nothing in the way of the Blues.

Originally published at outside90.com

Post written by Rahul Dantes, Twitter: @rahulsdantes
for Outside 90, Blog: outside90.com, Twitter: @Outside90

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