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Was Mourinho right? Drinkwater deal makes Chelsea even more destructive

17:40 BST 07/09/2017
Danny Drinkwater England
The Manchester United manager questioned the philosophy of his former club last season, and their summer business has enhanced the Antonio Conte mould

"I'm surprised with the way they play. I'm surprised because I thought they were demanding a different kind of football. I think they are very good defensively and I think they have fantastic players to be a counter-attack team and to kill opponents with three or four players."

Jose Mourinho mind games or moaning?

Whatever your take on the above comment — made to Football Focus in March — the argument itself, regarding Chelsea’s mindset under Antonio Conte, still stands.

The self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ had previously said of his former club a few months earlier: "They score one goal and they win. They defend a lot. They defend well. They are winning and, in the last 20 minutes, they bring defenders in. They don't care what people say, what people think. They just want to win."

The Blues’ Premier League title triumph in 2016-17 saw them collect five 1-0 victories, while they also prevailed by the odd goal in seven other fixtures.

Conte found a formula, following a winless run through September, which allowed his side to prosper and unashamedly stuck to it throughout the remainder of the campaign as the English top-flight crown was returned to Stamford Bridge with relative ease.

After dropping eight points in the second month of the season, Chelsea squandered just 11 more in 32 matches.

They also collected just one clean sheet in their opening six games, before going on to secure another 15 en route to restoring domestic dominance with a seven-point advantage over the chasing pack.

Within their ranks, David Luiz earned widespread praise after returning from Paris Saint-Germain as less of a PlayStation performer and more of an actual centre-half, Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso became unsung heroes, Thibaut Courtois collected the Golden Glove award, and N'Golo Kante was named PFA Player of the Year.

How do you build on such success?

Well, with Conte a former no-nonsense midfielder himself, and with the Italian mindset of success built on defensive solidity engrained within him, the answer appears to be 'become even more destructive'.

Mourinho has, inevitably, had his say on things once again: "They have very good teams, very good players and I don't see any reason for them not to be fighting for the title. When people say, for example, Chelsea lost an important midfield player [in Nemanja Matic], if you lose one but you buy [Tiemoue] Bakayoko and [Danny] Drinkwater, for example, what's the problem? The problem is when you sell and you don't buy. When you sell and you keep buying, what's the problem? You are probably even stronger."

That sound bite was delivered on August 18.

By August 31, Chelsea had completed a deal for England international Drinkwater, with £35 million paid to Leicester 12 months on from handing over £32m for Kante.

Conte only brought in seven players during the latest transfer window, and of those five are defensively minded (Drinkwater, Bakayoko, Antonio Rudiger, Davide Zappacosta and Willy Caballero).

Over £100m was spent acquiring said talent, with Chelsea clearly of the opinion that keeping the back door bolted is the best recipe for future success.

Conte may well have wanted more — the list of players he missed out on is well-documented — but he now boasts options which will allow him to mix things up more than he did last term, when a lack of European football allowed Chelsea to prosper with a settled starting XI.

Drinkwater, in particular, could prove to be a shrewd investment, despite the initial surprise which greeted news of the 27-year-old registering on the Stamford Bridge radar. He is a Premier League title winner and a man well versed in the demands of the division.

It must also be noted that he has prospered alongside Kante in the recent past, with their partnership in 2015-16 — which saw them record eye-popping figures when it comes to touches, interceptions, recoveries and generally being a nuisance — allowing the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy to steal headlines around them.

More of the same at Chelsea — with Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata and Co standing to benefit — may well deliver a repeat of Conte’s debut success in west London.

There have been early questions again — not least after an opening day defeat at home to Burnley — but another victory by the odd goal (sound familiar) at Tottenham has been followed by a first shutout and convincing success over Everton.

Mourinho may be irked by the methods — having faced criticism for being similar during his time at the Blues helm — but Chelsea are not about to stray from a winning path and are unlikely to offer any excuses for the manner in which they continue to stride down that trail.