When you win five league games in a row — and in what style! — there will understandably be plenty of praise to hand out. There's been so much of it in fact, that we're going to all look a bit silly if Chelsea fall flat on our faces tomorrow at Middlesbrough. Them's the pitfalls of narrative, which is always rich in the Premier League.
Still, giving due credit where credit is due should be done at every opportunity, especially once we consider how easy it is to criticize and lambast the players and the club after even the tiniest of errors and the smallest of missteps. Them's the pitfalls of training such a massive magnifying glass on every facet of modern football, I suppose.
So even as we heed Conte's warnings and worries about complacency, let's bask in the praise for three of Chelsea's best players so far this season, Eden Hazard, César Azpilicueta, and Diego Costa.
Hazard, who won his first ever (!) Premier League Player of the Month award in October — that fact gets more hilarious the more I think about it — recently talked about enjoying his Chelsea life once again, the new 3-4-3 system bringing out some of the best performances we've ever seen from him since he arrived at Stamford Bridge in 2012. (Can you believe it, we're going on half a decade of Hazard at the Bridge!) He apparently sat down with Conte way back in March to re-affirm his commitment to the club, and that commitment is apparent on the pitch as well these days.
"I like to see my players always involved in the project when we are playing. You can see Eden is always involved in the game, not calm and off during the game. He always stays in the game and he's always a point of reference for his team-mates. I think he's fantastic for this. It's great for us, for his team-mates to see Eden is always in the right position to receive a pass."
"I'm seeing a lot of positive things for Eden, with the ball and without. It's important, because to be a complete player you must perform in both phases, with the ball and without the ball. It's important."
It's notable that Conte refers to the two phases as with and without the ball, rather than attack and defense. While Hazard isn't absolved of all defensive responsibilities in the new system, he's tasked with closing down and defending from the front rather than worrying about dropping back and tracking full-backs. This also leaves him in better positions to use what is his greatest strength, leading the attack.
"From the position of Hazard when we have the ball, you can see that he has freedom. But that is always with respect to the other roles and the other two strikers, Costa and Pedro. For this reason always there is a rotation of these three strikers. Then I think in this system Eden is working a lot without the ball, but in a position more advanced than before. For him, it's better. For him, for Willian, for Diego, for Pedro."
"Eden is a player that can be decisive during the game. Eden and also Diego, Pedro, Willian. We have many players that can be decisive during the game. It's important to put these players in the best position for their talent and for me it's important to see."
-Antonio Conte; source: Goal
Speaking of putting players in the best position for their talents, wonder what César Azpilicueta's best position is nowadays. When he arrived, he was advertised as an attacking full back. Then, we were convinced he was the best defensive left back in the league. Now, it would appear that he's pretty much a perfect center back. Jose Mourinho may have been wrong about a few things, but his 'Win the Champions League with 11 Azpilicuetas' comment could go down as one of his most accurate ones.
"Azpi is a fantastic player. Because he can play different roles. But I think the role that he's playing now is perfect for him."
"He's playing very well, because he's fast, he has good technique, good positioning. He's a clever player. He can play in different roles, but this role I think is perfect for him."
-Antonio Conte; source: Guardian
But perhaps the most perfect player, regardless of tactical system used, has been Diego Costa. The Premier League's leading goalscorer has been fully committed to the Chelsea cause all season, despite a summer's worth of exit rumors. Costa and Simeone may be an inevitable reunion, but Costa and Conte are working out just fine as well.
"He's an example for all. If he continues to score, I'll be very happy. But I'll be happier to see this commitment, this work rate during training and in games."
"It's fantastic, I think, that Diego is improving a lot in a lot of aspects. For me, now, Diego is one of the best strikers in the world. He must continue that, working in this way, with his commitment and work rate."
-Antonio Conte; source: Reuters
It wouldn't be a Conte interview without talking about improving and working hard. These three may have been three of the best for Chelsea so far this season, but the work never stops.