On the back of a rather lacklustre attempt, to put it kindly, at defending the 2014-15 Premier League title, Chelsea were expected to go through an extended transitional period, even with a proven winner like Antonio Conte as the new man in charge. However, the Blues decided to surprise everyone, including themselves, and thanks to a club-record 12-match winning streak, have stormed to a six-point lead at the top of the table by Christmas.
The biggest turning point proves to be a 3-0 loss to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in late September. Since then, in the 12 games played under the new 3-4-3 tactical scheme, Chelsea have scored 28 goals and conceded just 2.
According to goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea's surprising form is also the result of not just hard work, but a change of mentality within the squad.
"We knew that maybe our mentality was not right in those two games we lost against Liverpool and Arsenal. They were tough games and we didn’t have the same intensity as Arsenal or Liverpool. If you don’t put the same intensity in as the other side, you will not win that kind of game."
"So that’s why we talked as a team about making a step up at that point, because we didn’t want to have the same season as last year. We needed to step up and that’s what we did."
"Obviously with the current run of wins of course we would say we are doing maybe better than expected after a bad season last year. We are top of the league with more points than we had after this many games when we were champions two years ago."
"So that says we are doing well but we have to keep on working hard and fighting a lot against the teams who defend more and are hard to break down. We will try to do our best and keep the run going."
Along with the work by our men upfront, Chelsea have faced the third-least amount of shots against them with 8.7 per match across 18 games.
Enjoying good protection from his defense — Chelsea have faced the third-least amount of shots in the league at 8.7 per game — and coming up with crucial saves when needed (see his saves against Jack Wilshere and Benik Afobe on Monday), Courtois already has 11 clean sheets to his name this season, the most in Europe’s top five leagues. (The Premier League single season record is 21, held jointly by Petr Cech, 2004-05 and Edwin van der Sar, 2008-09.)
"If you can win games and keep clean sheets it gives confidence to all the team and to the goalkeeper especially. The goalkeeper depends on that quite a lot I think. Before, I had a lot of critics because we faced not so many shots and my shots-to-goals percentage was not very good."
"But if you analyse those goals maybe only the penalty against Swansea I could have done better with. The other ones were always good shots. Then, as a goalkeeper, it is not easy but we are playing well this season. I feel good and it’s great to get all those clean sheets with important saves as well."
-Thibaut Courtois; Source: Daily Star
Courtois has recently re-entered the rumor mill as Real Madrid’s transfer ban was lifted for next summer, but as much as the Spanish media would want it to be otherwise, the young goalkeeper seems committed to the Blues and has silenced most of his critics with improved performances this season. Chelsea would also be rather foolish to sell, especially with available replacements only being as good as Manchester City cast-off Joe Hart. Courtois has over two years left on his current Chelsea deal; that will no doubt be extended in the next few months to put a (brief) stop to any such speculative nonsense.