Chelsea continued their impressive run of form making it 19 points from the last 21 available in the Premier League as they came from behind to dispatch a struggling Newcastle side at the Bridge 3-1 yesterday.
Eden Hazard was again in jaw-dropping form picking up a brace with a goal in each half. Alvaro Morata also headed home to make sure the Blues went into the break with a 2-1 lead. Conte’s side are producing a lot of good football at the moment, from a growing sense of stability at the back, to a forward pairing that is working wonders.
What caught my eye from this specific fixture though, as it did for many other Chelsea fans, was the role that Danny Drinkwater was given in the side. As we saw in the away draw at Liverpool, the summer signing was given the advanced role of the midfield three, a role that I thought he executed superbly yesterday.
In his Leicester days, Drinkwater was known a lot more for his deeper role, playing long passes into channels for Jamie Vardy, but Conte has clearly seen other strengths in the Englishman and opted to play him in this role over Tiemoué Bakayoko against Newcastle.
Composed in possession, late runs into the box, brilliant work rate, some Chelsea faithful might have questioned whether Frank Lampard was back in the side yesterday.
On the ball
The beauty of Eden Hazard’s new central role in the side is the way he picks up possession in the horizontal channel between an opposition’s backline and their midfield – an area that defenders don’t want to go into. Getting the ball in to Hazard’s feet is therefore the key to creating danger, and if the service wasn’t coming deep from Fabregas, then it was coming from Drinkwater.
The Englishman showed brilliant spatial awareness, knowing exactly where Hazard was at all times, finding him with ease in all types of positions. He’s a very tidy player on the ball, keeping things relatively simple, but most importantly for me, he goes about his business with pace and intensity. He reads the game so well that he knows what he’s going to do with the ball before he gets it, as all great midfielders do. Considering the types of dissecting passes he was making throughout the game in advanced positions, his pass success percentage of 83% is mightily impressive.
It was certainly a tactic of ours for Drinkwater to play balls into the feet of Hazard or either of our wing-backs. In the whole game only one of his passes was lofted. That stat alone proves how capable Drinkwater is of working to a plan and executing strategy. Under the command of a top manager, it’s hard to see him as anything other than a solid and reliable central midfielder who is only going to grow and improve playing in this system.
Off the Ball
Drinkwater’s work off the ball was just as impressive and caused Newcastle all sorts of problems. As we’ve already established, he was playing in an advanced role yesterday, in fact, he only made two passes in our defensive third. Throughout the game, he was always available for a pass, such was the efficiency of his positioning, and players were making runs off him knowing the ball would be fed back to them in dangerous areas.
He was dealing with the Newcastle midfielders so comfortably that before long in the game the former fox was orchestrating most of our play. It’s no wonder Drinkwater’s midfield team-mate N’Golo Kante is so happy to be back playing with him.
Another impressive feature of his display were the late runs he was making into the box. If he wasn’t providing the ball for Hazard in behind, then the Belgian was for him. Of course, his finishing isn’t in the same league as Hazard’s, and it is something that he needs to work on if he’s going to be playing the role regularly. However, even if he only made these runs once a half, the fact that the Newcastle defenders knew that he was capable and willing to do it meant they had to deal with him and track him at every play. That, of course, took at least one more player away from Hazard, who found more and more space on the ball because of it. Combined with the intelligent runs Morata was making, the three of them were too much handle for the Toon back line.
This attacking trio is potentially one that we could see line up for Chelsea more and more if Conte prefers Drinkwater in this role ahead of Bakayoko. I suspect he’ll opt for the strength and power of the Frenchman up against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday night, but what’s certain after this performance is that what once may have seemed a rushed, ill-judged, summer signing, could well be turning out to be one of our more intelligent ones.