Conte develops winning blueprint
The Chelsea swagger is back - just in time for a momentous reunion with the man who came to epitomise the King's Road strut.
Chelsea 3 Leicester 0
Jose Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge as the opposing manager when Manchester United visit next Sunday with his old team rapidly rediscovering their imperious ways.
Chelsea swatted aside champions Leicester, providing ample evidence that Antonio Conte is slotting together the pieces after a sluggish start to the campaign.
The Chelsea manager was subjected to the indignity of a betting splurge on his job prospects last Thursday, but when the question was posed in the aftermath of this destruction of Leicester, he could afford a smile and a shrug.
The cornerstone of Conte's blueprint is the switch to a back three, allowing impressive wing-backs Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso to work the flanks, which in turn enables the creative genius of Eden Hazard to flourish in a more central, advanced role.
Hazard clearly relishes his new-found room for expression, ripping through the heart of Leicester's defence to steer Chelsea two ahead midway through the first half.
Diego Costa's early strike and a composed late finish from Moses sends Chelsea into the Sunday showdown with spirits high.
"The next game is very important, because after two defeats against Arsenal and Liverpool it is important to give a different answer," Conte said. "It is important for our confidence, and our fans."
Conte is preparing for a week spent honing his formation for the Mourinho test, but was cagey on whether 3-4-3 will be his preferred option.
"We have the possibility to have two different solutions and we have another week to improve this type of system," he said. "We have a week to study our opponent and find the right solution and put them in a difficult situation."
Without Willian and Oscar, both on compassionate leave, and the injured Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea still had plenty in midfield to overpower a Leicester side who look vulnerable on their Premier League travels, even if their Champions League campaign, which continues against Copenhagen tomorrow, has provided a shining light.
N'Golo Kante, the midfielder who helped drive Leicester to the title last season, showed little sentiment in dominating the middle of the park for Chelsea against his former team-mates.
The match-up between the man who made such an unheralded arrival at Leicester two summers ago and the world's most expensive player, Paul Pogba, is just one of many enticing sub-plots around Sunday's encounter.
United will clearly provide a greater test of Conte and Chelsea's credentials than a Leicester side who failed to manage a shot on target.
Overrun in the first half, there was marginal improvement after the break, but when the travelling support sang: "We know who we are, champions of England," it seemed more of a reminder-to-self rather than a proud boast.
Chelsea's back three sat deep to cut out Leicester striker Jamie Vardy's supply route, while a rickety defence has now gifted 13 goals in four League road trips, but the visitors' problems seem to run yet deeper.
"There is something missing at the minute. If it is that fight, we need to get it back pretty quick," said Danny Drinkwater. (© Daily Telegraph, London)