The Big Five: Key players in Chelsea’s Premier League title-winning campaign
Antonio Conte managed to bring out the best in some of his underperforming stars
The news that Chelsea had agreed to pay £30 million (HK$300 million) to re-sign David Luiz from Paris Saint-Germain, who had paid £50 million to sign him in June 2014, was met with mockery by English fans.
In his previous stint at Chelsea, Luiz’s penchant for hazardous sorties from centreback had seen him branded a liability and there was puzzlement when he was brought back to Stamford Bridge.
But the Brazil international has proved to be an extremely shrewd acquisition by Antonio Conte, slotting neatly into the centre of Chelsea’s back three and spreading reassurance with his aggressiveness in the duel and calmness on the ball.
“His decision-making has been far better in terms of not being as rash,” said former Manchester United defender Gary Neville. “I have to say he looks more mature. He’s not getting distracted by the sideshow stuff on the pitch like he did before.”
Moses barely made a mark during his first four years as a Chelsea player after being signed from Wigan Athletic in 2012 and was successively loaned out to Liverpool, Stoke City and West Ham United.
But the Nigeria winger has been one of the chief beneficiaries of Conte’s 3-4-2-1 system, adopted during September’s 3-0 defeat at Arsenal.
Though a winger by trade, Moses has adapted enthusiastically to life as a wing-back and his flying raids down the right flank have become a key component of Chelsea’s counter-attacking strategy.
Leicester City succeeded in keeping Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez at the King Power Stadium following last season’s fairy-tale title win, but they lost perhaps their most precious jewel when Kante left for Chelsea in a £32 million deal.
The unassuming France international picked up where he had left off at Leicester, suffocating opposition midfields with his relentless activity and uncanny knack for recovering possession.
He has been voted Player of the Year by both the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and the Football Writers’ Association (FWA).
“It’s amazing to see him play,” said former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba. “You look at him and it’s like he hasn’t run at all during the game because he’s never tired.”
The star of Chelsea’s previous title success in 2014-15, Hazard underwent an inexplicable slump last season, scoring just four Premier League goals as Chelsea limped to a dismal 10th-place finish.
But the Belgian winger has been back to his brilliant best this season. Given extra liberty by Conte, Hazard has been free to sow panic in Premier League defences with his devilish dribbling and incisive passing.
His 15-goal tally is his best in a league campaign since he joined Chelsea from Lille in 2012 and includes a stunning solo goal in a 3-1 win against Arsenal that saw him leave three players in his wake.
He finished runner-up behind Kante in the voting for both the PFA and FWA awards. “He is a great player, a great talent,” said Conte. “And he must understand that he is a great player and never forget this.”
Like Hazard, Costa experienced a mystifying dip in form under Jose Mourinho last season and often seemed more interested in seeking trouble with opposition defenders than finding the back of the net.
This season has been far from straightforward, amid persistent links with a move to the Chinese Super League, and he was briefly dropped in January after a blazing row with a fitness coach. But the Brazil-born Spain international has managed to keep his eye on the ball nevertheless, giving Conte a rugged attacking spearhead and scoring 20 league goals for only the third time in his career.