Chelsea seek redemption

February 04, 2017
Stoke City's Ibrahim Afellay (left), and Everton's Tom Davies battle for the ball during the English Premier League match between Stoke and Everton at the bet365 Stadium, in Stoke, on Wednesday. (AP Photo)
Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic (right) attempts an overhead kick during the English Premier League match between Manchester United and Hull City at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, on Wednesday.
Chelsea's Diego Costa (left), competes for the ball with Liverpool's Joel Matip during the English Premier League match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, on Tuesday. (AP Photo)
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MANCHESTER (AP):

If, as widely expected, Chelsea goes on to lift the Premier League trophy, one game in its title-winning campaign will surely be remembered as the most significant for manager Antonio Conte.

Forget the 4-0 rout of Manchester United in October when returning manager JosÈ Mourinho was humiliated. Or the 5-0 victory over Everton in November when everything went right and Eden Hazard briefly resembled Lionel Messi. Or even the come-from-behind win at Manchester City the following month that firmly installed the team as title favourite.

The defining 90 minutes of Chelsea's season is likely to be a loss that led to some serious soul-searching and, critically, a change in formation.

A 3-0 loss at Arsenal on September 24 bewildered Conte. He saw his team playing as individuals, with the wrong attitude, the wrong balance, and with no identity. The only good thing to come out of that ill-fated trip to Emirates Stadium was a second-half switch to a 3-4-3 formation, which finally put Conte's imprint on his new side and was there to stay.

 

NO LOOKING BACK

 

From a low ebb eighth in the standings, to be precise Chelsea hasn't looked back. Fifteen wins from 17 matches later, Chelsea hosts Arsenal for their return game on Saturday with a nine-point lead and with most observers saying the title has been wrapped up.

Then there's Arsenal, which was at the height of its powers in the first half of that September game against Chelsea. But, as usual, Arsene Wenger's team hasn't lived up to expectations and a 2-1 home loss to Watford on Tuesday exposed its flaws and led to the coach questioning whether his players were "mentally ready" for the game.

They will have to be at Stamford Bridge today because a loss would almost certainly knock them out of title contention. Arsenal is in third place, tied on points with second-place Tottenham with 15 matches remaining.

All eyes will be on the line-up to see if Sergio Ag¸ero will recover his place in Manchester City's team after being dropped for new signing Gabriel Jes?s for the 4-0 win at West Ham on Wednesday.

Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, and Leroy Sane have formed a slick front line in the team's last two games, and Aguero - City's

Southampton will be without defender Virgil van Dijk, who was ruled out for three months on Thursday with an ankle injury.

It's a huge blow for mid-table Southampton, which recently lost its other starting centre back Jose Fonte to West Ham, the opponent today.

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