I’m pretty jealous of Chelsea for a lot of reasons—their budget, their stadium, their manager—and that feeling of envy also extends to our colleagues at We Ain’t Got No History, the flagship of SB Nation’s Soccer community. They pump out multiple stories a day from every angle and they’re all quality. Cruise on over if you’re curious about the Blues.
David Pasztor and I exchanged a set of questions ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League fixture. Check out their version here, where we talk a bit about Serie A’s increased competitiveness, Edin Edzeko’s Ballon d’Or chances and Radja Nainggolan’s hair.
1. While it may seem like Chelsea can print their own money and cover any defect, surely they're not perfect. What's Chelsea's biggest flaw thus far, and how can Roma exploit it?
WAGNH: The days of Chelsea being the biggest financial power around are sadly long gone, which has left the team a bit short indeed. While the first-team, when everyone's healthy and fit and in-form is up there with the best in Europe, recent injuries have highlighted the lack of depth in the team. That flaw isn't necessarily a specific exploit to take advantage of, but the schedule is starting to grind the team down already and we're only in October. There was rarely a game last season when Chelsea were outhustled and outfought (and outscored), especially after switching to the three-man defensive scheme — we've now had two in a row, with both Manchester City and Crystal Palace beating Chelsea.
2. Going along with that, Chelsea and Roma are mired in similar league positions, what's slowing their pace this season?
WAGNH: Almost everything went right for Chelsea last season. This season so far, not so much. Multiple injuries (including Eden Hazard's broken ankle, and now the hamstring strains for Kanté and Morata), the usual transfer window concerns (selling Matić and Costa, especially), and the increased workload of being back in Europe have combined for a less than ideal start. Add in a bit of bad luck and questionable red cards (including two in the opening day loss to Burnley at home), and yet another scintillating start for Manchester City and Chelsea are already 9 points off the pace.
3. Antonio Conte has used a few variants of the three-man back line this season, what's Chelsea's optimal formation for the Champions League and why?
WAGNH: Given the absence of N'Golo Kanté and the poor form of most of our forwards, Chelsea's ideal setup these days probably involves a more stable 3-5-2 look, with three midfielders and Hazard playing off of Morata up front. Chelsea's two best performances this season both utilized this formation, once with a more defensive/reactive look (2-1 win at Spurs) and once with a more attacking/proactive setup (2-1 win at Atlético Madrid).
4. While we'd love to have this problem, Chelsea have struggled somewhat since winning the Champions League several seasons ago, what must they do to avoid a similar fate this year?
WAGNH: In the five years since that final, Chelsea have won the league twice and the Europa League once, so these are certainly good struggles to have. That said, the season between the two titles was an unmitigated disaster, resulting in a court case, yet another acrimonious sacking of José Mourinho, and more controversies than I care to count. That Conte managed to recover the team from that situation is nothing short of remarkable, though that's unlikely to have bought him too much leeway should things go sour this season. As Conte likes to say, the only solution to avoid that fate is work, work, and more work. As long as the players remain committed to the cause and don't quit on him, we should be in a good shape.
5. How's our old friend Antonio Rudiger doing in London this year?
WAGNH: Rudi has settled in nicely and quite quickly and many would prefer him over Gary Cahill as one of the three starters in the first-choice back three. He looks quick and strong and is decently comfortable on the ball; qualities that make him an ideal fit on either the left or the right end of the defensive line.
6. Finally, give us a prediction for Wednesday's match.
WAGNH: Chelsea should be motivated and well up for another big European night at Stamford Bridge. 2-0, good guys.
Big thanks to David for his time, but let’s hope his prediction is wrong!