Understanding Antonio Conte's 3-5-2 at Chelsea
With Champions League success high on Chelsea's agenda for the season, the Chelsea boss had switched to his more favoured 3-5-2 after identifying the trio of N'Golo Kante, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas as his ideal men to marshal the midfield that is flanked by Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso.
However, injuries to key players such as Kante, Hazard and Moses has prevented Antonio Conte from playing his full strength line up for much of the season so far. He often had to revert to playing 3-4-3 to make up for the lack of midfield options partly due to Danny Drinkwater's lengthy spell on the sidelines.
Recent times have been better for the under-fire manager with Kante's return and Hazard rediscovering his touch which took the Blues to the title last time around. Antonio Conte has been able to field his first choice starting line except for Moses who is still recovering from an injury. The Blues have improved immensely in recent games with victories at home against title-chasing United and away at West Bromwich Albion.
Chelsea's new five-man midfield is slowly starting to look ominous with the likes of Kante and Bakayoko stemming the opposition attacks and Fabregas spraying around key passes and accurate long balls.
It was just over a year ago when it seemed that Fabregas' Chelsea career was heading towards a hasty end because of a paucity of playing time. Full credit must be given to the Spanish maestro for having orchestrated a dramatic turnaround at Stamford Bridge.
The new three-man midfield - creativity, strength and tirelessness
The way Conte has used Fabregas this season is akin to how he used an ageing Andrea Pirlo while managing Juventus. The new formation gives the playmaker more freedom to roam around and time on the ball to make those impeccable passes forward towards the likes of Hazard and Morata.
At times, Fabregas has played a deep-lying role with the sole aim of dictating play. One reason as to why he has been afforded the freedom is because of the growing partnership between N'Golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko at the middle of the park.
Bakayoko is a powerhouse who has brought a sense of vigour to the Chelsea line up. He is equally adept at carrying the ball forward at pace and breaking down opposition attacks with well-timed tackles. His performances against Atletico Madrid and Manchester United this season are proof of that. If nurtured properly, the 23-year-old can quickly make Chelsea fans forget Nemanja Matic.
He still needs to work on his consistency though. N'Golo Kante's impressive work rate coupled with his ever-improving attacking play and an inherent understanding with Bakayoko is fast making Chelsea impregnable down the middle.Kante's dynamism also allows Bakayoko to roam further forward.
Hazard's partnership with Morata
Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata are extremely skilful players. As they showed against Atletico for Chelsea's first goal, they have the potential to combine effectively and run opposition defenders ragged. Hazard, in his new role behind the striker, has more freedom from defensive duties owing to the well-manned midfield. Thus he can focus entirely on the creative aspect of his game and justify the frequent comparison made with Messi and Ronaldo by performing on the big stage.
Defenders and Wingbacks - solid as ever
The arrival of the likes of Christensen and Rudiger has definitely strengthened the backline despite the exit of John Terry and Nathan Ake. Cesar Azpilicueta, in particular, has had a steady start to the season despite some rare, uncharacteristic defensive errors.
Azpilicueta has also managed to contribute 5 assists and a goal already and his telepathic understanding with Morata is bound to reap Chelsea more rewards. Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses continue to be Conte's first choice even though Davide Zappacosta has impressed in Moses' absence.
Andreas Christensen has been extremely solid and his performances have meant that David Luiz would now find it difficult to work his way back into the manager's plans.
Extremely able backups
The formation switch has unfortunately relegated Pedro to the bench. But it can be safe to assume that he along with Willian and Batshuayi would deliver the goods whenever called upon by the manager. Also, Antonio Rudiger - with considerable European and international experience under his belt - is a welcome addition to the squad along with Zappacosta. In Caballero, Conte has an extremely experienced and reliable back up in case of Courtois' unavailability.
Only time would tell if Chelsea's new look formation would enable them to hit the staggering heights of last season but if their performances anything to go by, the Chelsea fans can expect more success to come their way this season.