Last time Chelsea visited the London Stadium, it went very well. Conte is somewhat lucky that the game is remembered more for what happened off the pitch as apposed to on it. Bilic left E20 the victor after West Ham defeated the West London side 2-1. Chelsea were only a few games into their winning streak back then, now their top of the table with the possibility of going 10 points clear should they win.
In order to get the Chelsea perspective on Monday Night's game, we spoke to David Pasztor from our sister site We Ain't Got No History.
1) So it's all going rather well in West London at the moment. Did you expect this at the beginning of the season?
No, certainly not to this extent. We expected (required) improvement after last season's debacle — the club's stated intent at the start of the season was to get back into the top four and the Champions League — but Conte has exceeded just about every expectation.
2) Do you miss Mourinho at all?
In more ways than one, no. While he will always be revered as the greatest manager in club history, his second tenure ended amidst palpable discord and him going to Manchester United has not helped repair the relationship at all.
3) Why has Conte gone for the formation he has and why do you think it works so well?
Conte played a three-man backline for many years at Juventus and with the Italian national team, but when he came to Chelsea, he first settled on a 4-2-4 with very attacking wingers and two center forwards. We played this almost exclusively throughout preseason and in the first couple rounds of the League Cup. But the 4-2-4 was lacking solidity in midfield and defence, which prompted a switch to a 4-3-3 late in preseason and at the start of the league. This worked, more or less, but was exposed by good teams like Liverpool and Arsenal. So Conte binned the whole thing and started from scratch.
This might sound obvious, but the 3-4-3 works well because it brings out the best qualities in several key players and mitigates for the weaknesses of several others. David Luiz may be the classic example, playing as the anchor of the backline where he's able to fully utilize his considerable passing skills, his aerial strength, but also has two covering players (as opposed to just one in a standard center back partnership) when he steps up in attack or in closing down.
It also helps to have the N'Golo Kanté twins playing alongside either Matić or Fàbregas in midfield, and allowing Eden Hazard more freedom in attack with the ball.
4) Victor Moses. Explain?
Like several others aspects of this season, it's just one of those things that no one expected, but now seems like preordained destiny.
Conte identified Moses's skills (just as Bilic and Payet have recently talked highly of them), but he was used as a substitute winger at the start of the season. But with no natural right wing-backs in the squad to fill that role in the 3-4-3 (Branislav Ivanović was well past his prime and César Azpilicueta is too defensive), Conte gave Moses a try, in what may have been nothing more than a whim.
5) What's your weakness? How do we beat you?
Early crosses from the right flank to the far post, where Azpilicueta's height and Moses's sometimes faulty positioning can be exploited.
6) And finally, prediction for the Chelsea XI and the match itself?
Conte's likely to roll with his usual first-choice XI, going with the stronger option in midfield of Matić over Fàbregas: Courtois | Cahill, David Luiz, Azpilicueta | Alonso, Matić, Kanté, Moses | Hazard, Costa, Pedro
We'll probably give up one because we tend to make Andy Carroll look beyond world class more often than not, but I think we'll get a couple ourselves and maybe a third late on as you push for an equalizer. 3-1, good guys, bold prediction.
Massive thank you to David for taking the time to answer our questions. I'm still wondering just what has happened to Moses but then again, it's not the first time I've said that. David asked me some questions over on We Ain't Got No History so make sure to check out that article to see what they are wondering ahead of the game!