Chelsea host Bournemouth on Boxing Day in what could prove to be an enthralling game.
It has been an incredible few weeks for Chelsea as they continue their domination of the Premier League. With Liverpool not playing until Monday evening against Everton, it meant Chelsea ended the weekend seven points clear of second placed Manchester City.
Their win over Crystal Palace at the weekend was typical of the way they have been in recent weeks as Diego Costa's header earned them victory. They looked incredibly strong in defence and Crystal Palace struggled to carve out any real chances throughout the game.
Offensively too, they looked very good as they carved their opponents in two on more than one occasion. This defensive solidity and incisive attack now seems synonymous of Antonio Conte's Chelsea as they continue to improve with each passing game.
Chelsea's Diego Costa celebrates
However, they now face their toughest test of this season as they must play without their two most influential players. Both N'Golo Kante and Diego Costa were booked in their win over Palace, meaning they are ruled out of the game against Bournemouth on Boxing Day. Even though Chelsea have a sizeable squad, losing two players of this calibre would hurt any side.
Costa has been in superb scoring form this season, netting 13 goals this term as he leads the way in the Premier League this season, and he has already surpassed his tally for last season. He once again looks like the combative and aggressive centre-forward Chelsea bought from Atletico Madrid. What Conte seems to have changed is the Spaniard's ability to walk on the line of what is legal in their games, without getting booked all of the time, with it being unthinkable that Costa would have only just picked up five yellow cards after 17 games this time last season.
Kante on the other hand has been primarily potent in his defensive duties as he has been the player that has turned Chelsea's form around. The Blues struggled in midfield last year as Nemnja Matic was overrun in the middle, while Cesc Fabregas was all too often bypassed easily in the centre. The all action Frenchman has provided a fantastic partner to Matic as the two have hustled and harried their opponents, splitting the defensive workload in half.
Chelsea's N'Golo Kante in action
Kante also provides an offensive edge in the middle when he is needed but, more importantly, he allows Matic to get forward more often and use his passing ability and power to good effect.
Against Bournemouth, Conte is likely to play Fabregas next to Matic in midfield, while Michy Batshuayi may get a start up front. While the two will provide Chelsea with a different style, it is perhaps not one that will be as potent. The Fabregas/Matic partnership struggled hugely last season as Chelsea were unable to strike up any control in the middle, while the young Belgian striker is inexperienced at this level and has not been afforded much game time.
Boxing Day is likely to throw up Chelsea's biggest challenge then, and it is also likely to prove how good the Blues really are. The likes of Eden Hazard and Pedro will become even more important, while Matic must look to continue to control the ball in the middle of the park.
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