Three aways, three homes

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The way we were: 1994, the Glenn & Ken show… plus gaffer-taped microphones

 

Three away games on the trot, followed by three home matches at the Bridge.

This topsy-turvy world is skewed by European fixtures as the Blues aim to follow up a thumping success at West Brom at the weekend with similar joy at those two outposts of football, Azerbaijan and Anfield.

Hard to say which seems the more remote. Another surge of Champions League football takes Chelsea to Baku to play Qarabag, and then Stanley Park to play Liverpool, rounding off three away fixtures in the space of a week.

Then it’s home, home, home as the Blues entertain Swansea, Newcastle and Atletico in six hectic days at the Bridge.

The Champions League games against Qarabag and Atletico Madrid provide further opportunities for Glenn Hoddle, pictured in his time at the Bridge – alongside Santa Claus, to summon up pearls of wisdom and share his forensic insight into formations, wing backs and how events in past lives can come back to haunt you, as he sits at the pundits’ desk of BT Sport.

Now is precisely the time that the hirsute Tony Conte needs a deep and high-quality squad at Stamford Bridge, with the gaps in back-up in key positions threatening to reduce options, increase frustration and – perhaps – convince the Blues manager that a more comfortable future may lie in Italy, leading the national side back from the wilderness of failing to qualify for the World Cup.

From being lauded as a miracle worker when Chelsea won the league title in May, Conte has had to put up with a tedious summer in which much was promised but little materialised, and a fragmented autumn where the deficiencies in squad depth have been underlined by mixed European fortunes.

On the plus side, the 4-0 win at West Brom which led to Tony Pulis’s sacking was an exhibition of all that is brilliant about Eden Hazard.

It augers well for the trip to Anfield, which promises to be a tough test after a long flight home from Baku.

Conte’s 50th Premier League game in charge of the Blues suggests that reverting to a settled line-up – as was the case for most of the 2016/17 season – really does work. The team that lined up against the Baggies was the same as the one that beat Manure.

The Hawthorns has, in the past, been the place where Chelsea gaffers suffer, then find their employment has been terminated. So, for once, it was heartening to see the boot on the other foot in terms of managerial suffering.