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Chelsea showing plenty of soul under Conte

Genuine smarts: Conte’s Chelsea are flourishing

Three is the magic number for Chelsea right now: the three counselling sessions it took to convince Eden Hazard that José Mourinho had really left the club; the $3,000 yearly maintenance Antonio Conte pays for his hair; and, of course, the decision to play three at the back.

How we all laughed when David Luiz squeezed his bouffant back into Stamford Bridge at huge expense, and how everyone lined up to write Chelsea off after both Liverpool and Arsenal had dismantled Conte’s team.

But, as anyone who follows Italian football knows, the manager has genuine smarts to go with his crazed, mafioso dugout persona.

A trip to the training ground by grim reaper Roman Abramovich sparked rumours but it appears Conte decided that was the time, Godfather style, to make his players an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Those defeats were justification, quite rightly, to mould the team his way.

The result: three at the back and a much tighter pressing game that has allowed Hazard the freedom to return to player-of-the-year form. Additionally, Luiz has been excellent.

As Tottenham struggle to combine their lofty Premier League ambitions and Champions League football, they face Conte, a man who has won eight league titles as a player and a manager, and his resurgent Chelsea tomorrow.

I know who my money is on.

11am kick offs unless stated


Burnley v Manchester City


Burnley turned in their worst performance of the season at West Bromwich Albion on Monday night and now face Pep Guardiola’s City side. Sean Dyche’s optimism will be renewed knowing they are back in front of their own fans; Burnley have the fourth-best home record in the league.

However, City have won five of their past six away games and, despite a dip in their performance levels, should have enough to claim all three points here.

Prediction: 1-2

Hull City v WBA

Alarm bells are ringing in Humberside after Hull were taken apart by Sunderland ... yes, Sunderland. It means they have lost seven out of eight Premier League games.

WBA, meanwhile, are suddenly an attacking tour de force (and up to ninth), proving that a broken clock is still right twice a day. Harsh? Quite possibly. This is a great chance to increase their goal tally.

Prediction: 1-3

Leicester v Middlesbrough

Remarkably, Leicester have more points in the Champions League than domestically and many Fantasy managers, like me, will have seen their loyalty to Jamie Vardy backfire badly.

Luckily for the champions, Boro are a blunt, if organised outfit. A chance for Claudio Ranieri’s team to throw the shackles off.

Prediction: 2-0

Liverpool v Sunderland

Instead of honing his questionable finishing skills, Victor Anichebe spent his time as a free agent this summer buffing up his already buff body in Los Angeles. Whilst sculpting his pectorals and taking runs down Long Beach, he got a call from Sunderland. What a kick in the dumbbells. Still, the gym work has finally paid off as, fast forward a few months, the striker is now the toast of Wearside after three goals in two games.

A trip to Anfield is a free hit for Sunderland, with Liverpool overwhelming favourites.

Prediction: 3-1

Swansea v Crystal Palace

Five straight defeats for Palace and Alan Pardew’s neck is very much on the line, with reports of player and fan unrest. This is a game that could dictate his future.

Luckily for him, they take on Swansea, who haven’t won since the opening day of the season. New manager Bob Bradley is grappling with his squad as he tries to get them off the bottom.

Tension reigns in Wales.

Prediction: 2-2

Chelsea v Tottenham


Six straight wins for Chelsea has propelled them to the top of the table — and they have not lost a league game at home to Spurs since 1990.

Hazard and Diego Costa are razor sharp again, and rested given the team’s lack of European action this season.

Prediction: 2-1


Watford v Stoke City


Watford’s win at home to Leicester was even more impressive given they had been hammered 6-1 by Liverpool the previous week.

That strength of will points to a strong dressing room, which may give them the edge against an up-and-down Stoke.

Prediction: 2-1

Arsenal v Bournemouth


The Gunners were flat against United and disjointed against PSG in midweek. That said, they had the strength of character to claim a draw in both games. Is this the new title-winning Arsenal? The jury is out ... as it has been for years.

This is another test, with Bournemouth a dangerous proposition. Jack Wilshere has played his part but is not available because of his loan deal. Nevertheless, this is a potential banana skin for Arsene Wenger & Co.

Prediction: 3-2

Manchester Utd v

West Ham


West Ham have Winston Reid suspended, which does not bode well for the Londoners’ defence. United should have beaten Arsenal but failed to press home their advantage. There are signs the team are beginning to follow their master’s orders and the openness of West Ham’s team should play into their hands.

Prediction: 2-0

Southampton v Everton


Ronald Koeman heads back to the South Coast to take on his old club. Koeman is testing fans’ patience with recent performances and comments about Liverpool’s attacking prowess. Never wise. One win in seven for Everton suggests they will find this away day a tough proposition.

Prediction: 1-0

Congratulations to Mack Marley, who won the October monthly competition with 208 points in charge of Pick Your Own XI.

Paul Springer (Soccer Surgeon) was second just seven points behind, while Jokai Fox (Simple as Daat) and Carlos Allers (Gunners4Life) were joint third.

Here are the monthly winners so far this season.

August: Lee Williams (Expected Toulouse)

September: Damon Thompson (Chivas FC)

Mack Marley: (Pick Your Own XI)

If you haven’t already, e-mail jburton@royalgazette.com to learn how to claim your $100 prize.