Chelsea will be without Diego Costa and N’golo Kante on Boxing Day when they take on Bournemouth at home. The pair picked up their fifth yellow card against Crystal Palace last weekend and are shackled with a single match ban. They have been pillars in their respective departments thus it could be the biggest challenge for Antonio Conte to ensure his side maintain their momentum to secure their 12th straight victory.
It also means that Nemanja Matic will be without his reliable partner at the heart of midfield. The Serbian has been on par with Chelsea’s cracking run of form, together eclipsing the disappointing 2015/16 campaign. Yet it’s Kante presence by the side that has helped the 28-year-old to find his rhythm once again. The former Leicester midfielder has played every single minute under Conte’s watch and has been a terrific engine at the core of midfield. Week in week out, it’s becoming much more evident that Kante was the most important cog in Claudio Ranieri’s title-winning wheel last term and he could do the same favour for his new boss this time. His massive work rate and ability to track down the attacking routes of the opponents is nothing but remarkable. Previously, Ranieri mentioned that Kante “played as two players” and it doesn’t seem to be metaphorical.
His massive contribution has given a breather to Matic, who ballasts the play between defence and attack with more attentiveness. While what the Frenchman lacks in terms of physicality and aerial prowess, Matic is responsible for sorting that out. In short, it takes two to tango yet Kante edges a little higher.
Next weekend, Matic needs to punch above his weight as his trusted sidekick will only be available as a spectator. Cesc Fabregas is the likely replacement yet the Spaniard scores in a league of his own. He sprays beautifully weighed passes to set the tone for the attackers and does not share responsibilities in terms of defensive duties. Nathaniel Chalobah could be on cards to feature from the start or come in when Matic needs some help. The 22-year-old has made six appearances so far yet only coming off the bench. He is certainly a star in the making and somewhat an understudy to Matic and Kante, thus mistakes might pop up here and there and it’s the former’s duty to ensure it does not turn into threats.
However, echoing back to the 2014/15 season, the Serbian had a purple patch without assistance and was a key reason for Chelsea to win the league and all Antonio Conte needs is a repeat of that. Besides the Serbian midfielder, Michy Batshuayi needs to add goals to his compendium of skills to make sure Conte does not dip into the transfer market to find a capable deputy for the league’s top scorer.
Bournemouth may not have odds by their side looking at their lopsided form yet harking back to their stunning 4-3 comeback victory against Liverpool, Chelsea need to be on the front foot as soon as the first whistle.