Last season seems a world away for high-flying Chelsea.
After their 10th-placed finish under the guidance of first, Jose Mourinho and later, Guus Hiddink, the Blues have finally found their feet again under Antonio Conte.
In fact, that’s rather an understatement. 10 points clear going into April, it’s a lead at the top that has never been overturned this late in the season.
Unsurprisingly, it has also seen many of the players shoot back up in the estimation of fans and pundits. Eden Hazard is probably the best example, such has been the Belgian’s improvement under Conte.
It’s a more general trend regarding his team-mates too, and it hasn’t escaped Cesar Azpilicueta.
Reacting to rumours linking him with Barcelona, the full-back admitted, via the Guardian:
“I wasn’t hearing those sort of stories last season.”
Chelsea fans can rest easy, however, as he doesn’t seem to have any intention of leaving the champions-elect.
“Of course it’s flattering to be linked to Barcelona: it means you’re playing well…That’s a consequence of us being top of the Premier League, things are going well.”
“My objective since I arrived was to grow as a player and a person. I’ve adapted to the city, to the country. I feel settled, I’m comfortable with the language, my family is very happy. Right now my only objective is to continue with Chelsea.”
Now all that remains is for the likes of Hazard to commit. Conte’s project is supposed to be a long-term one, but he needs to make sure he keeps hold of his key players in the immediate aftermath of their expected success this summer.