When the season started, it was a surprise to see Victor Moses still at Chelsea.
Fast forward to March and having started the last 21 league games for the Blues, the Nigerian is one of the first names on manager Antonio Conte’s team sheet.
At the beginning of the month, the 26-year-old signed a two-year extension to his contract at Stamford Bridge, tying him down until the summer of 2021.
That may seem normal now, given that he has been converted into a hugely impressive right wing-back, but at the beginning of the season the idea of Moses being a first team regular, let alone a first team regular playing at right wing-back would have been beyond bizarre.
Early season bemusement
You only have to look at a few of the tweets from Chelsea’s first match of the season against West Ham, a 2-1 win which saw Moses replace Eden Hazard from the bench after 85 minutes.
— Ian (@TheIanNewby) August 15, 2016
Victor Moses hahahahahaha, hasn't progressed since he played for Wigan #CHEWHU
— Sergio Rodriguez (@Sergiorlfc) August 15, 2016
— Ackloyd (@AW_Chuma) August 15, 2016
— Footy Dave (@footy_dave) August 15, 2016
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There seemed to be a lot of bemusement as to why Moses was even in the squad, let alone replacing Hazard at 1-1 when the Blues needed a goal to win the game.
That was also a bit of surprise when the Nigerian made his first league start of the season at Hull in October – the first game Conte started with the 3-4-3.
So Conte Would rather start Victor Moses than Fabregas. Ok #HULCHE
— Musab (@mmusab_) October 1, 2016
How on earth does Victor Moses start ahead of Pedro 😳🙃 #HULCHE
— Sergio (@srod009) October 1, 2016
But by the end of the game, it seemed like Blues fans were on board with Moses’ inclusion.
Victor Moses has developed into quite the footballer #HULCHE
— El Patrón (@Thabiso_Flabba) October 1, 2016
— Eric Freeman #FPL (@EricDFreeman) October 1, 2016
Hats off to Victor Moses for a good display today! #HULCHE
— Ajoe LeVar (@Joevar_A) October 1, 2016
And from then on, it’s undeniable that he’s gone from strength to strength in a position he’d never played before.
Moses keeps on getting better
If you look at his league statistics from this season and the three before it, it is hard to deny that Conte hasn’t improved Moses, particularly defensively.
And a big part of that could be down to simply more playing time.
In the Premier League so far this season, the Nigerian has played 1841 minutes in a total of 26 games.
Last season at West Ham, he had 989 minutes on the pitch and was involved in 21 games, while at Stoke in the 2014/15 season, Moses played 19 times, with 1444 minutes of league action.
And at Liverpool the season before that, the Nigerian featured for just 669 minutes in 19 games.
He has only bettered his three Premier League goals so far this season once – back in the 2011/12 campaign when the then Wigan man was playing much further forward up the pitch.
Moses only has two assists so far this season – the same as last year at West Ham and one less than the campaign before that at Stoke, but you would not be surprised to see him add to the total before May.
While his goals and assists return may be unremarkable, his level of successful take-ons has really been improved by Conte.
In the previous three seasons, his best level was at Stoke – 51.2 per cent.
Yet this year, the 26-year-old has smashed that – completing 67.7 per cent of his take-ons this season.
It obviously helps that he is playing slightly deeper, but it is still a significant increase.
In terms of total duels, he is nearly at his best in the last four seasons too.
Moses has won 50 per cent of his total duels so far this campaign, compared to just 43.1 per cent when he was at West Ham and 40.4 per cent when he was at Liverpool – he did complete 51.5 per cent while at Stoke though.
And defensively, he has massively stepped up his game too, perhaps unsurprisingly due to his new role finding himself closer to his own goal.
Before this campaign, he didn’t make more than one clearance per 90 minutes in the previous three seasons (0.4 per 90 minutes at West Ham, 0.8 at Stoke and 0.3 at Liverpool), yet in his new found wing-back role, Moses has made an average of 2.9 clearances per 90 minutes in the league so far this season for Chelsea.
And the average number of interceptions the converted wing-back is also the highest it has been in the last four seasons at 2.0 per 90 minutes.
A deserved new contract at Chelsea
The new contract signed earlier this month marked a remarkable turnaround for Moses.
“I’m delighted to be here for another few years now and to sign a new deal”, he said on putting pen to paper.
“I’m enjoying my football and we have a good manager here that has given every single one of us confidence.
“I just want to keep on enjoying it and working hard for the team.”
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And Moses making a point of mentioning Conte and the confidence he shows in his players just shows how important the Italian has been in his revival.
Yes, the Nigerian worked hard out on loan and proved himself in pre-season, but Conte took a risk and trusted Moses in a vital role, something that previous manager José Mourinho was not willing to do.
And both Moses and Conte have reaped the benefits this season.
Come the summer, there will be many Chelsea transfer targets, but it will be a surprise if any of them replace the Nigerian.