It would be premature to suggest that Chelsea under the guidance of Antonio Conte, are a team in crisis after only two and half months in charge at Stamford Bridge. But make no bones about it they are certainly at a crossroads.
Adding to the ever – growing list of high profile managers to ply their trade in this country’s top flight. Chelsea fans would have been delighted to see someone of Conte’s ilk appointed over the summer. Coming with the reputation of a defensive mastermind after delivering a hat-trick of scudettos to the adoring Old Lady.
As a player, Antonio Conte was well regarded especially within Italian football, often receiving praise for his tenacity and tireless work rate from midfield. Traits which are often associated with his sides now in management.
Let’s get one thing straight before this article goes any further, Conte is top level manager. With a win percentage of 67.5% with Juventus over 150 games, you’d be foolish to argue with that. These are just thoughts from his first few games in charge of Chelsea FC.
Following league defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal already this season, the latter coming in a humiliating 3-0 defeat in a London derby. It’s clear that there are several issues early on into Mr. Conte’s Chelsea regime which need sorting out sooner rather than later.
I’ve highlighted the following 4 key aspects as being the problem areas for the Blues;
1.) Tactical Confusion
2.) Replacing the old guard
3.) Over – Coaching
4.) Too much emphasis in Fitness
With the level of analysis in formations and tactics in todays game, pundits and reporters alike will always try to predict what formation a new manager will attempt to implement at a club.
When it became common knowledge that Conte would be taking over as Chelsea manager in the summer this was no different. Due to the overwhelming success the 3-5-2 had provided Conte at Juventus, it was deemed a given that this would be his ‘go to formation’ for Chelsea.
But to think Conte could just ‘adapt a formation’, which had served him well in Serie A to Premier League conditions is questionable.
The Premier League is an end to end roller – coaster ride from start to finish. Serie A on the other hand is a defensive masterpiece. The intensity and efficiency of both Liverpool & Arsenal were the underpinning factors in Conte’s two major defeats so far this season.
4-3-3? 4-1-4-1? 3-5-2? 3-4-3?
Is there any wonder, Conte’s players have looked confused or bewildered at times this season? I imagine adapting to life under new management is difficult at the best of times.
But having to switch between multiple formations from one game to the next, must be like driving through a crossroads with all the traffic lights shining green at the same time! *Information Overload*
Conte needs to decide and stick to one consistent formation, allowing his players some game time to perfect the formation.
It’s no secret that Italian sides love to defend, with Jurgen Klopp once suggesting that facing an Italian side that only need a draw is the ‘greatest challenge in football’
Titles winning sides in Italy are built from the back, whereas title winning sides in England are often built on who can hold their nerve the longest.
The other problem with Conte implementing his 3-5-2 formation to Chelsea is that he is missing his lynchpin. He had an unstoppable Pogba at Juventus.
The aim of a 3-5-2 is that you are inviting pressure from the opposition in the hope your ‘destroyers’ in midfield can break up the play which can then ultimately enable a swift counter – attack resulting in a goal. Your classic Italian 1-0 victory.
At the moment, Chelsea don’t have enough of these ‘destroyer’ type players. Although new boy N’Golo Kanté is arguably the best in the league at it, but he needs a partner in crime. A Robin to his Batman if you please.
It’s also becoming apparent that Conte doesn’t trust Fàbregas or Matić in this crucial role, as excellent as they are as ball playing creative midfielders, they simple aren’t rounded enough central midfielders to offer what Conte needs.
I would argue Chelsea missed a trick in not bidding for Victor Wanyama this summer. You might disagree with my choice, but essentially Chelsea need someone who has energy to burn.
IMO, Chelsea should ditch the 3-5-2 and proceed with the formation which has severed them well in the recent 2-0 win at Hull City with the 3-4-3. Arguably this was Chelsea’s most balanced performance under Conte so far.
I feel that either of these Formations would suit Chelsea as long as there is enough ‘Press’ and energy provided within the midfield duo.
It’s a formation Ashley Cole would be dreaming of, bombing down the wing all afternoon. 3-4-3 is ultimately a defensively minded set up with the ability to press with intensity to create counter- attacking threats when possible.
Replacing the Old Guard
With almost 750 competitive games between them; Branislav Ivanović & John Terry are coming to the end of their respected Chelsea careers. If Chelsea are to play a 3 at the back system, the selected players need to be mobile and adaptable. Unfortunately at almost 33 years old, Ivanović is in decline. Often at fault last season and has continued in the same trend this term too.
How do you go about replacing JT? A born leader, you might not agree with his approach at times or the stories surrounding the man. But he’s been a Chelsea great from start to finish. Chelsea need to find their next leader. P.s. It’s not Luiz or Cahill.
Zouma could hold the key to Chelsea’s defensive problems if he can stay injury free.
As a manager, I often think the hardest thing is to put your trust in your players. You prepare them all week long with tactics and ideas to hopefully get you the outcome you desire.
But do managers sometimes go to far?
It’s worth remembering that players such as Hazard, Willian or Oscar are mavericks. They are often the ones that provide that ‘moment of magic. It could be a mazy Hazard run cutting in on his right foot. Or it could be a Willian free-kick (They were pretty on point last season, if I remember correctly). There has to be times when Conte goes for the approach of ‘Let them just play’ in training.
By all accounts Antonio Conte is one of the hardest taskmasters around, with drills and tactics consuming a large proportion of training. Yes it’s important for players to be well drilled and disciplined, but Conte needs to find the right balance. Coaching the unpredictable out of players, will only nullify your attack IMO.
Fitness Fitness Fitness
It’s obviously an incredibly important aspect to the game we love, but is it the most important aspect? In my eye; No.
You’ve probably all heard about the fitness regime Conte has developed over the years. No? In case not, here it is;
• Run 100m within 20 seconds, Rest for 20seconds – Repeat for 7 minutes
• Run 75m within 15 seconds, Rest for 15 seconds – Repeat for 7 minutes
• Run 50m within 10 seconds, Rest for 10 seconds – Repeat for 7 minutes
Pretty gruelling stuff – Matt Le Tissier will be having nightmares somewhere over it I’m sure.
With the pace the Premier League is played at in this age, players need to be able to produce short and sharp bursts of speed and then be able to recover quickly. So you can understand Conte’s ideology behind it.
Clearly it’s working already with 5 of Chelsea’s 12 goals coming after the 8th minute so far this season, and the comeback against Leicester City in the league cup. So there’s no questioning Chelsea are physically fit enough to compete, but perhaps this should have been a latter instalment into the Conte regime. With more focus on decision making and keeping it fluid from defensive to attack.
A big few months lie ahead for Conte, and the January Transfer Window could well provide the ammunition for Chelsea to become a title threat once again.
As for now? I’m ready to watch England sneak a 2-0 victory against the Gods of football; Malta.