After threatening to go completely off-track, Chelsea’s season has shown optimism again in the last couple of games. Two victories and two clean sheets have seen the Blues climb up to 5th, and close the gap at the top with those ahead of them dropping points. The biggest positive though, has been that the new system adopted by Antonio Conte has worked to a tee so far.
Back-to-back defeats against Liverpool and Arsenal forced the Italian to re-think the traditional 4-2-3-1 setup and go back to his more preferred one with 3 defenders. On paper, it didn’t look all that promising. In reality though, Chelsea have flourished under it, beating Hull City and Leicester City and calming a few nerves. The following is the starting line-up the Blues went with against the latter this Saturday:
Here are 5 of the biggest positives we have seen in those two game:
1) The organisation has been markedly better
Chelsea had been all over at the place in defence in their first few games. Switching to a system with three defenders and two wing-backs has seen the organisation improve vastly as a whole. This is a formation Conte is very familiar and comfortable with from his time in Italy, and that is being reflected. The players seem to know exactly what to do. There have been a couple of occasions when a centre-half has stepped out, failed to win the ball and left the team exposed, but someone has always come around to cover. Plus, Chelsea haven’t even been full-strength at the back, with John Terry and Kurt Zouma still to come back from injury.
The defending from set-pieces still looked slightly uncomfortable at times against Leicester, but as a whole, the threat of Jamie Vardy was nullified pretty effectively.
2) The wing-backs have been very effective
Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso have played at right and left wing-back respectively, and have been fantastic so far. The former has used his pace and ability on the ball to become a legitimate attacking threat, while also standing strong and sturdy during his defensive duties.
Alonso’s lack of pace has been well on show, but he hasn’t let that be exploited all that much. Combining well with Eden Hazard on the left, the Spaniard has looked to get crosses in as and when possible. Defensively, he wins a lot of headers and is pretty dependable overall.
3) The central midfield partnership has looked solid
N’Golo Kante continues to amaze with his incessant running and ability to be wherever the ball is on the pitch. This has supplemented his central midfielder partner Nemanja Matic, who looked close to being back to his best at the weekend. The Serbian broke play up, tackled well and used his passing range to initiate moves for his team. Along with the two wing-backs, this two-man shield in front of the back 3 has made Chelsea very difficult to break down. They can force the issue and press when required, and also sit back and be stubborn at other times. When one of the defenders is out of possible further forward, either Kante or Matic can slot in to re-create the trio at the back.
This throws the future of Cesc Fabregas at the club in question, who does not quite seem to possess the characteristics necessary to fit into this role in this system.
4) The youngsters are being given their due
With Conte, it is more about the system than about the personnel. Hence, no one gets into the team on reputation. Moses, who was unable to break into the first team in 4 years at the club and was sent to multiple clubs on loan, now looks like one of the most important cogs in the Chelsea setup. The three substitutes introduced on Saturday were Nathaniel Chalobah, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ola Aina. Each one of these is a product of Chelsea’s Youth Academy. As the recently-crowned Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan would say – “The times, they are a-changing.”
Conte will want the right man for the right position, and the hunger and drive some of the young players are showing has more than warranted them a place. In fact, they’ve deserved a place for a while now but have finally found a manager willing to give it to them. If Chalobah’s backheel assist against Leicester is anything to go by while judging these players’ talent, Chelsea could be in for some exciting times ahead.
5) Hazard’s free role
Eden Hazard is at his best when he’s allowed to do exactly what he wants. The Belgian expressed during the week that he would prefer playing in the number 10 position, but there is no classic number 10 role in this system. Instead, he has been afforded the next best thing. While he primarily operate on the left, he has the license to cut inside and play from the centre when he likes. As seen with his goal against Leicester, he picked the ball up in the middle and finished from a position you would probably expect a ring winger to be in.
— Chelsea Alerts (@ChelseaAlerts) October 16, 2016
Hazard has shown glimpses of being back to his best this season, and he can only get better if afforded this kind of freedom. With Fabregas not playing, he is undoubtedly the most creative player in the starting XI, and the individual at whom people will look to to make things happen.
It’s still early doors under the new regime, and Chelsea really weren’t troubled much in the two games mentioned above in order to make a convincing judgement. But the signs have looked good so far, and the positivity seems to returning around the club. The game against Manchester United at the weekend is going to be huge, and a fascinating tactical battle will ensue with Jose Mourinho in the opposition dugout at Stamford Bridge. Conte’s 3-4-3 will be firmly put to test.