Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side achieved their tenth straight victory yesterday evening (Wednesday) to go six points clear at the top of the Premier League table. Since switching to a 3-4-3 formation at the start of October, the Blues have been nearly unstoppable, scoring 24 goals and conceding just twice. Here’s my take on why the 2014/15 Champions are tactically smart enough to take the title again.
I feel really quite sorry for the fullbacks of the Premier League. It seems Antonio Conte (left) has decided that having them deal with Eden Hazard and Pedro is an insufficient challenge. No, to give them a real test, he’s doubled their workload, with Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso’s overlapping runs. They are overloaded, pressured and outpaced. It seems no wonder that they are consistently failing the test.
The wing back is the true key to Chelsea’s recent successes. When the Blues attack Moses and Alonso transform into wingers playing high and very wide in attacking positions. The ball is almost always quickly shifted out to them, as they quickly advance up the field. This leads to an ultimatum for our poor abused full backs.
Question- Do you: A) Go out to the wing and stop the wing back delivering a whipped cross to a free scoring Diego Costa or B) stay tight to your centre back and stop Eden Hazard or Pedro from having free reign in and around the box.
Answer – Rather cruelly, whether you take option A or B, you’re still going to be exposed. The beauty of Chelsea’s system is that it creates a complete overload of attacking players in the final third leading to chance after chance, which the free scoring Blues are most inclined to convert.
Let’s give our poor full back a break. Let’s say he makes a fantastic sliding challenge on Alonso and quickly picks out a teammate further up the field. This is where misfortune, enforced I’ll give you, once again falls on Chelsea’s opponents.
From the second the ball is lost offensively, the heat seeking missiles currently occupying the Chelsea midfield, Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kanté, are already closing in. They are the first wave. They swarm in along with the retreating Moses and Alonso quickly recovering the ball. Where opposition players escape this trap, the Chelsea back three have been fantastically trained into quickly shifting across and shutting out and danger.
It is no wonder that with offensive overload and defensive domination, Chelsea’s 3-4-3 has led to ten straight wins. The true beauty of Conte’s masterplan however is that there isn’t a player in the side who doesn’t suit it perfectly. It is tailor designed. If it were a suit you’d have needed to have booked months in advance to get an appointment before a wise old man could measure you with a gold leafed piece of tape.
Here’s a breakdown of why each player is being used to their maximum-
Goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois – For opposition teams the centre of the field is like a minefield- N’Golo Kanté interceptions or Nemanja Matic tackles occurring constantly. This forces teams to play wide and attempt to cross the ball. At 6’5’’, Courtois is a master of claiming crosses, a feature of his game he’s always been respected for. When opposition do break through, Courtois has made crucial saves notably at 1-0 down away at Man City keeping Chelsea in the game. His 93rd minute diving save from Van Aanholt last night gained his side the win.
Right Wing Back, Victor Moses – After three years out on loan Moses has earned his place in the side. Proving surprisingly good as a right back, he has fulfilled his defensive duties superbly. Going forward he is pacey and a strong crosser. However, the real danger he presents is his ability to cut inside. The space created by Hazard’s runs allows him to move onto his left foot, create chances, or even score goals.
Centre Back’s, Cahill and Azpilicueta – This pair have been solid and tactically smart in the system. They are quick up to make a tackle and have covered counter attacks very well by quickly shifting across to fill the gap left by a missing wing back. This ensures no space is allowed for counter attacking teams to exploit.
Free Defender – David Luiz – Luiz’s “a mistake waiting to happen” reputation has been nullified by this system. He now has two defensive colleagues either side of him who are regularly there and reliable in marking the opposition. This frees the Brazilian to make quick challenges and distribute the ball like a very deep midfielder. It also means he isn’t exposed in a one on one.
Defensive Midfielders, Kante & Matic – Two of the best in the world in their position, it must be a nightmare to try and launch an attack with this pair against you. Their energy, tactical foresight and tackling ability provides the perfect cover and gives the wing backs the confidence to go forward, in the knowledge that counter attacks will be quickly crushed.
Winger/Attacking Midfield, Pedro – Described by Conte as “perfect” for the 3-4-3 he has been freed to interact with Costa and get himself into goal scoring positions, where his quality can be used effectively.
The Free man, Eden Hazard – Free from defensive responsibility Hazard is back to his best. There is no man to mark, no doubt to be had. He can simply wait for the ball and then do what he loves; Running at defenders, linking with his teammates, and scoring great goals.
Striker, Diego Costa (right) – At last the wings have been occupied. Costa has no need to seek wide positions to get the ball. He can simply wait for quick passes to feet or whipped crosses to reach him and let his pure finishing ability do the rest. Having Hazard in support has also allowed the forward to turn and run at defenders, proving a strong dribbler, before offloading to his strike partner.
So, under a 3-4-3 system every Chelsea player is set up to win. But it can’t be denied they are motivated, enthusiastic, and confident. Antonio Conte has brought this to the team. There is belief in the system, belief in the manager and passion to win in everything Chelsea do.
It should be noted that Conte has also shown great tactical flexibility, for example in the 1-0 home win to West Brom. ‘Pulisball’ prevented Chelsea from scoring, so Conte switched to a 4-2-4, bringing on Willian and Fabregas, the latter setting up Costa’s winner. The Italian has experience, insight and pure passion that delights fans and leads to wins.
Chelsea will falter. The winning train will crash sooner or later. Had it not been for a De Bruyne miss or a late Courtois save this could’ve happened already. But what will not change is that Chelsea have created a system that not only overloads their opposition, but directly benefits every player involved. The squad is strong, the belief is there and the manager has heralded in a new tactical era for the football club.
They’d be my favourites for the title…