Antonio Conte's Italian tactical upbringing gives Chelsea an edge this season
From humble beginnings in Lecce, Italy comes a man destined for greatness. Stamford Bridge has a new version of the special one or rather the tactical one. Some argue that he is exactly like Jose Mourinho of old who came to England in 2004 and went on to win two back to back league titles.
Although Mourinho has now moved on to Manchester United, his effect on Chelsea will last a lifetime. But here is a man who replaces him, brimming with confidence and with a cheeky, charming smile. He has worked hard to get here.
Back in 2008/09 Conte was at the helm of Bari where he deployed a surprising 4-2-4. He likes to defend and attack with 5 or more players, in Bari he did it with 6. He guided them to the Serie B title that season.
Then at Siena he did the same, guiding them back to Serie A football. He used the same tactics at Siena to surprisingly good effect. This would go on to form the base of Conte’s tactical approach.
In 2011, Conte was appointed manager of Juventus. In Turin, Conte found himself slightly perplexed with exceptional talent in his midfield namely Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio. He thus adapted and settled for a 3-5-2. His back line of Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonnuci was one set for glory and they proved the same. That defense was as tight and compact as a box of canned sardines.
Conte deployed the 3-5-2 to superb effect – Juventus went unbeaten in the league, won the Serie A title and conceded only 20 goals. Their only defeat in domestic football was a 2-0 defeat to Napoli in the Coppa Italia final.
Conte likes to play wing-backs instead of wingers who go forward to attack with 6 players in the opposition half. He generally plays two out and out strikers along with three midfielders, one sitting deep to hold and two midfielders who support in attacks. The midfield is generally all about doing the hard running and recycling possession to start attacks. His teams can play both short passing, possession-based football out from the back or more direct football with the use of strategic long balls and one touch counter-attacks leading to goals.
A high pressing defence
Defensively, Conte likes to press high up the pitch with the same wing backs pressing ahead of the half line. He likes to win the ball back quickly to start an attack. His teams are aggressive, full of bite and are often pacy, athletic, tactically adaptive and intelligent and tough to play against.
When speaking about his Italy team at Euro 2016 he said, “I like to adopt a proactive style of play and for this, balance will be important, both in attacking and defending.”
The man himself is tactically obsessed. Conte records every single training session and sits with his players an hour after training to review the training tapes and impart his tactical advice. He is a disciplinarian and a hard worker who says, “The most important message is that I’m a worker. I like to work. I like to work, and I know only this road to win. To go back, for this club to compete and to get back into the Champions League, to get back to winning the title, I know only this way: work, work, work. I’m very happy, though. I found the right attitude and right behaviors in Cobham. I’m very happy with this.”
Conte’s tactics were so heavily regarded that he drew comparisons to Arrigo Sachhi and Jose Mourinho in his time at Juventus to the extent that an Italian journalist published a journal on his training methods and his tactics called Il Metodo Conte (The Conte Method)
For Chelsea, Conte is most likely to continue to use his most successful formation – the 3-5-2. This is what the line-up could look like –
His defence will consist of Gary Cahill and Kurt Zouma as RCB and LCB respectively with John Terry most likely to play sweeper being slower but better at distribution than his teammates. Conte will most probably use Cesar Azpilicueta and Baba Rahman to press high up the pitch and they will be asked to do a lot of work up and down the pitch.
Although Willian has signed a contract extension, it remains to be seen whether Conte deploy’s him at RWB and Azpilicueta on the left at LWB. But since that is not the Brazilian’s natural position, it might be unlikely. The Italian will probably deploy Willian as a wide midfielder in rotation with Oscar and Fabregas.
It is certain that Nemanja Matic will hold the midfield as the anchorman playing the Makelele role. With N’Golo Kante rumoured to be joining, Matic could be rotated with the French midfielder.
Oscar and Fabregas will be used as wide midfielders who will support the wing-backs going forward. Conte could also play with a false nine in Eden Hazard, the same way Eder was deployed for Italy. While up front the strong Diego Costa will be used as the target man, much like Graziano Pelle. The forwards will go head to head with the two opposition central defenders and aim to cause all kinds of problems for them.
Defensively i.e without the ball it will look more or less like this –
Conte’s formation defensively is more of a 5-3-2. The five-man back line will become compact with the wing-backs as they aim to stop attacks. While the wide midfielders will tuck in, making the midfield more compact as well.
The midfielders will aim to become one unit and narrow the space between wing back and central defence. While both the forwards will occupy and close down space ahead of the midfield.
Being a midfielder during his playing career, Conte will stress on the importance of winning the battle in the middle of the park and dictating the flow and tempo of the game. Of course, he will build, much like Mourinho, from the back on a solid defensive foundation and foster a sense of brotherhood amongst his squad.
Conte is a born winner with a sharp, intense personality. Viewers worldwide witnessed his immense passion for Italy at Euro 2016. He will certainly show more of the same in the dugout at Stamford Bridge. His intense personality creates an equally intense dressing room atmosphere similar to the one he created at Juventus.
His managerial record speaks for itself – P 327, W 182, D 88, L 57 with a win ratio of 55.66%. Conte just does not like to lose. As he puts it, “I consider defeat to be a state of virtual death.”
Here is a man who has won plaudits in Italy for his meticulous work and who is coming to Stamford Bridge with a point to prove. He is exactly the kind of personality Chelsea need after a woeful season last year and is someone who can lead the Blues to success. The Italian is replacing a man who is a legend at Stamford Bridge but from his humble Italian beginnings comes one of football’s unheralded masterminds.
Whether he wins a title in next season’s uber-competitive title race will be interesting to watch but that being said, be ready for fireworks in the dugout from the Italian. Conte will look to replicate his Juventus and Italian national team blueprint at the London outfit and Chelsea have got exactly the right man for the job.