The international break is known for a lot of things. Star players returning with tears & breaks, players physically strained from the choking schedule and the jet-lag. It’s difficult to unplug from real football for two long weeks, that’s why we all curse it. Yet for all its atrocities, the international break is here to stay and we must learn to embrace it, or better still, do something while it is around. I chose to write about ‘Metodo Conté’ or in English, The Conté Method.
After a superb start to his Chelsea career, Antonio Conte was promptly reminded of the cruelty The Premier League is famed for, with two defeats in a row. The former Italian national team manager who isn’t accustomed to losing games – as his time at Juventus clearly reveals – had to revert back to his old tricks to solve Chelsea’s crisis. Enter the 3-6-1. It worked wonders against Hull City and all indications are that Conté will stick to it. But how are the Chelsea players suited for this formation? Who will benefit and who will lose out.
ANALOGY OF THE 3-6-1
The evolution of modern football has seen the rise of the 3-6-1 formation. It is fluid & has undergone several changes to become many things; 3-5-2 (hehe), 3-4-3, 3-5-1-1, etc. One thing is for sure, managers will not run out of options with this bad boy. Even though implementing this new system in English football may be seen as foolish (especially at an entirely new club), Conté has been known to ensures the players fit his system. Individual superiority in quality means little if he feels it does not contribute to the team’s modus operandi.
This was clearly evident in team list & line up of the Azzuri in the Euros. Striker, Eder, started ahead of the undoubtedly more gifted Lorenzo Insigne or Stephan El Shaarawy. Marco Parolo and Emanuele Giaccherini were favoured over Jorginho and Giacomo Bonaventura – the latter pair left out of the 23-man squad altogether.
The 3-6-1 is perhaps the only truly dynamic formation currently threading in world football. When the team attacks, it changes to a 3-4-3 (to offer width in other to stretch opponents) or 3-5-2 (to have more bodies in the box). It could also retain 3-6-1 when attacking, with one midfielder sitting deep and expecting a dead-ball/opponent counter. When defending however, it changes to 5-4-1 (3 centre-backs, two full-backs with one anchor-man sitting deep in a sweeper role).
This formation works best for players with great pace, work-rate and stamina, and last I checked, Chelsea aren’t short on any.
THE BACK THREE
One must consider though, that Conté enjoyed too much success with this formation because of the talented triumvirate beasts of centre-backs he had at his disposal; Barzagli-Chiellini-Bonucci. Sounds like the answer to a riddle for finding a treasure. The reality is that Chelsea does not have B-C-B. Hell they do not even have B-C! It’s going to be interesting to see how the centre-backs they do have can cope with the change of formation.
John Terry is now available after his minor ankle injury and I expect a swift transition back into the team. The former England captain isn’t blessed with pace, but his experience makes his reading of the game superb. He should start in the middle of the trio. David Luiz is known for his erratic style of play, but this is a system I believe he should thrive in. His versatility will make it easy for Conté to deploy him at the left side of the three. Finally, Cesar Azpilicueta, at least until Kurt Zouma returns.
When Conté brought in Ngolo Kante during the window, he expected a disruptive Makelele-esque defensive midfielder. He has got that already, but against Hull city last week, the Frenchman recorded 68 passes – his highest ever in the premier league – suggesting he may still have a creative aspect to his game. In spite of this, his defensive contributions weren’t affected as he made 13 ball recoveries and 4 interceptions.
Sitting alongside Kante in the central role will be Nemanja Matic. The lanky Serb has evolved into something of an enigma this season as fans do not understand why the manager keeps picking him in the starting line-up, when his returns have not been any bit impressive. In his defence however, he has done his job tidily: breaking up opposition play and retaining possession for the team. He did have a momentary period up in the final third which led to Chelsea’s second goal against Hull city. Conté will not play Fabregas, so we’ll have to get used to Matic as he is.
Moses put in a man-of-the-match display against Hull and I suspect he’s played his way into the heart of his manager as he had Conté purring after the final whistle. The Nigerian has the energy to succeed in the ‘very demanding’ role but questions will be posed of his consistency.
Marcos Alonso did great and should retain his place. His natural instinct as a fullback means he would move seamlessly back in a 5-man shield when the team is defending. Pedro could push for a start as Conté suggested, but the Spaniard may not have the stamina and work-rate to become prominent at wing-back.
Conté’s premise of good football is to work work work. Given that the wing-backs are the true engines in this set-up, Moses and the gang are in for some high intensity something.
Against Hull city, Hazard and Willian were not instructed to provide the width. The pair was overwhelmed with the new role at first but made amends later on to have a great game – the latter even scoring a brilliant goal. It was breath of fresh air to see the constantly jagged Willian play without any defensive liabilities. Interchanging roles at will, Hazard and Willian were so pleased, they filmed a hilarious post match interview featuring Diego Costa.
For us fans, we always want to see what our best players can do on the ball and not without it. While it is vital that they perform their defensive duties for the team, it’d be good to see more attacking from the creative pair. So whose up for the Hazard-Willian treat in the next match?
Diego Costa – 80 mins. Michy Batshuayi. Repeat.
WHO WILL BENEFIT?
Moses was arguably the man of the match against The Tigers after making a rare starting appearance at Wing-back. The Nigerian will certainly be looking forward to the run of games ahead.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Shocked? No. The 3-6-1 as we saw in the Hull game requires one of the central midfielders to become a box-to-box man. Ngolo Kante did the job brilliantly (although it should have been Matic’s). And given that Matic is now happy to become invisible in recent games, Loftus-Cheek is the next, nay, only real box-to-box midfielder Chelsea has.
WHO WILL MISS OUT?
Definitely Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard remains a brilliant passer of the ball – as he has already demonstrated this season – but lacks the defensive work-rate required under Conté.
Oscar is another one who will find a starting berth hard to come by if Conté sticks to this formation. The little Brazilian had been a favourite of the Italian until he was dropped against The Tigers.
His obsession for tactics, eye for details, careful planning for games and outrageous levels of motivation are second to none. It’s his beloved formation and he sure will handle it well. On occasion though, he is notorious for his vexing stubbornness and lack of substitution. He is versatile though, and has utilized this formation in different forms with Italy and Juve on the rare circumstances.
It’s early days, but all indications are that Chelsea will function and eventually prosper with this formation. Keep your fingers crossed you blues!
Article By: JIBRIL BABA @Jibril__baba