If anything, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte isn’t afraid of making changes. And his latest tactical switch is proving just how good he is at finding solutions.
When the Italian left the post as his country’s manager to take up the role as the Blues boss, he was thrust into a very tricky situation and given the difficult task of taking a team that finished 10th in the Premier League and molding them into winners.
After consecutive losses against Liverpool and Arsenal, though, Chelsea seemed a sunken ship with no hope of being salvaged. Yet a few months later, they were looking down at everyone else from the top of the standings, on their way to lifting the Premier League trophy for the second time in three years.
The manager switched from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 3-4-3, and the Blues simply never looked back. So brilliant were the Italian’s tactics, almost all of the top managers in the league copied them and are putting them to good use this season.
As a result, Antonio’s genius seemed to be working against him, leading to the Blues struggling early on and fans fearing a repeat of their post-title woes from the 2015-16 campaign. And an opening-day loss to Burnley didn’t do them any favors.
As if things weren’t bad enough, the gaffer was made to start the season without Eden Hazard, who had broken his ankle during the summer while on duty with Belgium, while new acquisitions Tiemoue Bakayoko and Danny Drinkwater came in nursing injuries.
Alvaro Morata came in from Real Madrid and got right down to business, slotting into the Blues side seamlessly and hitting the ground running. But he would spend some time on the sidelines as well, having picked up a hamstring injury during Chelsea’s loss to Manchester City.
And after a torrid spell that included a shocking loss to bottom feeders Crystal Palace, Antonio was forced to go back to the drawing board once more, and has emerged with yet another tactical switch that has seen his men beat Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion quite convincingly.
Sticking with his three-man defense, the Italian has employed a new 3-5-2 formation, and it really does look to be bringing out the best from his players, while maintaining a hold on the Blues’ opponents.
Hazard and Morata are now better able to play off each other, and that was exemplified on Saturday, with the attackers providing assists for each other to open a two-goal lead over the Baggies on their home turf. Both these players are skillful on the ball, great passers, and can create chances for themselves and teammates.
In Morata, Hazard has an offensive partner that he didn’t have in Diego Costa, as the Spaniard brings extra dimensions to Chelsea’s play. And playing up top as a second striker, the goals will be sure to come.
The Blues midfield is also more functional with three in the middle. Cesc Fabregas is better able to pick passes, now that the defensive burden is off his shoulders, with Bakayoko and N’Golo Kante doing the mopping up while he concentrates on his offensive duties.
The manager also has a new star in his ranks in the form of a young defender named Andreas Christensen, who is just as adept as David Luiz at playing the ball out from the back, but seemingly already a better defender than his Brazilian colleague, who hasn’t played these last two games.
Antonio Conte has tinkered with his formation once more, and it seems to be working to perfection. As to whether or not the change will yield similar results to that of last season is yet to be seen. But the Italian manager is showing that his tactical flexibility can be counted upon for some measure of success.
[Featured Image by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images]