Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side is forging ahead, currently riding a five-match win streak and well within striking distance for the top spot in the Premiership. The usual lot at Stamford Bridge has received the bulk of the praise for the resurgence, but Nigerian Victor Moses has slipped through the cracks as one of Conte’s most improved — and important — players during his first spell in west London.
Conte was announced as the new manager of Chelsea in April 2016. Supporters of the Blues understood his importance to Juventus’ ride to three-straight league titles from 2011-2014, but were a bit skeptical as to what he could bring to the post in England. It was in France where they got a good sampling of everything he was ready to administer the club.
Italy entered the European Championship tournament as a non-favourite. Fans, pundits and the like were highly critical of his selections, and omissions. The fact was nobody knew his personnel better than him and that was proven true in the performances we saw from La Nazionale.
His Italy impressively defeated number one FIFA ranked Belgium (2-0) in the opening Group Stage match at Euro 2016, then followed that master class with a drubbing of Spain (2-0) in the Round of 16. Germany bested the Azzurri in the penalty shoutout, but despite the exit, patriotic Italy supporters were honoured to have gone to war with Conte at the helm.
Weeks after the Euro wrapped, Conte set off for pastures anew at the Chelsea training ground to embark on his latest journey in European football.
Early in the chaotic summer transfer window, the club’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich was already announcing the arrivals of Michy Batshuayi and midfield enforcer N’Golo Kante. Meanwhile Chelsea, notorious for their laundry list of loanees (something like 60), had a plethora of men to find homes for; Wallace, Nathan Aké, Betrand Traoré, Christian Atsu and of course Juan Cuadrado who wished for a Juventus return (and received it). As the summer progressed Chelsea were — shockingly– not very active in the market. They were in dire straits and in need of defensive help, particularly at central defender. It took the club until the final hours of the window to address these areas, sealing audacious deals for full-back Marcos Alonso (Fiorentina) and familiar face David Luiz (Paris Saint-Germain).
A woeful eleventh place finish in 2015-16 saw Blues supporters pleading for a rapid transformation, and with a strong willed Conte — and a few new faces to join the current assembly — the hope was a return to the top four.
The dust had settled on the latest transfer season, and Antonio Conte had his squad for the 2016-17 season, except there was a a certain individual who remained. Someone who had convinced Conte enough in pre-season of a stay. His name? Victor Moses.
Moses, who arrived from Wigan back in August 2012, has bounced around England over the past few years since moving to Chelsea. During the 2012-13 campaign split between managers Roberto Di Matteo and his replacement, Rafa Benitez, the speedy winger appeared in 44 matches for Chelsea, twenty-four in the Premier League. Deemed surplus to requirements as silverware remained the top objective, Moses was sent out to make way for bigger names.
After a disappointing season-long loan in 2013-14 with Liverpool, Moses served two successful spells with Stoke City and West Ham before returning back to his parent club Chelsea this summer where he has proven to be a more than just a squad rotation player.
The 25-year old, rather than forcing a move away to his fourth club in as many years, elected to battle for his rightful place in the squad. Conte appreciated his willingness to fight and in return, the Italian went to work doing what he does best: motivating and moulding.
Conte deployed a 3-5-2 with regularity during his three year stay in Turin and also as Italy boss. He has always enjoyed playing with three central defenders while also having two wide wing-backs. While it’s been a tried and true setup for Conte over the years, by no means is it his only way of finding results evident in this year using a 3-4-3.
Many wingers are stubborn or too fixated on scoring to cover their defensive duties. Wingers like Hazard and Willian are paid handsomely to create chances and ultimately find the back of the net. Anything substantial on the back end is gravy. Moses, who was considered to be at the bottom of the pecking order in the summer, had to become a multi-dimensional performer for Conte if he so wished to see the pitch on a regular basis. Conte demanded he become a two-way player.
Like his gruelling training sessions, he is very demanding and only seeks the best from his players. Hazard and Willian may have been able to get away with limited contributions defensively, but that behaviour is not tolerated under Conte. He wants it left all on the pitch.
Moses understands that Conte knows how to squeeze every ounce of quality out of his players. He is a father-like figure, hard on his own and very demanding because he recognises potential. He hates to see it go to waste.
In a wingback role, one must have the legs and desire to move freely up and down the pitch. The Italian tactician recognised at camp this past summer that Moses had the physical and mental ability to fill this needed role at the club. Moses has trekked back, sitting in deep to absorb pressure at the demand of his coach. He has made in-game adjustments on the fly while Conte barks out orders from the bench. If one wishes to succeed under the ex-Bari boss, he must learn to suffer for the cause and that’s exactly what the Nigerian has done over ten appearances.
Personnel obviously plays a role when talking tactics. The last thing you want to do is force a player into a role he otherwise doesn’t fit; the old adage goes “you cant’t force a square peg into a round hole,” or something along those lines. The fact is Conte has worked to find the proper setup to take the pitch, and has asked certain individuals to escape the comforts of normality for the sake of the club. We could look at all of the raw data, analytics and field maps to further justify Moses’ importance, but that seems to have outgrown its time. You have to analyse the player from the moment they take the pitch until they depart. You have to follow the individual’s impact, positioning and understanding of the tactics.
Moses was rejected by former manager Jose Mourinho who ceased to give him fair treatment during his second stint with Chelsea. Moses himself revealed last month that he felt Mourinho had already decided on who his players were and that talks were limited to short phone calls. Conte, rather then dispatch Moses on another temporary basis, wanted to assess his squad before making any brash decisions.
“At the start of the season,” he told the Guardian, “I said to the club that I had to have a look at him [Moses], because I wanted to assess him with my own eyes. He’s a fantastic player and a fantastic man as well, and that is important for me.”
Moses’ career was headed in an unknown direction of uncertainty. He was unsure if he’d ever be given the chance to prove that he belonged at a big club like Chelsea. The allure of Conte’s unique coaching style is that it fosters extraordinary results within the side. Players are infatuated with his passion. He is the spark that energises the player.
Once lost now found, Moses has settled in nicely at Chelsea and it’s because Antonio Conte was thorough in his evaluation of the squad to find difference makers.