Not many managers in world football get as passionate, aggressive and consumed as much as the Italy manager – and Chelsea’s new manager – Antoine Conte.
Watching Conte in action against Spain particularly- a memorable game where amused onlookers saw him leaping on to the top of the dugout to celebrate victory – it has become pretty obvious that the Premier League will become a lot more intense and entertaining. In fact, Conte already looks ready to upset a few at Stamford Bridge. He is somebody who likes establishing control, and luckily for him, that has worked in his favour so far.
As far as formation is concerned, Conte always deployed three men at the back for Italy, just as he did with Juventus for three successful years, thereby leading to assumptions that he would probably continue this even in the Premier League with Chelsea.
However, Conte is anything but complacent and thus, we would also be aware of the fact that the EPL is the most tough and excruciating football leagues, in terms of competition. He has used plenty of different formations in his time and might have something specific in mind for the Premier League.
How Antonio Conte sets up at Stamford Bridge next season is a widely anticipated fans amongst Chelsea fans. Since Conte has been so successful with the 3-5-2 formation over the years, many assume that we would stick with the same even with Chelsea. After all, that formation has won him three successive Serie A titles and almost got Italy into the semi-final of Euro 2016.
The harsh reality, on the other hand, is that Chelsea do not have the wing-backs capable of playing such a system. Conte appears to be set with playing two strikers. To mitigate the implications of such a system, Conte might first play a 4-4-2/4-2-4 formation that sees the team go through less confusion than when compared to a 3-5-2.
Thibaut Courtois will undoubtedly start in goal, it’s the line-up ahead that will be a challenge.
Branislav Ivanovic appears to be too slow to be used as a wing-back and Cesar Azpilicueta, isn’t as active as required while going forward to be even considered a long-term option in that position, although he would also not be a terrible choice for it, at the same time.
The biggest challenge for Chelsea to play a 3-5-2 formation – if that’s what Conte has in mind – major changes would be needed at wing-back.
Juan Cuadrado, who played at that position quite often for Juventus last season could be a possibility, although there is no verdict so far as to whether the Colombian will be given another chance at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea could use another centre-back and Kalidou Koulibaly is rumoured for a move to Stamford Bridge for around £30m. He has been an important player for Napoli over the last couple of seasons and would surely be an upgrade over Gary Cahill.
John Terry, off late, has been looking like he is headed to the end of his career but his experience should see him get picked over Kurt Zouma right now, especially with the Frenchman being down with a serious injury.
Age is not really a factor for Conte as he proved during the Euros – Italy had one of the oldest squads at the tournament and Andrea Barzagli (35) was a key player – and although Terry would play less, he should still be first-choice in the biggest matches.
Also, if the signing of centre-back Leonardo Bonucci goes through, then it would be the best situation for Chelsea. But there appears little possibility that the defender, arguably Juventus’ star player, leaves Italy’s biggest and most successful team for a club who won’t be in the Champions League next season.
If Conte does adapt the 3-5-2, Terry could play in the middle flanked by a powerful pairing of Koulibaly and Zouma.
Chelsea are also chasing N’Golo Kante extremely hard. The midfielder would appear to be the perfect thwart for the various exploits of Cesc Fabregas. On paper the pair form one of the stronger midfield partnerships in the Premier League, with Kante’s blend of pace, anticipation and ball-winning merging nicely with Fabregas’ skills on the ball.
Unfortunately, this is also where Conte might have to give up his 3-5-2. Going with the formation means two of Chelsea’s best players, Willian and Eden Hazard, are going to find it hard to get into the starting XI. Hazard would definitely not be suited to a wing-back role, his lack of defensive awareness was clearly visible under Jose Mourinho. Although Willian has the skill set and work rate to fulfil the role, it would seem a waste of the Brazilian’s talents to have him deep as often as a wing-back demands.
If Chelsea were to play in a 4-4-2/4-2-4 then Willian and Hazard could take up their usual roles on the wings. Switch to 3-5-2 and it would mean moving Hazard into a more central role. Hazard might be expected to play better in a more central role but he has proven otherwise in numerous chances to play behind the striker and too often finds himself marked out of games. He seems much more comfortable when he’s wide on the left and cutting into the middle.
Michy Batshuayi has been signed for the Blues and when the season starts he may be an expensive reserve, depending on other moves in and out of the club.
Italy striker Graziano Pelle is also slated to arrive, but then the Southampton will most likely be benched rather than used as a regular starter. Current first-choice striker Diego Costa looked set to leave the club after a beyond miserable second season.
Alvaro Morata is another possible signing and Conte has been a massive fan of Morata and was the manager to bring him from Real Madrid to Juventus – the Italian never got a chance to manage the striker as he quit ahead of his first season in Turin.
It would be ideal for Chelsea if this reunion goes through, although it is unclear if Morata is to be a partner or replacement for Costa.