Why we’re seeing the real Antonio Conte in the Premier League

As an evidently antagonised Jose Mourinho blabbered something vociferous into Antonio Conte’s ear, there was the little the Italian could react to it with, apart from patting him on his back and ushering himself into the tunnel.

Mourinho had apparently taken offence from Conte’s antics to turn the Stamford Bridge crowd boisterous, if it wasn’t so already, but the words suggest the outburst of emotion, of frustration.

Emotions were hardly visible on the ‘Special One’s’ face as United conceded four times and disappeared without a trace.

It was clear though, that Jose Mourinho was seething in anger, somewhere deep inside, but he’s always been like that.

 

But you can’t take away what has made a man what he is today and crib over it when you’re losing 4-0, can you? Antonio Conte’s tendency to spur on his team and the crowd by pulling off enthusiastic antics on the touchline is something some Serie A followers would be used to witnessing, if not Italy fans.

Against Manchester United, he was being himself, and the manner in which he aroused the Chelsea fans to make more noise was just one of things that suggest as to why we saw glimpses of the real Antonio Conte on Sunday.

“After the game, when I win I sleep, but when I don’t win it’s very difficult for me. In the middle of the night I think ‘what is the reason we lost?” says Conte.

“Sometimes I watch the match very quickly because I want to find an answer. Why? Where is the situation that creates more difficulties? Which is the player that creates more difficulties? Was our tactical plan good or not good?”

Losses to Arsenal and Liverpool would certainly have given him some sleepless nights, as both Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger picked Chelsea off tactically.

Conte’s decision to drop Cesc Fabregas was being blamed for the losses as the Spaniard’s impressive performance in the League Cup against Leicester earned them a comfortable 4-2 triumph.

It was a time when it seemed as if the 4-3-3 formation wasn’t working out for him.

Teams pressed Chelsea high up the pitch and created troubles for them when playing the ball out from the back.

Both Arsenal and Liverpool did that and the Chelsea back four looked all over the place, until Conte realised that he had do what he has very well indeed in the past- fiddle around with formations to suit the ailing side.

The 3-4-3 formation was in the place against Leicester City in the Premier League, as Claudio Ranieri’s men were sent packing back to King Power Stadium following a 3-0 defeat.

Chelsea isolated the forward two of Jamie Vardy and Ahmed Musa, as they were crowded out by the number of players that had been dropping deep to defend.

Eden Hazard flourished in that game, acting as a chief creator.

The three at the back formations have always done the trick for Conte, be it at Juventus or for Italy and having more numbers in defence than in attack makes sure that his style of play has foundations in the defence.

At Bari, Conte had reaped loads of success with a 4-2-4 formation as he defended with six players as the Biancorossi earned promotion back to the Serie A.

 

During his three year tenure at the Bianconeri, we saw how glimpses of how the 3-5-2 formation is supposed to function as Conte’s Juve redefined Italian football.

The back three, which consisted of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, had players who are just as comfortable playing at full back.

Their ability to cover for the wing backs formed a vital part of what Juventus were based on.

And Swiss wing back Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah were allowed the freedom to maraud forward and due to their ability to play full-back as well, the formation assumed the form of a 5-3-2.

Both Asamoah and Lichtsteiner contributed equally in both sectors of the game- attack and defense and their willing to run up and down the flanks made the transition from defense to attack easier.

In front of the back three, or essentially the back five, were the three midfielder s- Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and the current most expensive player in the world – Paul Pogba.

Marchisio, in the absence of the evergreen Andrea Pirlo, sat in front of the defense, dictating play and spraying balls across the park.

The Italian’s positioning, which often allowed him act as an anchor man, provided defensive cover.

Arturo Vidal’s dynamism in the heart of the park, his engine-like modus operandi and the strength to recover balls in the midfield, allowed Pogba to impose his influence on the attacking side of the game.

Being arguably the most influential midfielder in the world, Pogba was allowed the freedom to create things( Refer to the new Adidas advertisement) and score goals.

The Frenchman wasn’t subjected to the burden of defending or dropping into deep areas, as Juventus managed to squeeze every bit of his attacking value. And Juventus defended effectively, with five six or seven men.

Conte’s teams, especially the Juve outfit had a knack for not allowing the opposition any space to work with in the middle third, forcing them to drift wide and launch crosses into the box.

While defending, the wing backs changed into full backs, with both Marchisio and Vidal playing effectively well as sitting midfielders.

And employing similar tactics in a league as frenetic as the Premier League would certainly have taken time.

What Conte was striving to do was just what he had accomplished at Juventus, a side which is based on a sturdy defense and a team that thrives on giving freedom to their best player on the pitch.

The Chelsea side that left Manchester United reeling had a similar, Conte-esque look to it.

Cesar Azpilicueta, who is a full back by trade, slotted in at the right centre-back role, while Gary Cahill, who has the toolkit to defend at a full back position, started as the left-centre back.

Their usage in the 3-4-3 is arguably the most important part of Conte’s system right now.

 

Victor Moses, who was deployed as a right wing-back, had the freedom to roam forward and supply passes to the forward accompanying players, and this allowed the former Wigan Athletic star to push Marcus Rashford back into United’s half, almost taking the sting out of United’s left wing moves.

The 18-year-old was forced to defend, more than attack. And the absence of Luke Shaw, who could’ve troubled Moses and Azpilicueta with direct runs, added to United’s woes.

N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic sat in front of the back three, plugging the minute spaces between them.

Their ability to circulate the ball forward and replicate the duo of Marchisio and Vidal, in turn allowed the forward three – Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Pedro – to their job.

Hazard was allowed utmost room to pull the strings and run at the defense, with the inclusion of defensive minded left wing-back Marcos Alonso.

Against Leicester too, Hazard caused the Foxes a lot of problems, creating opportunities and making spaces for the others to make on the game.

Every time he had the ball, Chelsea looked threatening and the United defense looked on the back foot.

Chelsea’s compactness in the midfield and the back caught Manchester United out and the Red Devils never looked like winning the game since they conceding through Pedro in thirty seconds.

That early blow forced Jose Mourinho to get his Plan B in, which was rendered non-existent by the solidarity that Chelsea showed at the back.

There were hardly any workable spaces for Pogba to weave his magic wand and ‘create things’ as United were forced wide continuously and had no option but to swing crosses in.

As Moses pushed Rashford deeper into his own half, Antonio Valencia’s beating of pace when up against Alonso acted as United’s only resort, and the Manchester United attack looked blunt and one-dimensional.

As Chelsea stood firm at the back, United continued committing errors to hand Chelsea three more goals.

The approach to the game that Antonio Conte took came as a breath of fresh air in the Premier League; there has hardly been any manager who has employed similar, innovative tactics to rattle the opposition.

If you think you’ve seen enough, then prepare for a roller coaster, tactical ride.

Author Details

Kaustubh Pandey

20, Football Writer, CalcioMercato, ThePeoplesPerson, EPLIndex, VAVEL, InsideFutbol. Aspiring Football Journalist. The game’s not about life and death, it’s something much more than that.

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