A look at new Chelsea boss Antonio Conte and which formations the Italian is likely to employ at Stamford Bridge.
Conte has built a reputation as being a coach who is a disciplinarian and tactically astute. His time with Juventus and Italy earmarked him as the number one candidate to replace interim boss Guus Hiddink. The 46-year-old has now started work with the fallen champions and we take a look at how he could set his Chelsea team up when the Premier League kicks off next month.
The Italian tactician employed an attacking 4-2-4 formation at Bari between 2007-09 and he won the Serie B title in the latter of those two seasons, before using the same line-up with two high-playing wingers at Siena two years later.
It’s a line-up that he could certainly employ at Chelsea, especially when you consider the arrival of title winner N’Golo Kante from Leicester. The £32million man would be an ideal sitting midfielder, along with Nemanja Matic as the two in front of the back four and it’s an option Conte could go for.
However, the recent 2-0 defeat to Rapid Vienna saw the former Juve boss plump for a variation of the 4-2-4. Conte played a back four with John Obi Mikel and Matic holding, but ahead of them he employed three attacking midfielders with Diego Costa the focal point in attack in a 4-2-3-1.
With only three out-and-out strikers on the books in Costa, Loic Remy and Michy Batshuayi that may well be the formation he goes for in the opening game against West Ham, but it’s well worth noting that he did switch to a 4-2-4 and ended the game with that set-up.
The Lecce-born coach also favoured the 4-2-4 in Chelsea’s latest friendly outing – the 3-0 against WAC RZ Pellets – in which he interestingly enough played Ruben Loftus-Cheek as a striker, when he replaced Bernard Traore with an hour gone.
The England youngster impressed and scored and Conte was delighted with him, which has prompted suggestions he could use the 20-year-old in attack when the season gets under way.
Willian and Victor Moses were the two key wide players in the front four on Wednesday night, although as expected, when Chelsea lost possession the pair did drop in to make a four-man midfield and a regular 4-4-2.
However, Conte is also no stranger to the ‘Italian way’ – his reliable 3-5-2. He employed that tactic at the Euros and Italy looked good before they were bundled out on penalties after a disastrous shoot-out against Germany.
At Juve he also savoured success with three at the back and although he was swayed into switching to a 3-5-2 to fit the maestro Andrea Pirlo into his side, the rewards were plain to see as Juve won the Scudetto without losing a single match in 2011/12 before going on to two more titles back to back. He obviously made changes to that formation, but generally he employed a back three – marshalled by Giorgio Chiellini.
Could Terry be his Chiellini?
Could John Terry be his Chiellini at the Bridge? It’s certainly possible because he has already confirmed the 35-year-old centre-back will remain club captain.
“He is captain of this team, and a great player with a great personality and charisma. I like to speak with him because he knows the club and the right spirit to play in this club,” said Conte, who also has other centre-back options in the form of Gary Cahill, Kurt Zouma, Matt Miazga, Branislav Ivanovic and Michael Hector.
A three-at-the-back tactic is definitely a way of playing that Conte favours and by stating that Juan Cuadrado has a future at the club that could be a hint that the wing-back system is in his thinking. Cesar Azpilicueta would be the obvious choice at left wing-back with the energetic Colombian Cuadrado the obvious choice on the right.
It’s a formation Conte could play in the Premier League, but the 4-2-3-1 he employed from the off against Vienna in pre-season looks like being the way he will go against the Hammers.
But it would certainly be stupid to rule out a 4-2-4, although one thing that is guaranteed this season is that Chelsea and their tactically-savvy coach have the ability to be flexible and they could be a difficult side to work out for opposition managers.
The fact that they look like being able to switch from a back three to a back four could prove to be a major advantage for Chelsea as they look to get back into the Champions League and challenge for the title again. While Conte’s boldness to play with four out-and-out attackers could also be a major weapon as they look to forget the nightmare start to the season they had last term.