Revival of Chelsea and the revitalization of Conte's system
by Arda Alan Işık
ISTANBULNov 08, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Arda Alan Işık
Nov 08, 2016 12:00 am
One month ago Chelsea were demolished by Arsenal, an opponent that once dreaded the very idea of blue shirts. But on that day, Antonio Conte's team were totally incapable of responding to Arsenal's creativity and pace, and it only took 15 minutes for them to break down. Of course, Arsenal can be a lethal opponent on their day, but for both Chelsea and Conte this result and horrible performance meant collapse.
However, after two consecutive defeats against Liverpool and Arsenal, Chelsea have won all of their games since in the Premier League and have scored 16 goals in five games while conceding none. In that period they crushed Leicester City and Manchester United 3-0 and 4-0, totally dominating both games. Although most people want to associate this drastic change with Conte's decision to change his formation from 4-1-4-1 to 3-4-3, I believe that formation change did no more than just contribute to the strategic shift in Conte's mind.
The main problem for them at the beginning of the season was that Conte chose a mixed system for his team, in other words Chelsea were opting for a system that fitted that day and that opponent. Nevertheless, it can be acceptable for a brand new coach to oscillate between different systems in order to find the best path forward, but that period confused Chelsea and eventually led them to their catastrophic defeat against Arsenal.
The thing that most surprised me in the first days of the Premier League was that Conte seemed to forget his incredible system that carried Italy to the quarter-finals and almost semi-finals in Euro 2016. Neither a five-man defense nor a three-player forward line were unfamiliar to him, but a sneaky team that was focusing on the simple mistakes of their opponents were new to Conte's football philosophy. I used to watch him enjoy or suffer his idealistic tactics, but I do not remember Conte suffering from quasi-Mourinho-style football.
But for the whole of October we watched a completely different story unfold for Conte, a flawless display built on a well-built strategy. Conte solved the defensive issues by making his team play in a narrower area and eventually making the team play in a more compact manner. Whenever Chelsea lose the ball you can see at least three men in blue are there to get the ball back, and another three or four blocking the passing options. This intense pressing method is the backbone of Conte's system, intercepting the ball in minimum time and closer to the opponent's penalty box is the highest priority. In a sense, we can say that Conte has adapted his game to the strong aspects of neo-total football and counter-pressing.
I also added neo-total football or tiki-taka to the list because Conte's team shows their dominant side when they have the ball. Even though the team is focused on fast counter-attacks to catch their opponent off-guard, they never leave the initiative to their opponent. Conte's team not only executes great counter-attacks, but also knows how to create a controlled, dominant offense. This versatility is a great opportunity for them as long as Conte does not return to his quasi-Mourinho days. If they can maintain this versatility in a strategy like Italy's in Euro 2016, blues may reach the trophy again this season.