Since Antonio Conte's decision to play a 3-5-2 formation with a unique counter-attacking strategy, Chelsea seemed invulnerable against every other of dominant strategies. N'golo Kante in partnership with Nemanja Matic had created a wall between a strong Chelsea defense and their opponents' epicenter last season. But, having sold Matic to Manchester United, the Blues have already had their defensive core shaken and Kante's injury was the last nail in the coffin.
They lost back to back matches against Manchester City and bottom-dwellers Crystal Palace, and could not preserve a 2-0 lead against Roma in the Champions League. Making it obvious how crucial is Kante's presence for the team. At the same time, it is also evident that Chelsea's opponents have learned how to play them.
Despite the first shock that led to two goals, Roma presented a great example of how to play against Chelsea. They settled in Chelsea's half, brought their defense up midfield and swiftly circulated the ball in order to catch Conte's defense off-guard.
Roma's quick passing forced Chelsea to sit deep and defend in a narrow space. Conte's team usually blocks their opponent's epicenter to connect with the wings, but given Roma did not lose time in passing the ball, they eventually found the gaps in Chelsea's defense.
More importantly, Roma showed how important it is to block Eden Hazard in order to cripple the Chelsea offense. The Italian side lets him organize the attacking third for the first twenty minutes and conceded two goals but when the Roma midfield pressed him and forced his teammates to play in other areas, Chelsea was left clueless and their attacks were reduced to merely short periods of inefficiency between dangerous Roma attacks.
Added to that, Conte made a huge mistake by thinking that Alvaro Morata could replace Diego Costa in Chelsea's counter-attacking game. Costa's speed, agility, and vision were perfect for hitting the opponents quickly, but Morata neither physically nor mentally has that speed and capability to create such windows of opportunities. Thus, when Hazard is blocked and Morata is lost in crowded defenses, the only option left for Conte is the chaos Pedro creates in the wings. So far, Chelsea has managed to stay alive with Pedro's dynamism in the wings, but they have also learned the hard way that chaos is not a reliable weapon.
Now, what needs to be done is that Conte should repeat exactly what he did last year at this time of the season. Even if Kante returns with full power, Chelsea is now suffering from severe tactical deficiencies, which cannot be compensated by individual talents in the long run.
Today I expect a different approach from Conte against Watford, an opponent which is not willing to attack greater opponents. Therefore, Chelsea game plan against Crystal Palace would be a suicide against Watford, given the latter has already punished Arsenal for having a simplistic attacking plan.
Chelsea's man from Italy now has to go over his strategy and give his team a more collective and attacking look, or winter will be tough for the London club.
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