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Speculation surrounding Antonio Conte’s future refuses to go away and there is widely held belief that the 2017/18 campaign will be the Italian’s last at Stamford Bridge with his relationship with the club’s top brass fractured beyond repair.
Yet, Tuesday’s Champions League encounter showed the former Juventus coach at his very best, his tactics were spot on as the Blues stifled the runaway LaLiga leaders, Barcelona, with the visitors’ only goal coming through a poor individual mistake by Andreas Christensen.
Conte’s use of Eden Hazard as a false-nine was more interesting from a defensive perspective than it was in an attacking sense. Conte looked to flood the central zones of the pitch in order to essentially drown Barcelona’s creative stars.
Under Ernesto Valverde, the lack of a second natural winger since Neymar’s departure has forced the former Athletic Club coach to utilise a 4-4-2 system. Whilst many purists in Catalonia have been uneasy with the switch, the results have spoken for themselves with Los Cules still unbeaten in the league.
With that said, there is still a lack of spark within Barcelona’s system, especially when met with an incredibly organised defensive unit as Chelsea were on Tuesday. Conte’s ability to give his team tactical instructions in such a big game was a testament to his worth.
It’s difficult to think of many better tacticians that the former Italian national coach at this moment, his struggles are solely with advancing a team towards the next level, just as they were with Juventus.
“Usually in my experience I’ve reached the best results possible with the players I have to work with,” he explained in a recent press conference.
“I’m the type of coach who brings a 6/10 player to an 8/10 and I bring an 8/10 player to a 10/10. Unfortunately I’m a bit of a disaster when it comes to convincing clubs to buy players, in this aspect I can improve.”
Conte is desperate to win the Champions League as a coach, it’s his biggest ambition and at both Juventus and Chelsea he feels as though he hasn’t been given the tools to really make a run at the competition.
He walked out on Juventus on the eve of a new season due to a lack of transfer progress and it seems likely his time at Stamford Bridge will come to a premature end for similar reasons.
Unlike many other of the coaches who have left Chelsea, Conte’s stock remains incredibly high and Tuesday’s match proves exactly why.
Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich would all be in line to hire him this summer if he became available, although it’s unclear whether or not the Bavarian club have already agreed a deal to appoint Thomas Tuchel.
After watching the absolute collapse unfold at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu a week ago, do you really think the Paris Saint-Germain hierarchy wouldn’t want an expert tactician to be spearheading their charge to the European Cup next season?
The Premier League triumph of the 2016/17 season has done the Italian’s reputation the world of good, pretty much anything can happen for the remainder of the current campaign and he will remain an in-demand coach, perhaps even as near as the Emirates Stadium.
Surely if it’s clear that Conte will walk into an elite job this summer, Chelsea should be doing everything they can to give the Italian the players he needs.
Expenditure was never a problem for the Blues in the early years of Roman Abramovich’s time in charge, yet the landscape of football is totally different now. The London club aim to be self-sufficient and it’s fair to point out that the club have been burned by following managerial demands before.
On Jose Mourinho’s encouragement, Juan Mata, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin de Bruyne, Mohamed Salah and David Luiz all departed the club. Lukaku, De Bruyne and Salah are now integral figures for Chelsea’s fierce domestic rivals.
This is a scenario Marina Granovskaia is unwilling to have a repeat of, and perhaps rightly so, yet for as long as Chelsea don’t give their coaches transfer control, they will be in a perennial cycle of replacing coaches and few as talented as Conte come around that often.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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