Antonio Conte joined Chelsea with the idea to use a variation of the 4-4-2 formation, which he had previously adopted at Siena and Bari.
Last month, Oscar revealed the following in an interview with the Mail Online:
“The idea is to play 4-2-4. We tried this every day in training – we’re getting better.”
Indeed, in the first three pre-season games, Chelsea played a 4-4-2 formation; however following the defeat against Real Madrid, the Italian tactician has switched to a variation of 4-3-3, most resembling a 4-1-4-1.
This is a welcome change as Chelsea’s current squad will perform best with a three men midfield. Next we will review why that is the case.
Maximizing current players’ abilities
The likes of Cesc Fabregas, Oscar, and Matic can operate in a two-men midfield, but are much better suited to play as part of a trio in the middle of the park.
Oscar offers creativity and flair going forward, however playing him in a pivot would considerably cut his attacking instincts.
Matic is a powerful two-way midfielder, however, we’ve seen him struggle to hold the midfield on his own when paired with a more attacking minded partner.
Cesc Fabregas is probably the most creative central midfielder in the league; however his physical deficiencies become quite evident without an energetic midfield doing the dirty work on his behalf.
With the addition of last season’s best tackling midfielder in the Premier League, Chelsea’s new number 7 will allow two other midfielders to contribute offensively, as he provides the much needed steel in front of the defense.
Minimizing changes to the current style of play
Chelsea’s current squad has always played either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation; therefore, as we could see in the initial pre-season games, the team had a hard time adjusting to the 4-4-2 formation in the build up phase.
The 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1 is a formation that is more common in the EPL and which Chelsea players are already used to.
When Conte switched formation in the second period of the AC Milan pre-season game, the team’s possession game improved immediately, and the Londoners never looked back.
During the 2014-15 title winning season, while they defended in a 4-2-3-1, Chelsea build up play was based on a 4-3-3 formation, with Oscar dropping off his number 10 position in order to create an extra man advantage in central midfield.
4-3-3 has a familiar feel for these players, and will require minimal effort for them to get comfortable playing the Conte way.
In-game tactical changes
During his spell at Juventus, and as the Italy manager, Conte has shown his ability to switch formation during the course of a game in order to change the dynamics or react to the opposition team’s setup.
While this is less common in the EPL than elsewhere, he’s shown in pre-season that he intends on carrying this habit with him in England.
Having realized his side’s struggles with the 4-4-2 formation, in the last two pre-season games, he setup his team to defend in a flat 4-5-1 line and attack either in a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 formation.
In the 4-3-3 formation, the two wingers would set-up very wide and high up the pitch, with the striker occupying the central area, and central midfielders providing support.
However at times, Kante would drop into the left back role, thereby allowing Azpilicueta to push into the left winger position, so that Eden Hazard could move centrally as a second striker in the 4-4-2 shape.
While Antonio Conte has arrived in London with the idea to play a variation of 4-4-2, he has realized during pre-season that his squad is much better suited to play some variation of 4-3-3.
However, the former Juventus coach seems to be working on dynamic in-game adjustments which will allow his team to quickly switch from a starting 4-1-4-1 formation to a 4-4-2 for certain periods.
This is further proof that the former Italy boss is looking to tailor his strategies to fit his players, and not the other way around.
This is exciting news for Chelsea as well as football fans, as Conte looks to enrich the Premier League with tactical variation and flexibility.
Written by Charles Codo
Follow Charles on Twitter @soccerCrave
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