A round about this time of year, you’ve probably noticed, is when the world’s sports media sites collectively seem to decide it’s OK to start publishing their usual trashy click-bait articles about prospective summer signings. You must surely know the ones I mean? Where they pick up on the most tentative of transfer links and squeeze out a 400 word piece about how exciting it would be if Chelsea were to sign so-and-so.
I hate these articles. I hate them in part because despite the fact that no talent or effort was required to put them together, they all get more views than the best blogs I’ve ever written. Substantially more! Mostly however, I loath them because in spite of my strong negative feelings towards them, I can’t stop bloody reading them. Suffering, as I do, with the modern football fan’s desperate obsession with the latest transfer gossip, many an afternoon of my life has been spent trawling through these trashy websites, in search of something that will get pointlessly raise my hopes for the next few weeks.
I say all this so as to assure you, if you intend to read to the end of this blog, it has not been written with the intention of exploiting recycled gossip in an attempt to get as many hits as possible. Rather, I’ve had an actual think about some things to do with Chelsea and done my best to articulate them for your pleasure. Just so that’s perfectly clear…
Since Antonio Conte’s signing for the club became apparent, much has been made of the prospect of the Italian adopting in England the 3-5-2 formation with which he enjoyed so much success at Juventus. It’s been pointed out he is proficient in coaching many systems and is by no means restricted by a dedication to a three man defence. The more I think about it however, the more the notion seems to me like a very real, as well as a very productive possibility, for the following reasons…
Just as when Conte took over at Juventus, with Chelsea he is inheriting a squad whose best defenders are all predominantly centre halves. Our use of a make-shift full backs for the past few seasons being a testament to this fact. Great full-backs being somewhat of rarity on the European market at the moment, a move away from a standard pack four might not be the worst idea. The idea of another season of Ivanovic defending the right flank on his own doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence.
Equally, it seems to me that our current options for full back would all be better off as wing-backs, with more licence to exercise the attacking side of their game. With the exception of Azpilicueta who is an excellent one on one defender, the likes of Baba Rahman and Kenedy are both more useful in an offensive capacity. Despite the disappointment of his time at the club last season, the on-loan Juan Cuadrado could be another good wing-back option to have, potentially on either flank.
Another intriguing possibility would be to see Conte use Cesc Fabregas in the same deep playmaking position in which the Italian employed Andrea Pirlo in Turin, a role which rejuvenated his career. It’s been noted many times the problems that arise with using Cesc in a two man midfield, given the lack of ground he covers, but at the base of three man midfield, the extra support he might receive may just bring out the best of his creative talents. It feels to me like Fabregas will either be integral to Conte’s plans or virtually non-existent within them. If he isn’t prepared to use Cesc in such a protected position it’s unlikely he’ll allow him to be a passenger in a more direct attacking system. I’m very interested to see what he’ll do.
Another man who potentially could benefit from a switch to a 3-5-2 is Eden Hazard. The Belgian, who has disappointed so much this season, quite possibly may be one player Conte would look to move on, so as to source funds for other, more suitable players. Mourinho’s criticism of the player in 2014 that he isn’t prepared to sacrifice himself for the team has rung true for a long time now. However, should Conte be willing to use him in a virtually free position, in support of lone striker, with licence to drop deep and wide as he pleases, this may just be the best (or even only) way, of motivating the midfielder to revive a career at the club which looks all but lifeless at the moment.
Finally, after having used the same formation for so long now, it feels as though things have gotten stale – with there so often being a dull predictability to the patterns of our attacking play. Such a drastic change may be a risk, but from our current position it feels like one worth taking.
Such a change will of course require new signings. Regardless of whether Conte decides to retain John Terry, another centre half is needed, with Juventus’, Leonardo Bonucci, probably the most exciting of names being mentioned. Another box to box midfielder to play alongside Willian feels like a necessity also. If either of the rumours regarding an interest in Radja Nainggolan or Arturo Vidal are true, this would be another great coup in my opinion. With neither Alex Pato nor Radamel Falcao likely to re-new their loan deals, and with Loic Remy likely to seek an exit, another top class centre forward has to be priority.
With so much up in the air, and their being so much scope for change with potential transfers in and out of the club this summer, it’s extremely difficult to anticipate what Conte might be planning. The more I think however, the more I’m warming to the idea of 3-5-2, as the best possible system for the current group we have. Let me know if you agree, or if you have any better ideas…