Can Conte’s new Chelsea system continue success next against Man Utd?
Robbie Purves | 17 October 2016
New system success but can it continue against United?
Chelsea’s destruction of reigning Premier League champions Leicester City saw the continuation of the trademark Antonio Conte three at the back formation.
However, this time, instead of five in midfield to complete a 3-5-2, the Italian tactician strayed from his typical system deployed at both Italy and Juventus and pushed an extra man into the forward line.
This was first deployed against Hull City in a 2-0 win, but now a bigger scalp has been collected and Conte looks to have found his best formation.
Here, Coral writers look at how this formation brings out the best in Chelsea’s squad and the implications for their upcoming Manchester United clash…
Hazard hitting heights
Towards the end of Jose Mourinho’s second spell at Stamford Bridge, Belgium star Hazard looked beaten and destined to leave in the summer.
However, the player appears to have settled and this new Conte system seems to be suiting him down to the ground.
During the international break Hazard expressed his desire to play as a floating number 10, relinquished from his defensive duties to focus on what he does best.
“I like to play as a No 10,” Hazard stated. “I think I have more freedom offensively. For Belgium, we have full backs who run hard and create a lot of space, which is good and I like to play there.”
And freedom he was subsequently granted from Conte next, roaming without restraint against the Foxes. Hazard starred in the clash, scoring a lovely placed finish past Kasper Schmeichel.
Chelsea’s diminutive Belgian now has three goals in eight league games. Considering his total last year was four, that is a remarkable improvement.
In this new 3-4-3 formation, Hazard can play without the defensive duties Mourinho demanded of him, as Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante provide a rock solid base on which attacks can be built with confidence.
From shaky to solid
David Luiz has returned to Stamford Bridge the same way he left – erratic and ill disciplined. Meanwhile, Gary Cahill has experienced a huge slump in his form, most notably displayed in a 3-0 drubbing against Arsenal.
However, the change to three at the back is starting to fill Blues fans with confidence, instead of dread, as the opposition pours forward.
The extra body at the back allows for a greater margin for error, as the third man can come and mop up any mistake a teammate makes.
This, combined with wing backs, has seen Chelsea’s defence go from one of the most porous to a side that made Arsenal, Hull City and Leicester draw blanks.
A huge part of this has been the addition of specialist Marcos Alonso. The former Fiorentina man regularly played left wing back for Paulo Sousa and his Viola team last term.
Alonso has been particularly impressive in this new system and possesses great quality on the ball to provide ammunition to the forward line, while keeping an eye on defence.
Mourinho to make masterplan?
Man Utd’s manager Mourinho is known for coming up with perfect tactical plans for individual matches and United could pose a serious threat to this new look Blues side at 2/1 with Coral to win at the Bridge.
The new United boss left Chelsea by mutual consent last season after a downturn in form. He lost nine of their 16 league games and the Blues were a point off the relegation places when he departed. Therefore, expect Mourinho to be extra motivated to come up with a plan to exploit Conte’s men.
It is often said the Achilles heel of a three man defence is rapid width and ruthless counter attacking.
If a team can bypass the midfield and get at the backline with speed, it can all fall apart.
The Red Devils have pace-a-plenty in their squad. Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba and potentially Henrikh Mkhitaryan could all punish Chelsea if they can turn defence into attack rapidly.
A defensive trio may have worked against a relegation threatened Hull and a struggling Leicester, but there is real potential for trouble when United come to town.
Back three exposed?
Outside centre backs in the system need to be mobile and possess excellent agility and ball playing skills, something Cahill does not have. As a result, pressing on these two players can cause mistakes in dangerous areas – a factor United will surely consider and target.
A central defender in this system needs to be dominant in the air. Against Zlatan Ibrahimovic next week, it is hard to imagine Luiz winning the majority of aerial duels.
The player also has to be positionally perfect, as if he isn’t, the rest of the backline will not be either. Again, this is something Brazilian Luiz struggles with.
Rigidity is key to the success of a three man defence, so when a player is sucked in towards a big striker like Ibrahimovic, the others squeeze in to suffocate the ball. Space is then potentially opened up for runners like Lingard and Rashford to exploit as there are not any traditional full backs.
Chelsea coach Conte’s system may be working refreshingly for now but, with Mourinho’s meticulous football brain scanning for weaknesses, Man Utd could be a truly tough test.