How Conte won Pep tac­ti­cal duel

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

LON­DON — The no­tion that no sys­tem is per­fect has proven cred­i­bil­ity in science and pol­i­tics - but try telling Chelsea fans that right now.

The Blues notched up an eighth win on the bounce at the home of one of their ma­jor ti­tle ri­vals to pass an acid test of their much lauded 3-4-3 sys­tem.

It says much about An­to­nio Conte‘s stand­ing as one of the game’s most as­tute tac­ti­cians. The Ital­ian had en­dured some con­cern­ing teething prob­lems in the early stages of his Stam­ford Bridge ten­ure and can­didly ad­mit­ted he needed to find so­lu­tions to his team’s prob­lems in the af­ter­math of their 3-0 hum­bling at Arse­nal on 24 Septem­ber.

“The pitch is the truth,” he said. “It is the most im­por­tant thing for us, not the words and not the pa­per.”

How right he was. The Blues have been al­most flaw­less since the change of for­ma­tion he opted for fol­low­ing the post-mortem at the Emi­rates, scor­ing 22 and con­ced­ing just two in the en­su­ing eight league matches.

The turn­around hasn’t been achieved against lesser lights ei­ther. Chelsea had de­mol­ished Manch­ester United and Ever­ton as well as beat­ing Tot­ten­ham in that time. But this was the big test ac­cord­ing to Conte in his pre-match press con­fer­ence.

City had not lost at the Eti­had since March and Chelsea had been beaten in their pre­vi­ous meet­ings with two po­ten­tial ti­tle ri­vals in the shape of Arse­nal and Liver­pool, prior to Conte’s tac­ti­cal switch.

It was also a battle that saw him go toeto-toe with a fel­low su­per coach in Pep Guardi­ola. The Spa­niard looked to match Conte’s line-up like-for-like, but it again felt like the for­mer Bay­ern Mu­nich coach was try­ing to make up for the de­fen­sive de­fi­cien­cies within his own ranks, more than a tac­ti­cal mas­ter­stroke that would out­ma­noeu­vre Chelsea.

It didn’t pay off and although Guardi­ola in­sisted the de­fence wasn’t the rea­son they lost this clash, they have now man­aged just two clean sheets in their last 17 league matches.

On another day, City’s fire­power may have moved them out of a sight prior to the vis­i­tors’ come­back from 1-0 down, but it was clear Guardi­ola still has some work to do to fine-tune them into the side some­one with his all-con­quer­ing CV de­mands. It’s ob­vi­ous the Spa­niard is still un­sure about his best XI given he has made a league-high 46 changes

to his start­ing XI.

In con­trast, the 3-4-3 sys­tem suits Chelsea’s per­son­nel and stands them out amongst the pace­set­ters at present. They all know their roles and it gets the best of their stars. The tri­umvi­rate of Eden Haz­ard, Pe­dro and Diego Costa­have flour­ished un­der Conte’s tute­lage and the Blues boss has stuck with a win­ning for­mula, nam­ing the same line-up in six of the pre­vi­ous seven matches.

He made just the one en­forced change at the Eti­had with Cesc Fabre­gas com­ing in for only his sec­ond Pre­mier League start of the

sea­son. The mid­fielder cut a for­lorn fig­ure in the 3-0 loss at Arse­nal, but his im­pres­sive per­for­mance here was sym­bolic of Chelsea’s rise since the change of tac­tics. It was his sump­tu­ous pass that picked out Diego Costa to equalise and his im­pact will not have been lost on Guardi­ola, who signed him dur­ing his time at the helm in Barcelona.

The Costa-fabre­gas link-up was key in Chelsea’s ti­tle suc­cess two years ago and could yet have a role this sea­son af­ter a spell in the shad­ows.

The Blues will now head into a packed De- cem­ber fix­ture list top of the table and with an em­bold­ened be­lief that they are on the right path. They face a run of very winnable fix­tures against West Brom, Sun­der­land, Crys­tal Palace, Bournemouth and Stoke City prior to the turn of the year.

It’s highly con­ceiv­able they will still be top of the pile head­ing into 2017 and, while there will come a time when their new sys­tem falls shy of be­ing per­fect, Conte and co will be qui­etly con­fi­dent they have found the for­mula that gives them their best shot of Pre­mier League glory.

Fer­nand­inho (left) walks to­wards the dress­ing room as an­thony Tay­lor bran­dishes the red card.

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