So we’ve had a few weeks to find our feet, get used to Antonio Conte’s passion and now it looks like the squad has settled into his approach to the game and at least one formation, something we haven’t really seen in Blue at the Bridge since the days of Glenn Hoddle and Ruud Gullit. That’s right, the 3-5-2 is back at Chelsea. Let’s see how Conte’s 3-5-2 compares to Chelsea of the Hoddle era in the wake of our demolition of Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United.
Courtois seems to have come out of a bit of a slump with a commanding display, showing the promise of his previously shown ability.
Dimitri Kharine is a good comparison, even though Kevin Hitchcock is my favourite Chelsea goal keeper. Kharine was one of the first continental goalies in the Premiership. He was tall, lean and brought a new style of goal keeping that we commonly see in the Premiership today.
Moses, Dave, Sideshow, Cahill, Alonso:
Dave and Cahill are our man marking ball winners. Naturally Dave is coping more easily with this role as he is used to filling in on the wide parts of the pitch and can slot in next to his traditional center backs with ease. This has a strong correlation to Steve Clarke. He was a steadfast, no-nonsense full back, who adapted to a center back role with ease.
Cahill isn’t having a great time, but he’s doing what he does best. He’s using his speed to get out wide when Alonso has made a foray up the pitch and making interceptions and ball winning tackles. While Cahill is still adapting to the role, he is playing about as well as I have seem do for us, which is pleasing. The correlating player is Michael Duberry, solid, typical ball winning center back who developed his game to cover the wide areas over time.
David Luiz has fallen into a dream role. Stay at the back and float, win the ball when you need to and mop up after Dave and Cahill have made a challenge. It suits him perfectly and he played with discipline against a quiet Man Utd front line of Zlatan, who tried to make most of his advances against Dave, as he had a clear height and jumping advantage. Flamboyant and prone to the occasional defensive mistake? Hello Ruud Gullit.
Victor Moses has been paired with Dave, giving him the opportunity to focus on getting forward, with the knowledge our best full back has him covered on the right side. He’s a more attacking version of Dan Petrescu.
Likewise Alonso is a solid defender who can get forward, but has the tactical knowledge to aid Cahill as he adjusts to his new role. Parallels can be drawn with Andy Myers. A work horse left back who creates but doesn’t quite stand out like other players.
I love every aspect of this back five.
Kante, Matic, Hazard
Kante and Matic are freely swapping between the water carrier position, allowing them each to express themselves further up the pitch with the knowledge that when they do the other has them covered. Matic has more assists this season than he has in any season in England and Kante bagged himself a tidy finish against the Reds today. Unlike the back five we can’t really compare Matic to the midfield of the mid 90’s. Nigel Spackman could get stuck in and create for us, too.
Dennis Wise was a small, feisty player who could tackle like Kante but was more creative and more often drifted wide to cross and give the wing backs the over lap option.
Hazard is free to be the Enganche he was born to be. He roams the wings, the middle and does what he does best; finds space and exploits it. He also has a fire about him at the moment that has seen an improvement in his willingness to close down and press in general. It’s utterly unfair to compare Hazard and Gavin Peacock. He was an attacking midfielder who popped up with a few important goals, notably a cracking goal in a 1-0 win over Manchester United at home in ’93 but Hazard is in a league entirely of his own making.
While it doesn’t have the panache of Bobby Di Matteo or Frank Lampard, I am a big fan of the midfield here.
Diego Costa, Pedro
Costa is Costa. Lump him up front and let him play target man, poacher, or striker depending on what the team needs in the given attack. He has also been dropping back and defending when he feels we need more cover during opposition forays. I don’t think anyone could mention Diego Costa and Paul Furlong in the same sentence, but I just did.
Pedro is playing somewhat of a false nine, dropping into the hole most of the time, but pressing the back line to create space for others and himself. Much like Zola in a few respects. We had Mark Stein in the same slot and while no one could really complain about his work rate, there is, again, the issue of quality. And quality is the difference between the two first XI’s, we have a quality about us now that leads to expectation, back in 1994 our emerging quality gave us hope.
I’m not Pedro’s biggest fan, but if he’s performing and giving 100% I can only be happy. I’m not convinced that Oscar can play this role as well as Batshuayi, but I like how the system is working.
Style of play:
When we are in possession of the ball I am seeing correlations with Gullit’s triangles philosophy. Every man on the ball should have two options for the pass. Every man off the ball is either giving a passing option or pulling the opposition out of position to create opportunities for mid to long range passes up the pitch. This should not be surprising as Conte played in Italy under the likes of Lippi, Trapattoni, Carlo Ancelotti who played with Gullit at AC Milan under another of Conte’s Managers, Fabio Capello.
When we are off the ball we are pressing hard, closing down both the player in possession and the players giving the option. The wing backs mostly track any wingers (Moses still needs to work on this, but he’s a natural attacker, never had any real time under Mourinho to develop this facet of his play and this will take time, but we are seeing flashes already.)
The difference has been adjusting this philosophy to the Premiership, which is played at a much faster pace. It has taken time and we were caught out a couple of times by Swansea, Liverpool and Arsenal, though it should be noted that only Arsenal really played well for 90 minutes against us.
To quote Ruud Gullit we are being treated to “sexy football” and boy, do I like it.