After seemingly endless speculation, Antonio Conte has been announced as the next permanent Chelsea manager, taking the reins from interim Guus Hiddink at the end of the season.
After such a lengthy process, it seems appropriate that we follow it with an equally lengthy spell considering how successful he shall be in his new role, and what he will bring to the competition of English top flight.
The Italian seems to favour a three at the back formation, in a 3-5-2. Conte’s managerial style has been compared to Jose Mourinho, focusing on tactics almost obsessively, not afraid to adapt formation from game-to-game to suit their players.
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Again, like Mourinho, Conte sets up his team with organisation in mind, to defend and keep clean sheets. Maybe excitement and goals scored aren’t priorities, with his former club Juventus winning the 2012-13 Serie A title with their top goal scorer contributing just ten goals, the 23rd best in the league that season.
The team that will fall into Conte’s hands should fit well into this philosophy. Diego Costa has been a revelation, although this is often overshadowed by his almost consistent bans and Chelsea’s recent flat form. Yet the Spaniard has bagged 31 goals in 50 games. An impressive tally, and if fortune favours incoming Conte, Costa will stay put in the summer and lead his line.
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However, as he likes to field 3-5-2, it is possible that Conte could be on the hunt for a partner for Costa. It is unlikely that Radamel Falcao will return to form after two dismal seasons in the Premier League, and Loic Remy, although was prolific during his spell at Newcastle United, he has never nailed down a spot in Chelsea’s squad.
Conte may be tempted to look in the market for an appropriate partner and he should look no further than the talents of Zlatan Ibrahimović. The Swede has basically guaranteed he is leaving Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season, and Conte could lure the Swedish forward to Stamford Bridge.
His successful career can be boasted with trophies in every league he has played in. Ibrahimović is a spontaneous and brilliant striker, but may be put off by the idea of almost having to share the talisman token with Costa.
As a part of this formation, the manager fields a three-man midfield to sit behind the strikers, and two wingbacks.
Cesc Fabregas should seamlessly fit Conte’s ambitions, with the ability to ping pass across the pitch and control play like Andrea Pirlo did in his Juventus days. Fabregas possess more energy than the veteran Pirlo, which could make for a more dynamic midfield. Conversely, Fabregas isn’t known for his defensive capabilities, and will need energetic midfielders around him to work for the defence, and make runs to support the forwards.
Nemanja Matic can break down play and sit nicely in front of his centre-backs, but as an attacking threat, he lacks the pace and guile that the manager will be looking for. Conte could also consider Oscar’s energy a useful tool when building his midfield.
Conte could possibly bank on the emergence of youth talent, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who scored his first Premier League goal in Chelsea’s 4-0 thumping of Aston Villa. The youngster still has a lot to prove, but looked confident in that game, and could have scored another. He also has physicality, standing at 6’3" feet, which could tempt Conte to save his cash on gamble on the development of the youth star.
Alternatively, he may look to make a splash in the transfer market, possibly looking to Paul Pogba, who he managed to much success. Pogba brings talent, goals, and the promise of improvement due to his tender years which could tempt Conte into making moves for him despite his hefty price tag, which could be as large a £90 million.
Defensively, Chelsea could rely on the centre backs they have. Gary Cahill may not be able to rank himself with the best defenders in the world, but for a Premier League defender, they don’t come much better. Kurt Zouma was progressing into a solid option for the Blues, and once he recovers from his injury, will have a big part to play in the squad’s future. The other centre back spot is up for grabs, but Chelsea have a host of talent competing for it.
Branislav Ivanovic has moved in the centre back role due to multiple injuries, but has shown his ability there, and as age begins to wear on him, he may fancy centre-back as his new position.
Conte also has the youngster Matt Miazga who will hope to nail down a place to develop. John Terry has openly stated that he would stay at Chelsea if they offered him a new contract, and the club might just do that as any dressing room would be lifted by the experience the current skipper brings. He would also provide good cover should other defensive options be unavailable.
The wing backs could prove to be the most interesting component in Conte’s team. It would be ridiculous if Conte decided Cesar Azpilicueta was surplus to his squad, with the defender being an excellent part of Chelsea’s squad already. He is defensively very solid and also has ability bringing it forward. Additionally, Azpilicueta can play on both sides, which makes him useful for the incoming manager.
The more debatable aspect would be the other wingback. Baba Rahman is certainly an attacking fullback, but has failed to stamp his place on the current Chelsea side, so Conte may opt for someone else. Luckily, he has a vast array of talented wide players at his disposal.
Willian, who has been the standout player for Chelsea this season will be looking to be a major part of the team, and his great work ethic could mean him being utilised out wide. This same idea applies to Pedro. Kenedy also has the chance to make a bid at the position. All these players are attackers, so it will be interesting to see if Conte makes use of the squad he has, or looks for new talent in this uncertain area.
Eden Hazard's Future
You may have noticed that there is one massive player missing from the players just mentioned.
No not Jon Obi Mikel, their wide man Eden Hazard. In the 2014-15 season, Hazard stole the attention of viewers of English top flight, yet this season he has failed to make the same impact.
Unless he finds a way into the centre of midfield already brimming with more suited players, his lack of defensive ability may make him as surplus to Conte’s team. There is no lack of buyers, with PSG and Manchester United both being linked to the Belgian.
Yet the Chelsea faithful might not be happy about seeing their once brilliant player, who inspired them to league glory, leaving and possibly rediscovering his best form at another big club. Conte will have to weigh up whether he can find a way to get the sparkling form Hazard has displayed, in his formation and style, compared to the implications of selling and what those funds could do.
Will Antonio Conte be a good addition to Chelsea? Have YOUR say in the comment section below!