Branislav Ivanovic might not be the formidable force that he once was, but the Serbian defender brings a great deal of experience and versatility to the Chelsea team.
Having suffered a rather forgettable past season with the Blues, the veteran defender was far from his best, with doubts being cast over his age, and possible declining footballing ability.
However, the experienced Serbian seemed to get back into first team contention again during the second half of last season, the club then under the management of temporary boss Guus Hiddink.
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If Ivanovic is able to recall some of that form from the dying weeks of the previous campaign, Antonio Conte could have a very useful player in the form of the Chelsea vice-captain.
Dismal 2015/2016 Campaign
The 32-year-old was one of the many players last season to perform well below expectations, having put in stellar performances only a year before.
Right from the first game of the season against Swansea, the Serbian showed signs of vulnerability. Swans winger Jefferson Montero was a constant threat down the left channel, outpacing Ivanovic on multiple occasions during the game.
For the first time in his Chelsea career, the right-back showed signs of his declining speed, something that was well disguised by his impressive defensive skills and strength prior to then.
However, it seemed like age had finally caught up with the veteran, making him a liability at right-back, where pace and constant tracking is of utmost importance.
As the season progressed, the Serbian international became less and less reliable, forcing the dependable Cesar Azpillicueta to take charge at right-back, with Baba Rahman or Kenedy slotting in at left-back.
Experience and Ability
Despite the obvious lack of pace, Ivanovic still provides an imposing presence at the back for Chelsea.
Having moved to the Bridge in the 2008 January transfer window, the Serbian has been a key figure for the Blues for over eight years.
The right-back was part of several important triumphs for the club, including their league title wins in 2010 and 2015, as well as the miraculous Champions League victory in 2012.
Several players have come and gone during the veteran's stay with the Blues, and barring club legends such as John Terry, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech, Didier Drogba, and Ashley Cole, Ivanovic has been one of the most influential figures at the club.
The Serbian brings tremendous experience to the plate, having featured in some of the greatest matches in Chelsea's history, alongside immensely prominent players.
He understands the style of football in England and the complexity of facing the big teams in the league, something that could be a key factor as Conte and new players transition into the team, leading the club into a new era.
Also, Ivanovic is still a capable defender in his own right. His versatility allows him to occupy either central defense or the right-back position, making him a valuable asset to the club.
Possessing great strength and aerial and tackling ability, the Serbian's skills could prove to be quite useful, if deployed in the right way by Conte.
Playing at Centre-Back
During the closing months of the previous campaign, Ivanovic was seen to occupy the centre-back position due to injuries to both John Terry and Kurt Zouma.
Mistakes by the inexperienced Matt Miazga further forced the Serbian into the central role, something that he is not completely unfamiliar with having joined the Blues as a centre-back initially.
The 32-year-old seemed extremely comfortable in that position, perhaps even more so than the regular Gary Cahill.
When Conte takes charge of the Blues, the Italian manager could deploy the strong defender in central defense as opposed to at right-back, especially due to the player's evident decline in pace.
With the promising Zouma set to be sidelined beyond August, Ivanovic could provide some stability in defense alongside Terry or Cahill.
It is still unclear if Chelsea will be able to secure the signature of any of their defensive transfer targets, mainly Leonardo Bonucci of Juventus and Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli.
Any of the above centre-backs would be a great and much needed addition to the squad, owing to the Blues' recent defensive frailties.
How should Antonio Conte deploy Branislav Ivanovic next season? Leave us YOUR thoughts in the comment section below!
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