Prior to his official unveiling as Chelsea’s new manager, opinions were divided as to which formation the then Italy coach would deploy upon his assumption of duty at Stamford Bridge.
At Juventus and with the Italian national team, Antonio Conte used the 3-5-2 formation, and he recorded great successes with it. Using a 3-man defence is not a popular approach in the EPL, so he started his reign with a 4-man defence which made Chelsea fans sigh for relief.
The counter-attacking ability and speed of most top flight teams make it difficult for clean sheets to be kept in succession. Hence, employing a 3-man defence looks suicidal.
But sooner or later, Chelsea were always going to experiment with it, and considering how Watford, managed by Mazzarri, a keen admirer of the system have been fine with it, Conte definitely wasn’t going to miss out on his favorite formation.
Against Arsenal, the 3-man system was deployed in the 2nd half as the Blues made attempts to get back into the game. The fact that the Gunners weren’t able to add more goals, and that Chelsea couldn’t find any wasn’t enough evidence to prove if the formation worked or not.
Against Hull, it worked. And it did well. Key to its success was having a player like Marcos Alonso in the midfield. A rather 3-4-3 formation was used, but it’s very similar to the 3-5-2. And the versatility of Alonso that enables him to perform excellently well as a left back and as a left winger makes the formation a perfect plan.
The former Bolton Wanderers and Fiorentina man has played brilliantly in both positions all through his career. At Bolton and with Sunderland, he was deployed primarily as a full back.
However, due to his attacking instincts having played as a wideman all through his Madrid Academy days, Paulo Sousa made him play on the left wing all through last season at Fiorentina.
The decision yielded success considering how many chances (43) he created. He proved how handy he can be in attack against Hull City, and the answers to Conte’s formation headaches might have finally arrived.
The 4-1-4-1, 4-2-3-1 and 4-2-4 formations have been used interchangeably since the new campaign kicked off. Playing to the strength of the players at his disposal and fitting them into his favorite 3-man defence plan could be the key to that stiff title challenge that needs to be seriously mounted.
He won back to back titles with Juventus using the defensive triumvirate of Bonucci, Barzagli and Chilleini. At the European Championships, Italy put powerhouses like Belgium, Sweden and Spain to the sword with this formation and players. It has always worked for Conte. It would this time too.
Doubts might have been raised as to which of the players are able to carry out the attention of the new plan to detail, but they should be cleared with Alonso’s presence.
Smooth and successful transition to the 3-5-2 is guaranteed due to his ball playing abilities, and he is the man to help set it all in motion.