Conte has Neutralized Individual Weakness at Chelsea
Before Antonio Conte and his revolution at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea were struggling at mid table. Their failures last season are well-documented.
This season we find the Blues at a more familiar top of the table, daring to be champions.
While it can be tedious to dwell on the past, sometimes there is value in analyzing it. The Blues have certainly moved on but how?
Sometimes in order to understand where your going, you have to understand where you have been.
That’s exactly what Antonio Conte has done this season and what we will analyze here.
Last year, Chelsea were held back by individual shortcomings. Their best players weren’t performing anywhere near their best, and it trickled down to the rest of the squad.
So how has Conte targeted those weaknesses and neutralized them?
He has utilized the strengths of some players to mask the weaknesses in others. Just ask Eden Hazard.
The Belgian’s weakness is clearly defending. Jose Mourinho tried everything to get him to defend and it proved to be futile.
Conversely, Conte has bolstered the defense in other areas to hide Hazard’s shortcomings. The width provided by Marcos Alonso has allowed Hazard to focus on what he does best, attacking.
In the new system, Hazard floats in and out of space with grace, knowing that if the ball is turned over, he’s not making a 50-yard run to recover it.
Alonso provides the defense in the wide areas that some managers would expect from their wingers.
However, even Alonso is not shy of weakness. There have been several times this season that he has been caught out and yet it hasn’t cost Chelsea.
Conte has neutralized Alonso’s occasional defensive frailties by placing Gary Cahill on the left side of the defense.
The Englishman has done brilliantly in allowing Alonso to get forward and cover for Hazard with the knowledge that Chelsea’s interim skipper is behind him to provide cover.
Alonso was brought in for this system, that we can be sure of. But there is no hiding that the Spaniard isn’t perfect defensively.
However, due to the formation and training, Conte has has forgiven Alonso and allowed the Spaniard to express himself going forward.
This is being replicated all over the squad.
Another early causality of the formation change was originally Cesc Fabregas.
The Spaniard didn’t have a spot with Nemanja Matic around. The Serbian’s form was transformed by Conte.
Yet, the past few months, Chelsea would not have been so perfect without their Fabregas. So how has Conte found a place for the Spaniard?
He’s allowed him the ability to dictate the play from deep, while surrounding him with defensive players to help shoulder the burden. They help with the defensive responsibility of a deep-lying midfielder.
Players like N’Golo Kante, David Luiz, both wing backs, and even the two centrebacks have allowed Fabregas to focus on what he does best, incisively picking apart defenses with his passing.
Even David Luiz’s perceived weaknesses have been stamped out for the most part. The Brazilian has been widely criticized, by myself included, on his inability to defend as well as he should throughout his career.
Under Conte, he’s a player reborn. He’s making the tackles that he should and he’s learned to use his football IQ to the fullest.
Luiz has often navigated tricky situations well this season, getting his body in between the ball and his opponent, more times then not, drawing a foul.
Furthermore, Conte has built a team around Luiz, capable of supporting the Brazilian when he is unable to control the tendency to dive-in higher up the pitch.
The 29-year-old is often found sitting in front of the other two centrebacks instead of behind them. He often transitions from a sweeper to a defensive midfielder.
This allows Luiz to tackle higher up the pitch, with the safety of having 2 strong players behind him to clean up the scraps.
Azpilicueta and Cahill are allowing Luiz to flourish defensively. And by keeping the Brazilian on the pitch, they are benefitting from the passing ability that he possesses.
Dictating the play from deep and applying defensive pressure, Luiz’s effectiveness is perhaps one of the largest accomplishments of Conte’s early tenure.
We would be remiss to not mention the early success of Victor Moses, Pedro, Azpilicueta, Diego Costa, Willian, Kante, and Courtois as well. All have been impressive and deserve all the plaudits they receive.
This Chelsea team and their success is a product of Antonio Conte’s hard work, tactical prowess and ability to inspire hard work.
Each piece is a necessary cog in a much larger machine. One bears the load of another, allowing all the parts to function properly and effectively.
With Antonio Conte in control of the machine, it’s hard to look past this Chelsea team as title favorites.
Tyler Strauss is a senior writer for CFCNet. Follow him on Twitter @tyler_strauss_.