Giving more importance to the tactics of this beautiful game is the main motive of this website and in doing so, it is important to give full credits to the best manager who has mastered his side and tactics throughout the whole season on a consistent basis. This piece is about Antonio Conte whom we think is the best Premier League Manager for the season 2016/17.
Touted as one of the best managers in the modern era after overseeing the rejuvenation of Juventus and a successful stint with the Italian National side, Don Antonio took up a challenge which not many would’ve opted for. The Chelsea team, which led their manager down just a season after winning the Country’s most coveted prize looked as a long term project to be regrouped and take them to where they actually belonged. It was an arduous task even for a manager of Conte’s standards and what happened in the next 10 months was an absolute miracle.
With the underachievement of the last season pondering in the minds of the players, the manager was unable to bring about the much needed change for which he was brought. The press conferences in the initial stages of the season looked uncomfortable while the emotions shown by him started to be unconvincing. Cometh the Arsenal game in the last week of September, Chelsea collected only three wins from the five opening games and most importantly had lost to Liverpool at home. In the game against Arsenal, Chelsea had no clue and were beaten 3-0 by their cross town rivals.
The much needed spark was ignited in this game when Conte changed the formation to control the central area and the 3-4-3 was deployed after the commencement of the second half. The change brought great results to the team in the next games as the record for the longest winning streak of 13 games was reached in the League. In this run, Chelsea saw great results fall by their way as the likes of Manchester United, City and Spurs were beaten quite handsomely. This streak helped them for their second title in three years as their manager proved how good he is as a man manager though he is known for his astute tinkering.
Tactics over the season
Known for the 3-4-3/3-5-2 variants with the Juventus and Italian sides he had managed before, it was expected that Conte would establish the back three culture at the Bridge. But the Italian gaffer opted to play the 4-2-3-1 hybrid in the opening games of the season. The tactics though was never a perfect marriage as the results didn’t favour them. With the 1-2 defeat at home against Liverpool and the 3-0 thrashing at the hands of bitter rivals Arsenal, it was understood that four at the back strategy wasn’t working anymore.
4-2-3-1 hybrid and the early stages of the season
In the opening games of the season Conte used the 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 hybrid. In the positional structure, he deployed the new signing Kante and central midfielder Matic as the double pivot when the team took the shape of a 4-2-3-1 structure. The “tank” Ivanovic was favoured in the right flank of the defensive half as Azpilicueta occupied the opposite flank. The two central defenders in Cahill and David Luiz did the donkey work and guarded Courtois’ goal.
In the game against Liverpool at home, Conte fancied a 4-2-3-1 to counter Liverpool’s 4-3-3 but the Chelsea gaffer and his team were badly beaten as they lost the game 1-2 infront of their own fans. He played Costa upfront with the attacking trio of Willian, Oscar and Hazard behind him. The graphic below depicts the structure used by Conte against the Reds.
This was the first defeat of the season for Chelsea and they looked to improve from their latest defeat by making some changes to the structure of the team. The deep lying playmaker Fabregas came into the team in place of the number 10. This allowed Chelsea to play with three midfielders in centre of the field. However this tactic proved no good against the Gunners as they thrashed the Blues to a comprehensive 3-0 victory.
Against Arsenal, Conte deployed a 4-3-3 with Matic and Fabregas played ahead of Kante to form the inverted triangle in the central midfield. The wingers Hazard and Willian played wide with Costa dropping deep at times to allow the wingers especially Hazard to move into the space created by him. The graphic below shows how Conte’s team lined up against Arsenal.
Change in system and its overwhelming success
Things didn’t work out well for Chelsea with the system and it was rightly understood by Conte. Against Arsenal, the change was made in the second half when Alonso was brought in for Fabregas. The system then became a back three supported by two wing backs. This change started paying dividends only from the next game against Hull City when Chelsea won 2-0, bagging their first league game win after 3 matches.
However in the game against United, the power of the 3-4-3 was unleashed when they thrashed the team managed by their former manager Jose Mourinho. Versus United, Conte deployed the team as depicted in the graphic below.
3-4-3 Attacking Phase
In the attacking stages of the game, Chelsea press forward with the two wingbacks staying very wide. Luiz, stated to be a Libero, is deployed in the centre of the two wide centre backs and his movements add advantage in the centre of the midfield. On the other hand, wing backs and inside forwards could swap positions with Moses and Alonso cutting in. In the mean while Hazard and Pedro would maintain the width by positioning themselves in the wide areas. This would create confusion in the opponent’s defence as the defenders would be caught in two minds whether to track the winger who is cutting inside or the inside forward who runs wide.
There were a lot of major issues that got addressed by the switch to this formation as there was more central occupancy in this formation. A key feature was the advancing movements into the right half space by the right centre back, Cesar Azpilicueta. With his advancing runs in the right half space, Chelsea had a free man in the middle third to play through the opposition.
Made using TacticalPad
The front three were far more fluid with Chelsea attacking with typical Conte-esque wing combinations. The wing backs were crucial with their positioning on the wings while the inside forwards combined with the ball near central midfielders. Also, off the ball movements from Diego Costa were crucial in helping Hazard to unleash his creative flair. The role of Hazard in this set up was unique in the aspect that he was afforded a free role and shy of defensive burden.
The coverage of space from the central midfielders and their positioning was crucial in providing a stable structure for clean progressions. Kante is especially excellent in this as his ability to cover ground and cover for teammates is vital in the set up.
There is also the possibility of generating a free man on the far side by drawing opponents to the ball near side. With the free man being generated, Chelsea could switch play with ease in the space of a pass or two from the center of the pitch.
3-4-3 Defensive Phase
In the defensive phase, Conte follows a different defensive pattern when compared to others which uses the 3-4-3 in attacking phase. Chelsea adopts a 5-men defence at the back and this is mainly because of the swift play of Moses and Alonso. Both Hazard and Pedro would fall back to form a bank of four in the middle. This allows Chelsea to defend in backs of four and five forming a shape of 5-4-1 against the ball.
The defensive play from Chelsea depended largely on their counter pressing structure. Especially in the games against Arsenal and Manchester City over the season, Chelsea displayed excellent counter pressing schemes to stifle their opposition. With Kante and Matic, they have two brilliant readers of the game who can win the ball back. Their positioning in the transitions and right before the ball is lost in the attacking phases is brilliant and allows Chelsea to regain the ball back with minimal fuss.
The compact shape and the ability of the wing backs to go up and down the pitch is crucial in the defensive organisation instilled by Conte. The 5-4-1 shape affords no space for the opposition to work into. With the focus being on central occupancy, Chelsea stay very compact and do not allow the opposition to play through them. When the ball is sent to the wings and the opponent tries to stretch play, Chelsea move laterally as a team and they remain accessible to the nearby teammate.
Having led the side to a 13-match winning streak, Conte helped his team secure their second title in three years. In his incredible start at London, Conte broke and created numerous records. And this one was quite astonishing – Conte is the only manager in the league to have won 30 games in a single season having overtaken the previous record holder Mourinho with a last day victory over Sunderland.
With teams such as Everton, West Ham and Spurs trying out the three at the back system, Chelsea became the best exponent of same last season. The ability to get the best out his players who were slated after a poor title defense and to revive their confidence has given Conte his reward. Having able to bring out brilliant performances on a consistent basis from his players even in unnatural positions has shown how good a tactical man manager he is, with the prime examples being Moses and Azpilicueta. Winning the Premier League title in his first attempt, Antonio Conte is Football Bloody Hell’s Premier League Manager of the season 2016/17.