Another season, and another new era at Stamford Bridge. Antonio Conte became the tenth man to walk through Roman Abramovic’s revolving managerial door after an impressive Euros with Italy, and has intentions on taking Chelsea from a dismal tenth place last campaign back to the top of the Premier League.
The Blues have certainly shown that they mean business in the transfer window, too. N’Golo Kanté; the defensive midfield hero of Leicester City’s stunning title triumph, was captured for around £30 million. A similar amount was spent on Michy Batshuayi – the ex-Marseille striker who has looked a real handful from the bench.
Until deadline day, these were the only new faces at Stamford Bridge, but Conte elected to bolster his squad further by spending £23 million on left-back Marcos Alonso, formerly of Sunderland and Bolton and brother to Xabi, and bringing an old face back to the club. Incredibly, David Luiz has returned to Chelsea.
So, how will these new signings fit; if at all, into Conte’s Chelsea line-up?
Although he perhaps wasn’t as commanding as he could have been last season, and lost confidence after injury, there is no doubt that Thibaut Courtois will keep his place as Chelsea’s undisputed number one.
A commanding presence and a excellent shot stopper, the Belgian will hold down this spot with very little challenge from Asmir Begovic.
This is the most interesting part of Conte’s new-look eleven, with some suggesting that the signing of David Luiz means that the Italian manager is tempted to shift his system around and start to play a back five.
It was a system that worked well for him at Juventus and Italy, and has been trialed with mixed success in the Premier League, but it could just work with the personnel he has at his disposal.
John Terry, the 35-year-old captain, would sit in the middle and having two players either side of him would help to adjust for his dwindling supply of speed. It would also provide more cover for David Luiz, who has a penchant for making poor errors. Being part of a back three could limit the damage of any mishaps from the Brazilian.
The return of Kurt Zouma could shift things around, but for the time being, Gary Cahill will comfortably keep his place in a back three with Terry and Luiz, although Branislav Ivanovic could be an option in the middle of a back three rather than a four.
At full-back, Chelsea really have the choice of two from three, with Ivanovic, Azpilicueta and new boy Alonso vying for the positions. Ivanovic’s lack of pace could rule him out, meaning the naturally right footed Cesar Azpilicueta could move over the right wing back, with Marcos Alonso, who admitted he learnt a lot defensively in Italy would sit on the left.
The potential issues with playing a back three/five is that the midfield can sometimes get a bit overcrowded, with too many players vying for space in the centre, or the team is too heavily balanced towards defence.
N’Golo Kante is almost undroppable in the centre for Conte, and his energy, tackling and interceptions will be vital for Chelsea if they are to launch a title challenge.
For Conte, the beauty of playing three centre-backs, with David Luiz in there, is when attacking, the Brazilian could step up and join Kante to provide a bit more ball playing nous in the centre of the park. This would allow the manager to still deploy three attacking midfielders in an advanced role, with the likelihood being that Eden Hazard, Willian and Oscar would roam freely in behind the lone attacker.
If Conte is to play one striker, he basically has a straight up choice between Diego Costa and Michy Batshuayi. Currently, Diego Costa has been the man getting the nod up front, with Batshuayi making a strong impact from the bench, and that is highly likely to continue.
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