Conte more than just a tactical master as Chelsea show-up late again
Much credit has been given to Antonio Conte’s tactical set-up. His use of the 3-5-2 with Juventus and Italy was responsible for taking several scalps, most recently at Euro 2016 with the Azzurri, where his contain and counter system with three centre-halves, full-backs providing the width and three central midfielders behind the forwards, was responsible for toppling Belgium and more notably defending champions Spain.
But his initial set-up, a 4-2-3-1 with Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta roaming forward looked to have been figured out and nullified by opposite number Walter Mazzarri, with Nordin Amrabat and Jose Holebas constantly getting in behind, before Etienne Capoue’s goal put the hosts ahead at a point when they were on top in the game. By the 71st minute Chelsea had been restricted to a single shot on target, were a goal down, and looked to be running out of ideas.
Cue Conte’s ace in the hole. When his tactical set-up seems to have been riddled out, he has the capacity and bravery to roll the dice and gamble to make inspired substitutions, and it was the introduction of Michy Batshuayi, Victor Moses and Cesc Fabregas from the bench, that turned the game in Chelsea’s favour, the former of the three netting the equaliser with ten minutes remaining after Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes spilled an Eden Hazard effort.
Fabregas, an unused substitute in Monday’s game against West Ham, then proved his worth to his new boss with a perfectly-timed pass to play in Diego Costa for a precious winner. It is Costa’s second successive 87th minute winning goal, and from the first two games Conte’s new-look Chelsea may be developing a welcome tendency for leaving it late to win games.
Furthermore, despite Conte’s emphasis on meticulous preparation and going into a game with the perfect set-up, sometimes a manager has to accept that his system can be worked out, and the Italian has proven that on the occasions when this occurs, he has a Plan B to win games and is not afraid to change his team, and what a way to do it against an old rival. Conte will recognise Chelsea’s need to tighten up, the Blues having kept one clean sheet in their past eight away games in the Premier League, but the boost of being able to turn a game when needed will be a welcome one. It also extended Conte’s club record to one defeat in 32 games. Simply phenomenal.