Why David Luiz's return to Stamford Bridge makes Chelsea even stronger
It all came late in terms of defensive reinforcements at Chelsea with the signing of former Sunderland full-back Marcus Alonso happening days before the re-signing of David Luiz for £30 million on deadline day.
Alonso’s signing came out of the blue, but makes sense, with Conte seemingly eager to add the option of switching to a 3-5-2 formation. The Italian realised that using Branislav Ivanovic as a wing-back in his favoured 3-5-2 would hinder the team, as his attacking instincts have diminished with his age.
The Serbian got four goals and five assists in Chelsea’s title-winning campaign two years ago. However, last season he only contributed with two goals and two assists as the Blues made a disastrous attempt at protecting their crown.
With Alonso coming in, Ivanovic would drop to the bench and Azpilicueta would find himself in his preferred role at right wing-back. Alonso and Azpilicueta fit the more flexible wing-back roles in the 3-5-2 formation, as oppose to Ivanovic.
Yet the switch from a back four to a back three is only possible thanks to the signing of the Brazilian David Luiz. With Antonio Conte stating he is to be used as a centre-back ahead of his second debut at Stamford Bridge, Luiz may find himself at the heart of the Blues defence this season.
With Gary Cahill and John Terry starting the opening 3 games of the season, Chelsea have a 100% record and look fluid in the tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation. New signing N’golo Kante has been a revelation filling in the gaps, often appearing as if there are two of him on the pitch. The Frenchman has replicated the form he displayed at Leicester City.
It’s Kante that holds the key to switching to Conte’s preferred 3-5-2 formation. The Frenchman’s partner, Nemanja Matic, is more of a holding midfielder who completes a specific role, whereas Kante gets about breaking up play and progressing attacks.
With Luiz likely to come into the team in between the English pair of Cahill and Terry, the Brazilian will be the primary ball-playing centre-back while the Englishmen fulfill a solely defensive role. Luiz is expected to be seen marauding forward with the ball before distributing it to one of Chelsea’s many creative talents.
Therefore, the rotation between Matic and Kante to fill the hole left by Luiz is vital in securing defensive stability, especially if Luiz were to be unsuccessful in his venture forward.
Aged 29, Luiz comes as a short-term fix, yet, as he is years younger than both Terry and Cahill, he may remain the constant among variables during Conte’s reign as Andreas Christensen and Kurt Zouma become increasingly present in the first-team picture over the next few years.
A 3-5-2 formation may impact upon the attacking options Conte uses, however. With Marcus Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta likely to be the wing-backs, where will individual talents like Hazard, Pedro, Willian, Oscar, and Fabregas fit in?
Luiz, having operated in a 4-2-3-1 during his first stint at Chelsea and while he was at PSG, is more than capable of playing with one defensive partner. Replacing Cahill and rejoining Terry would allow for tactical consistency following the first 3 games, and wins, of the season.
For all the criticism Luiz and the £30m transfer gets, the Brazilian brings an array of options because of the passing ability he has. His connection with Kante, one that could be a tactical revelation if they were to pick up each other’s play styles, could be more important than the connection between Hazard and Costa going forward.
For Conte, Luiz, who may have been the fourth option, behind Leonardo Bonucci, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Marquinhos, provides tactical flexibility which enables Chelsea to gain an upper hand over their title rivals.
With three teams with a 100% record, the two Manchester teams and Chelsea, Conte’s signing of Luiz distorts the video analysis of other teams preventing them from preparing fully. Yet, with Mourinho, teams expect a 4-2-3-1 and can train to stop United’s force.
With a 3-5-2 involving Luiz coming from deep to start attacks or a 4-2-3-1 where Kante fills a potential hole left by Luiz’s ventures, teams can’t plan fully. Therefore, Chelsea can exploit unprepared opponents.
David Luiz sat and watched the 2-2 draw against Swansea from the bench, suggesting that Conte is going to ease the Brazilian into the first team picture. Being the pragmatist Conte is, the Italian will ensure that the 3-5-2 formation is fully developed on the training ground before utilising it to stun an unexpecting opponent which may turn out to be Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side on September 24th.
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