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Antonio Conte’s Chelsea: Close your eyes and play?

It is business as usual for football players to speak favourably about their current managers; there’s no surprise in that. In many cases, players just say things which might be questioned from any external football experts, pundits or from the fans. However, sometimes players say things which deserve to be carefully examined.

“Even after a week I think I had progressed with him”

This is what Eden Hazard told the press about Chelsea’s Italian manager, Antonio Conte. The media used his words to comment that Hazard had taken an indirect swipe at Jose Mourinho, which is exactly what the tabloid and low-quality media outlets do – to interpret someone’s words in a twisted way to create controversy and misunderstanding, which would then be picked up by any subsequent publications. It is not something we haven’t seen before.

What is important in Eden Hazard’s words?

The last thing that has anything to do with Chelsea’s football or Eden Hazard statement is the media suggestion that Antonio Conte is a better manager for the Blues than his predecessor, Jose Mourinho.

Without speaking about Chelsea’s 2016/17 Premier League title, the Belgian forward has indirectly explained the key to Antonio Conte’s success in the Premier League – it is “a lot of tactics”. Conte is one of the most tactically prepared coaches in today’s footballing world. His tactics don’t end with choosing the right formation; his players then have to adapt the best possible way to it. He is obviously working hard during the games and manages every aspect of his players’ performance on the pitch.

Other great football coaches do the same, but Conte educates his players on how to adapt to the changing environment during matches. He expects his team to be prepared to change the tactical formation or certain elements based on any match development. Conte works to prepare Chelsea to be as flexible as possible during games, depending on whether they need to defend, to attack, to maintain possession or simply to restrict the opposition from venturing forward from midfield.

If we look at Antonio Conte’s selection of back three, we’ll see that he always chooses versatile defenders who are capable of playing equally well in a central role or on one of the flanks. This helps them a lot to cover the wing-backs when the latter are going forward.

Cesar Azpilicueta plays as right central-defender in the current Chelsea formation. He does an excellent job as he is also one of the best right wing-backs in the world. On the left side of the back three, Gary Cahill isn’t that versatile like Azpilicueta, but he is stable enough to fill in the left flank when Marcos Alonso, or anyone who plays there, is going forward.

Chelsea players “almost telepathic”!

“There’s a lot of tactics. It’s not always nice as a forward as you have to run, defend and everything, but at least at the weekend, you know exactly what to do, you can even close your eyes and play. That’s good”, says Eden Hazard about the way Conte trains his team. Hazard made a very bold statement by saying that the understanding between the Chelsea players is so strong this season, that it is “almost telepathic”.

A Chelsea team that works like the players are “almost telepathic” will win many games by a landslide this season; something which would help the Blues in their effort to win a second consecutive Premier League title. Unlike other title contenders, Chelsea are much more flexible. It is easier for Conte’s side to adapt to different game plans than teams like Liverpool or Arsenal for example, who struggle to change the way they play when the opposite side commands the game.

Chelsea are even more flexible than Manchester City, whose game depends on keeping the ball and recycling possession. Unlike Pep Guardiola’s side, Chelsea are comfortable to play against teams who want to dominate ball possession. This does not prevent the Blues from being sharp and effective and they can win games by playing counter attacking football.

There are similarities between the way Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho sides play

The only other team in the league that is built on a strong concept and whose players know how to respond to different situations on the pitch is Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. We need to give credit for Mourinho for transforming the Red Devils and making them a stable side which can effortlessly switch from one game plan to another. In fact, Man United now look much more like Chelsea in the 2014/15 season than like the Red Devils as we know them for two decades. There are many similarities between the way Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho play. Both emphasise strong defences and both are very tactical in the way their teams play.

So, we’d probably need to read Eden Hazard’s words in a positive light rather than seeing it as an attack on his former manager. He has suggested that Conte has improved the tactical abilities of Chelsea’s current squad after he came to London, rather than saying that Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea were a tactically poor side. Mourinho has set certain standards in Chelsea and established a certain playing style at Stamford Bridge. Antonio Conte has built on that and further developed the team to a state where players understand each other very well, “almost telepathic” by Hazard’s own words.

So the only thing Antonio Conte needs to do now is to integrate his new signings to the team and get the best out of them. As of now, Chelsea look like genuine title contenders alongside the two Manchester clubs. Conte has built the foundations of their title-winning team last season and it looks like he has managed to revamp it and improve over this summer. With the Champions League to fight for too, this looks like it’s going to be a good season for the Blues.

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