Friday 20 April 2018

Three's a crowd pleaser for Conte

Chelsea's Pedro jumps over Hull City goalkeeper David Marshall. Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Chelsea's Pedro jumps over Hull City goalkeeper David Marshall. Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Jon Culley

Was this the Chelsea of the future? Seven Premier League matches into his reign, chastened by back-to-back defeats against Liverpool and Arsenal, Antonio Conte decided the time had come to deploy one of the tactical fundamentals of the hat-trick of Italian Serie A titles he won with Juventus.

Hull City 0 Chelsea 2

Against Hull, out went the back four of his opening six games, to be replaced with a back three in a compact 3-4-2-1 system.

Chelsea's David Luiz battles for the ball with Hull City's Andrew Robertson. Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Chelsea's David Luiz battles for the ball with Hull City's Andrew Robertson. Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

There was no place, as widely predicted, for the previously seemingly untouchable Branislav Ivanovic, nor for Cesc Fabregas, who had been recalled against Arsenal only to be hauled off after 55 minutes.

Marcos Alonso, experienced in the role at Fiorentina, came in for his first Premier League start as left wing-back, with César Azpilicueta moving into the centre alongside David Luiz and Gary Cahill. The surprise was Conte's choice at right wing-back, where Victor Moses, not known for his defensive qualities, was outstanding.

It was not a performance without weaknesses, by a long chalk. N'Golo Kanté, a tireless workhorse in midfield, had arguably his best game so far in a Chelsea shirt, but he needs someone of greater pace and vision than Nemanja Matic alongside him.

Yet the outcome, through second-half goals by Willian and Diego Costa, was a comfortable win - albeit against a struggling team under a caretaker manager whose future remains in the air.

Hull City's Curtis Davies in action with Chelsea's Diego Costa. Photo credit: Reuters / Carl Recine
Hull City's Curtis Davies in action with Chelsea's Diego Costa. Photo credit: Reuters / Carl Recine

Just as importantly, from Conte's point of view, Chelsea kept a clean sheet for only the second time since he took charge, coming after nine goals conceded in four matches.

"The facts speak and when you concede many goals in every game, and you show to be not compact, the manager must find a solution," Conte said.

"Now we have another solution, another tactical system. The principles are the same, to keep the team short and narrow, to maintain the balance, to try to win the ball back quickly when we lose it.

"But now we can play with three at the back or four at the back."

Conte would not say whether this signalled a permanent change and the emergence of what could be clearly identified as 'Conte's Chelsea'.

"I don't know," he said. "But today I saw a lot of good things. We worked to put high pressure, to win the ball very quickly, to try to play football. But to do this we need a bit of time.

"We know that to change the past (habits), we need to work a lot. We need to understand that there is a route to improve and then to play the game against Liverpool, Arsenal, City, United or Tottenham in another aspect." (© Independent News Service)

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