Manager Antonio Conte has already had great success with Juventus in the Serie A – a club he spent most of his playing days with, winning every club honour going. In his stint as Italian national team boss he was also lauded for his functional team play, while gaining relative success in major tournaments.
Roll on to Conte’s new job in London, and he is trying to rebuild an aging Chelsea team that look a shadow of their former selves. He finds himself in scenario he’s not used to.
Tactically, Conte’s teams have been built on a backbone of three central defenders. For both Juve and Italy his teams featured the infamous trio of Chiellini, Barzagli and Borucci. Today’s Chelsea team is a far cry from his previous teams.
While many would argue John Terry still offers a reassuring presence at the back for the Blues, the same can’t be said for his fellow teammates. England international Gary Cahill has come under intense pressure of late – making a string of mistakes that have led to Chelsea conceding goals. New signing David Luiz returns to the Bridge with fans welcoming him with open arms. Yet he’s not exactly renowned for his reliability and discipline when it comes to implementing strict defensive protocols. Additionally, the promising Kurt Zouma is still injured after a serious knee injury sidelined him last season.
Conte’s appointment was met with a lot of praise when he was appointed manger in preseason. However, many ignored the rebuilding he would have to do at Stamford Bridge. He’s also tasked with an overhaul of some disgruntled Blues players whose feathers were ruffled from the Mourinho-era. Stars like Diego Costa and Eden Hazard are still reportedly looking at other destinations if this campaign doesn’t work out.
It’s also worth noting that Luiz isn’t your archetypal Conte signing. His abilities are outside of the blueprint that Conte and Mourinho look for in a dependable centre half. Hence, why Mourinho was quick to accept a 50million bid from Paris SG three-years ago.
So it begs the question of whether this was a Conte signing? While not totally ruling it out, the likelihood is chairman Roman Abramovich gave the nod to bring fan favourite Luiz back to London. N’Golo Kante was definitely a Conte signing. But Luiz?
The Italian’s made known his desire to bring in another central defender prior to the window closing. His first choice signing was Bonucci from Juve but with Manchester City also in the race to sign the formidable Juve player, the chances were always slim regardless of Conte’s relationship with the player.
There’s a lot to be said for Juve’s resilience in the recent transfer window. They knew they would be powerless to stopping Paul Pogba leaving to Manchester United; so losing Bonucci would’ve been unthinkable. So maybe Luiz was the only option to bolster the Chelsea ranks? It was certainly a good PR move.
Fast-forward to the present day and Chelsea are left with two aging centre backs and Luiz with no real idea of what lies ahead for them moving forward. It’s also unclear whether Conte is looking to employ the three centre backs he is accustomed to doing in club football. This formation has brought him huge success, but it is rarely used in the Premier League.
In short, Conte has a lot of questions to answer, and in the short term needs results quick. His Chelsea side travel to a struggling Hull City this coming weekend and while they are certainly favourites to win, nothing is a sure thing with the Blues at the minute.
Conte needs time. Ideally he needs another summer to mold this team into one reminiscent of his Juve days, but with a more robust core that can deal with the rigours of the Premier League. If given that time by Abramovich, there’s a great chance Conte could bring the glory days back to Stamford Bridge.