But, Sam Norbert McGuire was never supposed to be forever. A new challenge was on the cards and Stamford Bridge was next on my hit-list. The aim being to see whether or not Antonio Conte‘s achievement of winning the Premier League title was that great or whether the team at his disposal playing 3-4-3 was destined to be a success.
The former Juventus manager made things difficult by not having a middle name so I am now going by the name Samuel Conte and I’ve booked myself in for a hair transplant to really immerse myself into this project.
I want to be defensively solid and make the most of David Luiz’s ability on the ball. I want to be well organised and I want my team to look to hit the opposition on the counter with the pace of Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian. It’s a fairly straightforward plan of action.
The Chelsea System
I was naive to believe such a system would be easy to replicate. The players at my disposal are supposed to be perfectly suited to the roles I envisage them playing. Or so I thought.
To begin with, I was unsure whether to go with wing-backs or wide midfielders but opted to go with the former. In place of two box-to-box midfielders I went with one and deployed a deep-lying playmaker in the other role. My thinking behind this is to use Cesc Fabregas as the link man between defence and attack.
I wanted to test the dynamic of the team out and decided a dummy run against my under-23s would be ideal. It’s not too dissimilar to a team Conte would pick with the only real difference being Willian getting the nod over Pedro on the right.
The first match
So yeah, this actually happened. My defensively solid, well organised, and insanely disciplined team somehow managed to concede four goals to their under-23 counterparts when I had their supposed best players on my bench.
There are a few positives to be taken from the match. Willian repaid my faith by scoring the first goal of the McGuire reign. Diego Costa netted twice and Pedro came off the bench to add some gloss to the scoreline.
The attack seemed to click but I don’t really see my season going to plan if this sort of defensive performance continues.
Unfortunately for me they continued. A 0-0 draw with the mighty Montreal Impact gave me false hope and in the following match to New England i was comfortably beaten despite fielding what I would consider to be a strong XI.
Ever the tinkerman I went back to the drawing board to tweak the shape. Kostas Manolas, a one-time Chelsea target, joined my revolution. Nemanja Matic replaced Cesc Fabregas as I searched for a way to stop conceding, with the majority of goals coming from a counter attack.
Hazard was deployed behind Costa and instructed to roam, with Pedro taking a starting berth on the left as an advanced playmaker – please reserve your judgement on this decision for now.
The first match of the Premier League season was a 2-2 draw with Liverpool. Sadio Mané enjoyed himself, like any and every player with pace I’ve faced this season has. He scored two on his debut for the Reds but a Costa double meant the spoils were shared.
It felt more like Conte’s Chelsea, too. The wing-backs stayed high and wide while Matic and Kante dominated the central areas. Costa occupied the centre-backs and Pedro and Hazard kept finding themselves unmarked in the space between midfield and defence (as shown in the picture below).
What worked really well was the dynamic between Costa and Hazard. The adopted Spaniard would drop deep and it would be the Belgian using his pace to get in behind.
*Stares awkwardly at the floor*
It happened again. Leicester City exposed the defensive frailties on the break with Vardy having a party at our expense. His pace caused all kinds of trouble and they twice opened up a two goal advantage before my attacking quartet spared my blushes.
Positives: we extend the unbeaten streak in the Premier League and we’ve come from behind in consecutive matches to avoid defeat.
However, If we are to have any hope of winning the league playing the Conte way then needing to score five goals to pick up three points against Leicester City can’t be a common occurrence.
It’s happened. We’ve won a match in the Premier League as Chelsea manager. For the third successive league game we fall behind but manage to take something from the game. I am led to believe that it’s the sign of champions.
Michy Batshuayi comes off the bench to score the winner and I pick up all three points in my first London derby of the season. It was a scrappy goal with the Belgian tapping home into an empty net after good play in the build-up. But let’s not pretend for one minute that Conte’s Chelsea haven’t had luck at times this season.
It’s difficult to get the team instructions just right. While attacking I want the wing-backs to be wide so that the opposition is stretched and there’s more room for Hazard, Costa and Pedro/Willian in central areas. However, while defending I want the wide players to be tucked in so that we’re compact and difficult to break down.
A deeper defensive line should, in theory, invite pressure on to the backline and in turn give us more opportunities to utilise the pace of the attacking players as we look to counter. Although I do want to play on the break, I also want to keep the ball and build attacks that’s the reason behind the play out from the back selection.
Looking for the overlap should make the most of the wing-backs keeping their position out wide working the ball into the box is selected to make use of the attacking three being in close proximity to one another.
Can you replicate Conte’s tactics better than this? Let us know.