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Chelsea bound Conte's Italy bow out, but can hold their heads high following credential boosting Euro 2016.

Monday 4th July 2016
While Italy's Euro 2016 tournament may have ended in the most heart-breaking fashion imaginable in a game of football- on penalties- The Azzurri and departing coach Antonio Conte can hold their heads high, coming away with their reputations enhanced as one of the standout teams on show at the tournament.

Despite coming into the summer largely unfancied by pundits, Italy surprised many with a squad which, on paper, looked to be weaker than the level of those we have come to expect from Italy in major tournaments.

Missing established stars such as Marco Verratti, Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo suggested that the Azzurri may struggle at this summer's Euro, but Italy impressed under Antonio Conte's tutelage on the way to their cruel shootout exit to Germany.

It seems strangely fitting and apropos that Conte, in going out of a major tournament on penalties to Germany, managed to bow out of the competition in the most English way possible ahead of his impending move to English football, when he takes over the hot seat at Chelsea for next season.

At the Euro's, Conte demonstrated himself to be an excellent, tactically adept, modern coach, and if any followers of Chelsea or English football were unfamiliar or sceptical of Conte's managerial acumen before this summer, those doubts will likely have been dispelled following Italy's impressive performance in France.
It spoke volumes of how profound an impact Conte and his Italy side have had on their countrymen, as the former Juventus head coach was greeted with a standing ovation by journalists as he sat down to begin a press conference. Despite falling short, this was a sign of how well regarded the work done by Conte is amongst his fellow Italians, and for Chelsea fans, it should be refreshing to welcome such a popular figure as head-coach of the club- a dramatic contrast to the often tumultuous relationship between former manager Jose Mourinho and the press in England.

It would appear that the Italian people feel that Conte's Italy team have gone a long way towards restoring and fostering a sense of national pride, as evidenced by the aforementioned applause Conte received from Italian journalists, and the impassioned renditions of the national anthem that Conte's players could be seen bellowing out ahead of any given Azzurri game at Euro 2016.

Despite being written off and considered one of the weaker Italian sides of all time by some, Italy's on-field performances were inspired, as they managed to see off more fancied outfits such as Belgium and Italy, and took a penalty shootout for World Champions to narrowly squeeze past Conte's overachievers.

The success of the team was not down to passion alone, however, and Conte's tactical nous and ability to outmanoeuvre his opposition played a huge part in the success of his surprise package side. Sensibly, Conte opted to replicate the defensive shape and personnel of perennial Scudetto winners Juventus, with the water-tight backline of legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon behind his club mates Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini continuing their formidable club form with impressive defensive performances against several high calibre opposition teams. This ensured that the Azzurri were difficult to beat, and gave the likes of Marco Parolo, Emanuele Giaccherini and Graziano Pelle, in particular, the freedom to flourish further up the field.

Perhaps the most impressive tactical showing from Conte was the way he managed to identify and then nullify the main metronomic midfield presence when faced with teams who look to use possession tactics to dominate games. This was clear in games against the much more fancied Spain and Germany, where Conte managed to disrupt the usual game of the opposition sides' respective deep lying playmakers, Sergio Busquets and Toni Kroos. By overloading the areas in which Busquets and Kroos both usually operate and dictate the game from, both Germany and particularly Spain found their usual flow disrupted, which meant Italy did not face the same level of onslaught of pressure that many teams are subject to when usually facing those two teams.

His master class in nullifying Busquets and Kroos- the two finest holding midfield players in the world- was the clearest example of just how adept Antonio Conte is tactically, who has only furthered his managerial and coaching resume during the European Championships this summer.

While much of the pre-season focus from the Premier League has been on the two Manchester clubs and their high-profile new managers, Conte's arrival at Chelsea has comparatively gone under the radar somewhat. While the prospect of Manchester United and Manchester City competing for the Premier League title and for bragging rights over who the best manager in the world is, may provide the more interesting narrative, Antonio Conte has demonstrated this summer that he too is a world-class tactician, and if Italy's showing at Euro 2016 is anything to go by, Chelsea look to have hit the managerial jackpot ahead of the new season.
Michael Soloman
Journalist. Long-suffering Derby County fan, Lionel Messi and Barca bandwagon-er.

Total articles: 38

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