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Was Antonio Conte too conservative?

Sunday 1st October 2017
It was not the type of game Chelsea's fans have been used to seeing at Stamford Bridge in recent months with the reigning champions usually so good in front of their own support. However, they were outplayed and outdone on Saturday as Manchester City continued their outstanding run.

With that win, City remain top of the pile, while Chelsea have fallen six points behind the leaders. With Manchester United and Tottenham also winning, while Arsenal and Liverpool will be backed to do the same on Sunday, it has been a pretty atrocious weekend for the reigning champions.

While the loss of Alvaro Morata in the first-half was a massive factor in their defeat, it seemed as though Antonio Conte got his tactics all wrong.

While Chelsea are usually so good at balancing their defence and attack, they failed to have any semblance of an offensive force on Saturday.
Most of Conte's problems seem to have stemmed from his selection. First, Cesar Azpilicueta was preferred at right-wingback instead of Victor Moses. While the former is an outstanding defender, he is a far more conservative option on the flank, and this played into City's hands. Azpilicueta did not get down the touchline to give Chelsea supporting runs nearly enough, which saw much of the Blues' play centralised, although they were not given the chance to get forward much anyway.

Most importantly though was the decision to utilise N'Golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko alongside Cesc Fabregas. While the duo are often used ahead of the defence in Conte's team, Fabregas is more often utilised further forward. On Saturday, he was instead tasked with playing an integral deep-midfield role in which he and his French counterparts would provide a solid wall to protect the defence.

This meant that Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata became almost completely isolated up-front as City's defence were allowed to deal with just two attacking players, which they did easily. Indeed, when Morata went off injured in the game, it meant Chelsea had to play with Willian and Hazard in the most advanced roles, meaning the Blues played a lot of the game without an out-and-out striker, which they paid dearly for.

Usually, Conte will opt for three players in a more forward role, with Morata, Hazard and Pedro his go to partnership. His decision to only play two players in a more advanced role was a massive shift towards a defensive style and displayed how wary Conte was of City, who ultimately made the Blues pay via a Kevin De Bruyne wonder strike.

It seems then that Pep Guardiola's plan should take the managerial plaudits this time. City's boss was not afraid to go away from home and look to control the ball. While his gameplan is predicated on playing possession football, this is far easier said than done away from home in the Premier League, and especially at the home of a fellow title rival.

It showed the tactical nous of Guardiola that he was able to make the most of Chelsea's very defensive style and dominate them in a way that was almost inconceivable after their outstanding win over Atletico Madrid in the week.

For Chelsea, it was yet another defeat at home as the gap between themselves and the top was stretched further. For Conte, it was a valuable lesson against one of the greatest managers of this generation as he played into Guardiola's hands. It also shows that while Conte is an incredibly talented manager and up there with the very best, you are never too good for a footballing lesson.

Ben Darvill

I graduated with an upper second class degree in English and Creative writing from Cardiff Metropolitan University. I have been a freelance sports writer since leaving University and have written for a number of online websites. I am a Chelsea and England fan but I enjoy watching any team play as I have an intense passion for football.

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