Comment and Analysis @ghostgoal
Wing-backs Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses now key for Chelsea
Last Updated: 17/10/16 2:45pm
Chelsea's 3-0 win over Leicester suggests the team is on the right track under Antonio Conte. The introduction of wing-backs puts huge onus on Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses but these two unheralded Chelsea players have responded, writes Adam Bate…
Antonio Conte had laughed off suggestions that his job at Chelsea was under threat on Friday, but the response delivered by his players the following day was even more emphatic. After a mixed start to life at Stamford Bridge, this well-deserved 3-0 win over Premier League champions Leicester had Conte's fingerprints all over it.
Despite cutting a hyperactive figure on the touchline, the Italian has been patient in his approach to the Chelsea job. He's watched and he's waited, taking the time to assess the squad. After initially sticking with a 4-2-3-1 formation, familiar problems soon emerged in high-profile defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal.
Costa strikes in Chelsea win
Diego Costa was among the scorers as Chelsea beat Leicester 3-0 at Stamford Bridge.
Conte has been careful to subtly point out that these issues predate his arrival. As a result, while the switch to a back-three against Hull came at a low point for the team, it was made from a position of strength by the manager. Time to do things his way. Back-to-back victories have justified the decision to change.
What's interesting is that the new 3-4-3 formation was not necessarily an obvious fix given the personnel. Gary Cahill has played on the right of a two-man centre-back partnership for much of his career, but now finds himself on the left of a three. Cesar Azpilicueta turned himself into an effective left-back but is now on the right of that three.
Most notably, it was Cesc Fabregas who had to make way for Victor Moses in order to facilitate the formation change. Reputations were secondary. A solution had to be found. Conte described it as a "big change in the tactical aspect" and spoke of how his team "must find the right way to be compact" by defending with a "very high" line.
He warmed to this theme after seeing off Leicester. "In the week we tried a lot to find a solution that gave us more compactness," said Conte afterwards. "For this team and squad this system is the right fit. The coach must understand and find the right suit. We are like a tailor." Finally, the suit fits.
Speaking on Sky Sports, former Chelsea boss Gianluca Vialli, an old team-mate of Conte's at Juventus, said: "I loved the attitude from the start and I think tactically the change in system could be the answer. They were very, very effective. They are still a work in progress, you can see they are not perfect, but I think that is the way to go."
Playing a high line is something Chelsea are not particularly accustomed to. That they made it work against the pace of Jamie Vardy and Ahmed Musa is a testament to that work on the training ground, and a clue that while some players are being challenged by the changes, others have been freed.
David Luiz is enjoying the chance to express himself in possession with cover either side of him at the back, while N'Golo Kante's energy is being better harnessed too. Eden Hazard, meanwhile, is feeling the benefit of a system that allows him to roam inside and reduces his responsibility to track back with the opposition full-back.
But for all this to work it requires wing-backs. It seems that Chelsea have found two of them in Moses and Marcos Alonso. Both were impressive against Leicester. Moses even got his goal, capping off the win by latching onto Nathaniel Chalobah's back-heel late on. But it's Alonso who is really providing Chelsea with the balance they need.
Chelsea running stats v Leicester
|Marcos Alonso||12.08 km||Marcos Alonso||74|
|N'Golo Kante||11.94 km||Diego Costa||59|
|Nemanja Matic||11.90 km||Eden Hazard||56|
A natural left-footer, the Spaniard is ideally suited to taking advantage of the space opened up ahead of him by Hazard's tendency to drift around. He used it well. Against Leicester, he was the only player on the pitch to cover 12 kilometres. Moreover, his total of 74 high-intensity runs was more than anyone else too.
Alonso, Moses, Chalobah. There are unlikely saviours. But with Ola Aina and Ruben Loftus-Cheek also getting onto the Stamford Bridge pitch on Saturday, it underlines the fact that Chelsea are changing. Conte's future might have been questioned but there are encouraging signs that he's the right man to manage Chelsea through this transition.