Conte’s adaptive technique makes him a worthy champion: 5 things we learned from Chelsea’s win
Chelsea‘s second league title in three years is now only 90 minutes – and a win against West Brom – away after the Blues defeated Middlesbrough 3-0 at Stamford Bridge.
The annihilation of Steve Agnew’s side also condemned Middlesbrough to an instant return to the Championship in what was an evening of contrasting fortunes and emotions in the nation’s capital
One side closed in on the top flight title while another were confirmed as leaving the division. Goals from Diego Costa, Marcos Alonso and Nemanja Matic secured a comfortable win for Chelsea.
Here are five things learned from Chelsea 3-0 Middlesbrough.
Cesc Fabregas deserves to be a starting XI player
N’Golo Kante missed out against Middlesbrough due to injury but Chelsea didn’t miss the PFA Player of the Year – they had Cesc Fabregas.
The 3-4-3 that the Blues have deployed this campaign isn’t the best formation for a deep-lying playmaker but the away side made it such an easy game for Chelsea that Fabregas was given all the time in the world when in possession.
The Spaniard doesn’t need long to pick out the perfect pass and make use of the extra time afforded him to perfect his decision. Fabregas found his man on nearly every occasion as he pinged delicious diagonal crosses over the Middlesbrough defence.
Conte has made it clear this season that he prefers the non-stop running of Kante and Matic’s physicality but it’s criminal that Fabregas doesn’t get a regular starting berth.
One option would be a tactical switch to a 4-3-3 but it’s very unlikely Conte will be willing to dump the philosophy that has brought success.
Does that mean Fabregas needs to leave Chelsea? Not definitely, but he certainly warrants a regular place in a starting XI somewhere.
Chelsea need to replace Gary Cahill
It feels harsh to pick out a Chelsea player that shouldn’t be in the team, especially given the overwhelming positivity flowing out of Stamford Bridge, but there’s an obvious cog in the Blues’ machine that needs replacing this summer.
Gary Cahill has given his all for Chelsea in the past few years and the former Bolton defender is perhaps one of the club’s best on-the-field leaders, hence his status as captain in John Terry’s absence. But should he be in the starting XI? No.
Of all the players to feature in Conte’s 3-4-3 Cahill has clearly been the least comfortable with the new tactical set-up. The centre-back’s positioning can be suspect and moving forward his passing appears erratic.
The 31-year-old looked uncertain on the rare occasions Middlesbrough drove forward and there can’t be any passengers in a three-man defence.
Cahill’s been able to get by thanks to the efforts of his teammates, particularly David Luiz’s comfort in this system and Cesar Azpilicueta’s ability to do anything defensively. Yet the left centre-back role needs some serious consideration in the transfer market.
David Luiz’s redemption is complete
When Chelsea sold David Luiz to PSG most Premier League fans bemoaned his departure – it would make the Blues a much tougher opponent without the maddening Brazilian in their line-up.
Fast forward just over two years though and David Luiz has finally completed his redemption. Gone is the frustrating defender that was always out of position, always chasing the ball and always turning himself into the villain in his attempts to be the hero.
Instead Chelsea now have a cool-headed, mature, tactically certain centre-back that reads the game excellently and makes the right calls in nearly every instance.
So much has been made of how the 3-4-3 has benefited Luiz this season but the defender needs to be given his share of the credit too. Once a maverick, Chelsea now have one of the division’s most consistent and outstanding defenders in their side.
And speaking of the 3-4-3 formation…
Conte’s adaptive tactics make him a deserving champion
Only one more win separates Antonio Conte from a Premier League title in his first season as Chelsea boss, and the Italian has to be a shoe-in for the manager of the year given what he’s done with this team.
It’s not so much about the players – almost all of the starting XI (with the exception of the very important N’Golo Kante) were at the club last season as the Blues struggled to tenth in the league.
It’s about what Conte has done with this team. Fitness is at an all-time high, players play for the benefit of their teammates and not themselves, and every individual knows how their role fits into the overall system.
It’s the subtle tweaks that Conte brings in each week that makes him a deserving winner this year. Chelsea’s game was adapted to play to Middlesbrough’s defensive weaknesses. Steve Agnew’s side have done reasonably well defensively this season despite their poor league position but clearly they can’t handle across-field passes, and Chelsea attempted seven in the opening quarter of the match.
The work that went into revealing Middlesbrough’s Achilles heel cannot be understated. It’s almost obsessive and that obsession leads to perfection, which wins silverware.