Chelsea: Can Antonio Conte bring success to Stamford Bridge?
Alex Keble looks at Antonio Conte's tactics and managerial techniques to predict what the Italian will bring to Stamford Bridge...
"If Chelsea can sign two or three high profile players there is no reason why Conte cannot be a success. His motivational skills and world renowned tactical coaching may draw uncomfortable parallels with Jose Mourinho but ultimately this is one of the world's best young managers taking charge of one of the world's richest clubs: the Premier League title could be back at Stamford Bridge by 2017."
"If I had to go to war, I would take Conte with me". These were the words used by Arturo Vidal - a player whose tireless work-rate, furious pressing in midfield, and dedication to his team-mates perfectly embodies the Antonio Conte approach - to define the characteristics of Chelsea's new manager. It is easy to see why the Italian draws comparisons with Jose Mourinho.
Conte's arrival has been met with scepticism amongst some Chelsea supporters who believe his lack of experience outside of Italy and poor European record make him a risky appointment, but there is ample evidence to suggest he is the perfect fit for a club sculpted so meticulously in the methods of the Special One. Mourinho's ghost still lingers within the four walls of Stamford Bridge and Conte - aggressive, fastidious, and unyielding - boasts the skillset required to rebuild a football club with such an emphatically recognisable identity.
And the situation in Chelsea is remarkably similar to the one that greeted Conte five years ago, when successive seventh placed finishes left Juventus in a terrible state. The situation in London is nowhere near as dire but a season of abject failure has left Chelsea's 2014/15 title look like a bizarre anomaly. Make no mistake about it, huge structural changes are needed for Conte to become a success in the capital.
Not that he will be afraid to crack the whip. The mantra he drilled at Juventus was to "eat grass" and make Milan "sh*t blood". Andrea Pirlo said that "when he talks, his words assault you. They crash through your mind, often quite violently, and settle deep within." One thing is for certain, then; the next few years certainly won't be boring.
Conte's management style
As numerous anecdotes will confirm few managers in world football are as combative as Conte. From violent arguments with Gianluca Buffon to training camps over Christmas that punish players for poor performance, the Italian is relentless in his pursuit of perfection.
Known as a martello - a hammer - in Italy his demand for tireless self-sacrifice has ultimately earned him great respect from his players - or at least from those who stuck around. Conte is not shy to get rid of anyone he believes to be performing below his military standard of blood, sweat, and tears.
But those willing to adapt are greatly rewarded. His intelligence and integrity make him an outstanding motivator famed for conjuring great loyalty and togetherness within the dressing room. After all, Juventus were undefeated in his first Serie A campaign and improved on their points tally in each of the next two seasons, winning three consecutive scudetti for the first time since the 1930s.
Like Mourinho, he keeps the tension high by creating a siege mentality in the media. Although hugely successful in Italy, it is this that must worry Chelsea fans more than anything else. Only time will tell if the Chelsea players are open to another furious few years, or whether they are left permanently jaded by Mourinho's ramblings. At the very least, a fearsome head coach watching on from the stands should see an upturn in work-rate whilst Guus Hiddink is in charge; there may be a seven point gap, but it is worth a small bet on Chelsea to finish in the top six at 7/1.
Conte is a malleable tactician who focuses on adapting the system to the players and not the other way around, but whatever formation he uses fans can be confident it will be remarkably sophisticated; Carlos Tevez once described his long tactical seminars as like being at "the university of football", and Pirlo considers Conte to be the best coach he has ever worked under.
When in possession his teams favour quick, incisive passing into the wings and the maximisation of transitional speed into the final third. He is far more obviously in the mould of a Jurgen Klopp or Mourinho than Pep Guardiola or Louis van Gaal, with Juventus often comfortable absorbing pressure in bigger matches and using variation in their passing as they move towards goal.
Off the ball, he plays with predictable aggression, pressing very high up the pitch in an attempt to unsettle the opponents' rhythm and win the ball back quickly; like Dortmund, such a style increases the likelihood of finding space for those quick, counter-attacking moves in the channels.
He is primarily a defensive coach, specialising in creating a tactical model that is very compressed, leaving little space between the back and front line for opponents to play through. Such compactness allows players to contribute to more phases of play, meaning the likes of Willian will flourish. Conte's Chelsea will be ruthlessly organised, aggressive in the tackle, and quick to counter in a swarming mass of bodies.
Conte's potential signings
Unsurprisingly, his fastidious tactical coaching does not suit everyone. Eden Hazard may struggle with the workload and older players like John Terry might find themselves incapable of learning new tricks, although it is believed that Conte thinks only two or three signings are needed to restore Chelsea to the summit of English football.
His main area of focus will be signing a box-to-box midfielder capable of pouring forward for those direct attacks whilst organising a congested central midfield; tactical intelligence is vital to the Conte system. Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal are potential targets although Miralem Pjanic or Radja Nainggolan, both of whom are said to be admired by the new Chelsea manager, are more realistic targets given Chelsea's spending current power. Either way, there is no doubt that another season with John Obi Mikel and Cesc Fabregas in central midfield would prove disastrous.
Diego Costa seems set to leave in the summer with Edinson Cavani, Gonzalo Higuain, and Romelu Lukaku all suitable options to replace the Spaniard. It is unlikely that Conte would be happy for Roman Abamovich to pursue Zlatan Ibrahimovic given his poor work-rate and team ethic, but signing a strong and commanding centre-forward is a must. Finally, central defence has been pinpointed as a key area for restructuring. It is difficult to predict who Chelsea will approach at this stage, although Roma's Kostas Manolas would be an ideal signing.
If Chelsea can sign two or three high profile players there is no reason why Conte cannot be a success. His motivational skills and world renowned tactical coaching may draw uncomfortable parallels with Jose Mourinho but ultimately this is one of the world's best young managers taking charge of one of the world's richest clubs: the Premier League title could be back at Stamford Bridge by 2017.