By James Kinsella

Chelsea’s promising start to the season has be curtailed by damaging back-to-back defeats to fellow title hopefuls Liverpool and Arsenal.

In the second half of the latter game, Antonio Conte switched to three centre-backs; a system he used with success at previous club Juventus and in his national post with Italy.

Most expected Conte to start the season with three centre-backs but not too many eyebrows were raised when he didn’t and Chelsea began with 10 points from a possible 12.

However, after recent setbacks, here are three things the Italian may be considering before switching to 3-5-2.

This is England

Whilst the system worked in Italy there is not the same precedent in England, with the system not overly successful in the Premier League as yet.

Louis van Gaal most recently tried to introduce it at Manchester United and persisted for almost half a season before abandoning it as a bad idea – much to the relief of most of the Old Trafford faithful.

The Dutchman even made his purchases to be moulded into the system and is notoriously stubborn, yet even he gave up the ghost after having to switch to four at the back at half-time in several games.

Brendan Rogers tried it periodically during his spell as Liverpool manager with very little success and it was equally unpopular in the Kop as it was in the Stretford End.

The only manager to really persist with it was Steve Bruce at Hull City last time they were in the Premier League and, although they reached the FA Cup Final, they were ultimately relegated.

So maybe the Premier League is just not suited to playing three at the back. But, Conte has tried a back four and shipped goals uncharacteristically.

Square pegs, round holes

None of Chelsea’s experienced defenders have any practice in playing this system – surely this will be weighing heavily on Conte’s mind and it certainly will take a lot of coaching from the Italian for the players to become comfortable with the change.

For the average spectator it seems unthinkable that with two or three centre-halves would be much different but we’ve seen plenty of times that a switch in system throws players out of kilter.

Not only do the centre-backs have to adjust but you have created a whole new position at wing-back and, again, Chelsea have no players with any real experience of playing this position.

There are options though. The team have three top-class, high-profile, international centre-backs who should be able to find a way to work together with Gary Cahill and David Luiz flanking John Terry.

Cesar Azpilicueta looks ideally suited to playing the wing-back and could play either flank but aside from that there seem to be few options other than new man Marcos Alonso.

Who misses out?

Playing one more defender means playing one less forward; although the midfield three will stay the same it is likely that it will be one of the current widemen that miss out.

Conte has historically played with two traditional strikers although it would be hard to see him leaving out Eden Hazard and Willian who are arguably Chelsea’s two most creative players.

Hazard could well be afforded a free role playing off Diego Costa and this switch in system could become one of the biggest beneficiaries of this change.

Rather harshly it seems that, unless he is trusted as a wing-back, Willian could be the man to be sacrificed and with Hazard likely to operate in the number ten role Cesc Fabregas may be trusted in the central midfield three ahead of Oscar.


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