Despite their slow pace of transer business, Chelsea finally added the massive talents of former AS Monaco destroyer Tiemoue Bakayoko. He could be one of the key pieces in moving the squad towards Antonio Conte’s ultimate 3-5-2.
Antonio Conte revolutionized the Italian Serie A with his dominant 3-5-2 formation when he coached Juventus. He built his formation around a strong and well-balanced midfield. His trio of Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo was one of the best midfields of the modern era. They brought Juventus three Serie A trophies, a new points record and an unbeaten season.
The addition of Tiemoue Bakayoko to the Chelsea midfield is not only a move in that direction, but a move in the true tradition of exceptional Chelsea midfield talent. When Chelsea are excellent they have one of the best midfields in the world.
Chelsea’s midfield reached their pinnacle with Michael Essien, Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele during the first Jose Mourinho years. Bakayoko’s addition, Conte’s exceptional individual coaching and his experience in another of the best midfields of all time (Zinedine Zidane, Conte and Didier Deschamps), bode well for Chelsea’s future success.
The one weakness with Chelsea’s midfield last season, though it was dominant, was the lack of creativity and the few chances created. Opposing teams could bog down Chelsea last season by cutting off the supply chains to Eden Hazard and Pedro / Willian. These player were the only sources of true creativity. Without them on the ball, Chelsea lagged the play.
The reasons for this were simple. N’golo Kante – for all his effort and industry – will never be mistaken for a creative genius. His then-partner Nemanja Matic can only use one foot and barely passes at all.
Even in the 3-4-3, Tiemoue Bakayoko offers all of the same skills defensively as Matic while being able to play with both feet. He also offers a Xabi Alonso-level of passing within 30 meters.
Antonio Conte will start Cesc Fabregas more to take the team to the next level. He built his 3-4-3 on pragmatism. Chelsea were able to entertain last year because of the individual qualities of the players.
But make no mistake. The point of the system was to limit the opposition’s opportunities by keeping play in the midfield and limiting the amount of play the back line would have to stamp out on it’s own. Luckily, Chelsea had Eden Hazard to cause chaos up front.
The 3-5-2 will enable Cesc Fabregas to start and Eden Hazard to begin his final transition into the best trequartista in Europe.
Fabregas is too slow, too lazy and too bad at tackling to be one of two midfield partners. It’s a fact, sad to say with little argument. Sometimes, he tries to make up for it by tackling somebody. But he usually ends up booked, injuring himself or tackling the air.
However, a three-man midfield mitigates Fabregas’ weaknesses and magnificently highlights his strengths. Fabregas could easily have the best season of his career this year, protected by Tiemoue Bakayoko and N’Golo Kante.
Finally, Hazard will have the ability to do what he was meant to do: become a human lock-pick. Though many coaches have asked him to track back and become a more defensive-minded player, that simply is not who he is. He would do it, but never really took to it with aplomb.
He will be the truest trequartista since Conte’s teammate Del Piero rivaled Raul for that crown in the 90’s. Hazard even mirrors Del Piero’s stature and skill set. Conte will coach him to his highest goalscoring season ever in this manner.
Antonio Conte may not deploy the 3-5-2 at first, but it will happen. Fabregas and Hazard will allow Chelsea to break teams down in more creative ways. They will not simply break out quickly and take advantage of Hazard being better at dribbling than anyone outside Spain.
The 3-5-2 is only a matter of time, and is exactly why Chelsea still need to add a striker this summer. That striker must absolutely be smarter at his interplay than Romelu Lukaku. The Blues need more than a traditional chest-it-down-and-control-it target man. A two-footed player with a sharp head on his shoulders is absolutely necessary.
So, Belotti anyone? Or maybe Aubameyang?