It is not just on the pitch that Antonio Conte has overseen plenty of change at Chelsea since taking charge. John Terry’s departure in the summer signalled the end of arguably the most historic playing career in the club’s history. Our long-time skipper has since spoken candidly about how well Conte managed the situation.
Earlier in 2017, during the January transfer window, we waved goodbye to two other longstanding members of the Chelsea squad, John Mikel Obi and Branislav Ivanovic.
Between them, that trio made more than 1450 appearances for the club. So Conte’s remit as manager has included the necessity to nurture during a transitional period in terms of personnel.
‘Those players were very important because they transferred to the other players the sense of belonging at this club,’ Conte explains to the official Chelsea website.
‘We have lost a lot of players who wrote so much history at this club. Now we are trying to build something important with younger players. This season, we brought young players to the squad. Our average age is lower. I think we are doing a really good job.
“I am very happy because I have seen my players show great ability at adapting themselves, and changing to a system by finding new solutions and memorised play.”
‘We have worked very hard to improve our team and to create a fundamental base that is very important for the present, but especially for the future.
‘In this situation, you must work very hard, and at the same time you must have great patience. Everyone wants to win, everyone wants to reach great results in a short time, but you must understand this moment takes time. And this is a really important moment for Chelsea.’
As he continues to focus on how to keep the team progressing, Conte says this summer’s signings have given him extra license to shuffle his formation game to game.
The introduction of last season’s famous 3-4-3 system brought with it 13 consecutive league victories. And this year, Conte has increasingly switched to a 3-5-2 line-up. The first two times he did so from the start, away to Tottenham and Atletico Madrid (above), yielded spectacular 2-1 victories. His players’ obvious flexibility brings him great pleasure.
‘The most important thing for a coach is to try to find in every moment the right balance for your team, offensively and defensively,’ Conte says. ‘If you want to have good results, you must have a good balance. To be too offensive is not good; to be too defensive is not good.
‘Compared to last season, we changed players. We bought two central midfielders, Bakayoko and Drinkwater. For the characteristics of our players, to play with three midfielders is a good option. For me to be able to alternate two different systems, 3-4-3 and 3-5-2, is great.
‘When we play against a big team, it’s very important to have more solidity with the three midfielders and two strikers, and to give more freedom to Eden,’ adds Conte.
‘And I am very happy because I have seen my players show great ability at adapting themselves, and changing to a system by finding new solutions and memorised play. It was great for me to understand that this other option was good, and also fantastic that my players can do it.’
Conte loves to look ahead, and there is no better time to do so than on the first day of a new year. We conclude our interview by asking him what his targets are for 2018, and if he has a new year’s message for Chelsea supporters.
‘I don’t want to promise we will win this or that, but my target is to put everything in to every situation, every game and every competition.
‘My message to the Chelsea fans is this: we want to give the best satisfaction to you. And I want to thank our fans. Away and at home, they push us a lot.
‘I want to say thanks for when they sing my name, too! To hear this is a great emotion for me. My promise to them is that we will give everything in every second of our life for this club.’
There is so much more to look forward to. Another exciting year at Chelsea awaits.