Opinion: Alarm Bells for Antonio Conte and Chelsea Defence

Antonio Conte must now realise just how challenging is his task of resurrecting Chelsea. After an even enough opening at the Emirates, Chelsea were slow of both mind and body, looking incredibly laboured against Arsenal. The defensive lapses are truly astonishing, coming that they have from senior players, and is the key aspect that Conte must turn around quickly.

Gary Cahill’s offending continued as he gifted yet another opportunity in his own half. This time it was to Alexis Sanchez, who was only too willing to accept. With glee. How can a player of such experience and apparent skill continue to make these horrific and costly errors? Cahill is indecisive and almost aloof at times. This season and last he has often seemed to lack any awareness of the danger that opposition attacking players pose. These are not the character traits of a professional defender.

The failure to bring in a viable option as either a replacement or to play alongside Cahill and John Terry is hobbling. It is costing goals and points every week. Terry was missing and is still clearly the best option in defence at Chelsea. That is alarming given his prime was half a decade ago. Chelsea have had two summers to fix this problem, and the best they could come up with is the return of David Luiz. Luiz was never a solution. A fan favourite yes, a good footballer yes. A top defender, no.

Luiz and Cahill at the back is a disaster waiting to happen. And happening it is. We saw it against Liverpool and now we have seen it against Arsenal. It is as if they have never before laid eyes on each other, and suddenly been thrust onto a football field and asked to play. There is no understanding or chemistry between the pair on the pitch. Apparently they played together a few years ago?

The failure to pursue and purchase top-level talent is seeing Chelsea plummet down the Premier League standings. This squad needed addressing over Summer. A bright start to the league season briefly papered over some cracks, but those cracks are the now the same gaping holes as this time last year.

On a day of utter Chelsea gloom against their London rivals, perhaps there is a modicum of hope for Conte. He is left with this squad until at least January, and now it is time to work his magic on the likes of Luiz and Marcos Alonso. Reverting after half time to the favoured 3-5-2 formation that served him so well with Juventus and the Italian national team, this could be the way out. Teach, coach and manage this squad to play his system. And play it now.

The system will take time, surely too much time to see Chelsea flourish this season. Famously Conte was able to ingrain his methods within the Italian team despite only sporadic interaction with his players. But many of that squad had experienced his ways with Juventus, so this is very different.

There are no guarantees that Conte’s methods will work in the Premier League, but playing that way seems the best option right now. It limited the damage in the second half, the 3-5-2 did not concede any goals. It’s a small sample size and admittedly the game was already over, but things couldn’t get any worse than the first half. So why not play this system in the league now, and fast track the player learning and development.


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