Antonio Conte's stewardship of Chelsea has been a revelation this season. However, it may have been so different. Two bookmakers suspended betting on the Italian being sacked back in October.
The Blues had four wins, one draw and two losses after seven games. For six of those games, Conte’s men had operated with a back four. Halfway through their 3-0 mauling at Arsenal, the Italian switched to a three.
At the start of the international break, Chelsea were 10 points clear at the top, with a record of 22 wins, three draws and three losses from 28 games. That switch has been transformative.
THE CYCLICAL NATURE OF TACTICS
The main premise behind this is that there is an area of weakness in any tactical system. Tactical innovators will spot this early, devise an alternative system that exploits that weakness thus producing a competitive advantage until other sides catch up. Tactics, shapes and formations therefore are relatively fluid beasts.
Alternatively, a coach – particularly at international level but also one with a restricted budget – may adapt their given or preferred formation to suit the personnel available to them, as explained by Jonathan Wilson. Conte, having coached Italy for two years prior to joining Chelsea, was well-versed in adapting to the players at his disposal.
Hindsight provides clarity but the decision to play a back three was the logical choice to get the best out of a team that contained David Luiz.
COULD IT BE THREE 'N' EASY FOR ENGLAND?
A combination of the above means that a back three is the current fashionable formation. And this is a good thing for England.
Broadly speaking, England have some similar personnel to Chelsea.
Gary Cahill and Michael Keane/Phil Jones/Chris Smalling represent the pure defensive element of a three – solid, reliable; defenders first, creators second. Given that Cahill was England captain in the absence of Rooney for the Germany game it can be assumed that he is Gareth Southgate's preferred centre-half.
John Stones, meanwhile, has his critics but there is no denying that he a player of huge potential. His decision making can be suspect but having Cahill and, say, the impressive Keane - given he started both games during the international break - either side offers a further layer of protection.
It is no coincidence that David Luiz, previously derided on these shores, has emerged as one of Chelsea’s players of the season. The inclusion of a player such as the Brazilian or Stones in any side offers the ability to carry the ball forward and set attacks in motion from deep.
What can represent a weakness in a four – a willingness to take risks – becomes a strength in the three: the risk/return ratio is more balanced with the two additional defenders alongside the libero-style defender.
N’Golo Kante is a unique player. His presence alongside Nemanja Matic has given Chelsea’s creative players untold freedom of expression.
However, in Jordan Henderson, England have a player capable of fulfilling the Kante role; a claim that is not as hyperbolic as it might seem.
Read the full article on eurosport.co.uk: Conte has provided the blueprint, Southgate must only follow it