Counting on Conte

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One of the best parts about sports is that, within a certain frame of assumptions, we can enjoy a heavy dose of unpredictability. Last season, nobody, not even a super computer with all the world’s knowledge and really really nice spreadsheet tech with dope algorithms could have predicted Leicester’s title.

This season, the EPL has returned to the same old contenders, but I’m still blown away by how Chelsea has turned things around.

We knew Chelsea had talented players. We knew that Conte was a successful coach. Thus, plenty of people predicted the Blues would bounce back. But just how this has happened makes one smile.

Imagine that you are a decision-maker at Chelsea last summer or last Spring. Via intermediaries, you get a feel for Conte’s grand plan to turn things around.

  • FIRST, bench club legend John Terry and bring back David Luiz. The same David Luiz who started in Brazil’s most infamous loss of recent decades – the semifinal thrashing to Germany.
  • SECOND, change the tactical system to get the best out of Victor Moses and Alonso. These guys were just not getting enough minutes under the old regime. They would thrive under a wingback system.
  • THIRD, you gotta cut the dead wood to stop the rot. Contrary to Jose Mourinho’s thoughts and many fans, Matic is actually not the problem. Rather, it’s time to drop Cesc Fabregas, sell Oscar to China, and also give limited minutes to Willian. With Alonso and Moses playing so much, we won’t miss those guys’ creativity.
  • FOURTH, to get the best out of Costa and Hazard, we need to turn Pedro into a starter as well. Pedro’s muscular frame will also give us a major presence in the box to get on the end of crosses and setpieces.
  • FIFTH, to shore up the defense, we need to shift Cesar Azpilicueta to centerback. Just gotta trust Conte on this one.
  • LASTLY, sign N’Golo Kante to play holding midfield. He was lights out for Leicester City last season, and should help out the team.

With hindsight, all of these ideas have worked out brilliantly this season. Chelsea is top of the table and probably on their way to a title. At the very least, they look like a very different team. Still, at the time, if you had seen these ideas, how many could you have signed off on?

Probably only the very last one. And that’s why sport – be it narrative, tactics, statistics, blindly throwing darts – can be so unpredictably fun. Of course, EPL teams will adapt to Conte’s 3-4-3 and, perchance, the mercurial forms of Hazard and Costa have been on the up and caused the success of the system and not vice-versa.

Still, where we are today, as opposed to yesterday, is perhaps predictable, but now the how. And Conte deserves some credit for blazing a trail all his own…

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