The Necessity of Genius

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I wrote about Antonio Conte a few months back. Basically, his courage in benching underperforming players and introducing a new tactical system impressed me. Then, The Guardian ran a profile of him with an interview from an assistant. The details divulged kinda ruined my enchantment, to be honest. And some things made more sense.

First, he seems like a task master. LVG style, he stops training session games to talk with players and tell them where to stand. Secondly, his training sessions go on and on and on. That’s pretty Mou style. While I think Conte should lead Chelsea to a title this year, is he just benefiting from no European soccer (ala Leicester last year) and will he burn out his Starting XI ala Mourinho’s last time at Chelsea?

The recent dip in form is even more worrying because Chelsea, beforehand, was eeking out victories with timely goals.

Then again, on the other hand, Mourinho’s approach with United is not without sin. This game raises other questions. Such as – why stick with a single striker formation that benches promising young strikers and why play wide players at left and right back? Mou’s argument is that his team creates chances but only Zlatan finishes them. The reality is that David Moyes’ single season produced more goals (than this one). He can blame LVG for teaching players to pass sideways only to a certain point.

United’s victory over Chelsea was a tactical throwback in numerous senses. First, Ashley Young and Tony Valencia actually got to play out wide. The Red Devils had width! Second, Mou man-marked Pedro with Darmian and Hazard with Herrera. This put a lot of creative pressure on Moses, Matic and Kante.

Guess what. Moses, Matic and Kante are not that creative!

Playing with two strikers also answered a bigger question: how can we get the most minutes and chances for Martial, Rashford, and Lingard? United has been a no man’s land for wide players and forwards – we push forwards out wide where they look awkward, we bench promising wingers like Depay, and nobody benefits. Except for agents from the constant turnover.

Thus, I looked at Mou’s team beforehand and thought – pace, athletism, speed. Players are playing in their preferred positions!

Still, a single game is a single game. We already knew that Mou was a tactical chameleon who can win very ugly (his first Chelsea titles and Inter’s UCL run), win by scoring goals (Real Madrid’s La Liga run), and somewhere in between (his most recent Chelsea team). But now we learn more fascinating things about Conte – can he arrest a slide? Can he be flexible in terms of tactics? Can he make a substitution to turn a game when a trophy is on the line?

We don’t know. Although I expect Chelsea to win the title and United to finish 5th at best, but next season expect a game of musical chairs for the top teams.

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