Conte’s Defensive Crisis At Chelsea


Antonio Conte’s successes with Juventus and Italy were built on solid defensive foundations.

He could rely on legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and with the battling trio of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli playing just in front of him.

So it was understandable to see the Italian coach pulling his hair-out during his sides 3-0 defeat to Arsenal on Saturday.

When you look at the Gunners opening goal it stems from Chelsea’s poor passing.

Firstly Branislav Ivanovic should have played an easy ball inside to Cesc Fabregas but for some reason he delays and dodders on the ball before playing it back to Gary Cahill. Now you can’t directly blame the Serbian international for conceding the goal as his pass back to Cahill was fine but I think he could have shown a bit more eagerness to find an attacking pass rather than a back-pass.

Now we get to Cahill. His first touch wasn’t great and he needs to realise that Alexis Sanchez is running him down and that the Chilean won’t give anything up. The pass was well undercooked and from there on in it was curtains for the England international and his team.

Cahill was unlucky at Swansea when he didn’t get a foul as Leroy Fer barged into the back of him but the truth is that the defender now looks as if his confidence has been shot. When that happens errors always creep in. But at the moment, due to injuries, it looks unlikely to see him come out of the team.

Too many times last term Ivanovic was on the wrong end of a roasting. Now I’ve said in the past that the defender has to go down as one of Chelsea’s best ever signings. But he seems a lot slower these days and is fast becoming a passenger in this team.

When you look at Arsenal’s second you can see that full-back Cesar Azpilicueta gets distracted by the run of Theo Walcott. He follows that run and leaves Hector Bellerin, probably hoping that Eden Hazard will track the Arsenal right-back’s run. The Belgian falls asleep and Bellerin is free to receive the ball in the box and pick out an unmarked Walcott to tap in. Azpilicueta and Hazard need to communicate better there!

Plus look at the end-play to the goal. Ballerin unmarked slides it across to an unmarked Walcott. The narrow Chelsea back four are behind the run of play and between them they are marking no one!

After following Theo’s run, Azpilicueta then gets caught ball watching and realising Hazard hasn’t been quick enough to track Bellerin. Centre back David Luiz doesn’t seem to have any clue that Walcott has just run-in behind him.

That brings me nicely to David Luiz. Why on earth have Chelsea re-signed this guy? Yes he’s a fans favourite and yes he can make some decent passes from the back but his defending ability has always been questionable.

It was obvious all summer that Conte wanted a new centre-back. Bonucci and Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly were constantly linked with a move to the Blues.

The Luiz signing looks like a panic buy, it’s as simple as that. He definitely doesn’t have those warrior like qualities that Conte adores in his defenders. Plus no one at PSG seemed overly disappointed in seeing the back of the Brazilian.

In Arsenal’s final goal, neither Luiz or Cahill actually commit themselves to set-up and confront an incoming Mesut Ozil or stay with Sanchez. It was a two on two situation, yet the two Chelsea defenders never got near the Arsenal forwards!

Those were just the goals, the Gunners managed to carve out numerous opportunities that thankfully for Chelsea went unpunished.

The signing of N’Golo Kante to play alongside Nemanja Matic was meant to help protect the defence but they were outrun, overrun and they couldn’t get a grip of the game. They need to do more to boss games.

Thibaut Courtois’ current displays don’t exude confidence at the moment either. That won’t help settle the nerves at the back.

I’d imagine that Conte will be desperate to see veteran captain John Terry and young Frenchman Kurt Zouma back to full fitness and adding competition for defensive places.

After a fine start to the season, Chelsea’s players have now reverted back to last season’s weak and insipid performances. They cannot afford to find themselves in that rut again.

After the game Antonio Conte said:

‘After this game, this defeat, it’s normal for me not to sleep. I reflect. And it’s important to reflect.’

I bet the Italian will be plotting on ways to improve his defence and a few in that dressing room may now find themselves being phased out.

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