Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 blueprint and how Thomas Tuchel has added his own pressing system to Chelsea

Antonio Conte and Thomas Tuchel are two of the most important managers in Chelsea’s history. Both used a similar formation but very different from each other. Let us look deeper at how Chelsea setup under both managers.

In the 2016/17 season Chelsea won their fifth Premier League title, under Antonio Conte. The success came after Jose Mourinho won the league in the 2014/15 season. In the title winning season with Conte, Chelsea were the runners-up in FA Cup and winners in 2017/18. The title winning team was at times unplayable and Conte got the best out of his players.

Thomas Tuchel took charge of Chelsea in 2021 January, after Frank Lampard was sacked mid-season. PSG had terminated Tuchel’s contract in December of 2020 and was keen to take over Chelsea. One of the most respected managers in Europe, Tuchel came with a motive, a motive to take Chelsea to the next level. His amazing work in just few months with the players resulted in the Blues winning the Champions League and runners-up in FA Cup.

Both Tuchel and Conte used an unconventional formation, which managers shy from adapting in Premier League. The back three proved to be very successful. Both the managers used the general 3-4-3 formation but in their own way. Let us look at both their systems individually.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chlsea celebrates after the Premier League match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge on May 21, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 647702457 ORIG FILE ID: 686331692
LONDON, ENGLAND – MAY 21: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chlsea celebrates after the Premier League match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge on May 21, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Chelsea under Antonio Conte

In the title winning season Antonio Conte went with 3-4-3 formation with Cesar Azpilicueta at right centre back. N’Golo Kante is other player who is still in team from the Premier League winning side.

With Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso at wing back positions, both players were allowed to go forward and help in attack. Because of them going forward, all three centre backs, Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill and David Luiz saw more of the ball. When playing with three at back, centre backs play an important role.

Azpilicueta, just like under Tuchel, tends to go forward whenever Chelsea were higher up the field with possession on the right side. The midfield under Conte had Nemanja Matic and Kante as a much more conservative duo. Both the players did not go forward as much and join the attack but when Cesc Fabregas played the dynamics changed. Fabregas is known for his passing and whenever he played in the midfield he used that to find the front three of Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Pedro.

Kante played a more defensive role in Conte’s Chelsea allowing Matic to move forward. As Matic pushed from the left, Hazard had the freedom to roam around the pitch and be more creative. The front three kept their shape with Costa as the centre figure. As the football was not much possession based, the front three sticking to their position allowed faster transitions. Hazard was the only one who at times dropped back to collect the ball from front three.

David Luiz was the player Conte depended on in defence to carry the ball forward, allowing Chelsea to have more bodies in the middle of the park. One of David Luiz ability was his range of passing. Conte combined that with Costa’s perfectly timed runs behind defences to create another attacking option.

Conte did not expect his team to press the opponent whenever out of possession. This meant that the Chelsea team dropped back and shifted to a back five. The midfield of Matic and Kante played a key role in transition from defence to attack.

As the front three did not fall-back match, it was the job of the midfield to get the ball to them. With pace and dribbling abilities of Hazard and Costa’s physical and poaching ability the transition was fast and effective.

Thomas Tuchel’s Conte-like transformation

Since he arrived in London, Thomas Tuchel knew how he wanted his Chelsea side to set-up. He also used 3-4-3 as the base formation but with a few twitches. When comparing Conte’s Premier League winning  side and Tuchel’s side, only two players have made it into both, Azpilicueta and Kante. With a lot of new personal, let us see how Tuchel plans his team in attack.

The German played a modified version of 3-4-3, making it a 3-4-2-1. Timo Werner was the lone forward backed up by Kai Havertz and Mason Mount. Because of lack of a proper number 9, like Costa under Conte, Tuchel had to play a false 9 and Kai Havertz took that role. The pair of Werner and Havertz often switched places and were the two furthest players up the field.

Like Eden Hazard under Conte was given positional freedom, Mount has been given the same role. This allows him to drop deep and collect the ball to dictate the attack. As Mount moves out of his position, Reece James or Azpilicueta make runs on the right hand side along with Kante. One of the main changes was in the role of Kante, who is now allowed to go forward with Jorginho protecting the defence.

As Havertz plays False 9, he manages to drag defenders out of position making space for Werner to run behind and the full-backs Chilwell and James to attack the wings. This season Chelsea have signed Romelu Lukaku which means Tuchel will not be using the False 9 any longer. The presence of Lukaku helps reduce the workload on players like Kante, who had to continuously press high and even fall-back.

A Strong Defensive Shape

Just like Conte, Tuchel lets one of his defenders in back three get forward. Antonio Rudiger has been the key player under the German in defence. He likes to get on the ball and carry the ball forward on the left side thus helping out in the midfield and even in attack at times. As Rudiger goes forward this allows Chelsea to play a high defensive line, indirectly pressing the opponent.

Tuchel likes to press the opponent high whenever not in possession. His key player is Kante, his pace and ability to read the game and tackle opponents has proved to be very useful. As Kante goes forward, when Chelsea lose possession he is there to press the opponent and Mount and Jorginho are already in midfield to cover up the spaces. With Lukaku in the team now, he has been the role to press high up the field. This allows Havertz and Mount to keep their positions as the two attacking midfielders.

Chelsea under both Antonio Conte and Thomas Tuchel has achieved great success. Both the managers used a formation which is not generally seen in Premier League. One manager used one formation while the other used a variation of the same this doesn’t mean they never switched tactics.

Written by Suryansh Somvanshi (@suryanshsomvans)

Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)

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