Just like last season, Chelsea have had some trouble on the defensive end of things, averaging 1.44 goals conceded per game and collecting only two clean sheets over the nine matches played so far this season. The second of these clean sheets came just last weekend, away to Hull City, thanks in part due to the brand new 3-4-3 tactical system rolled out by Antonio Conte.
Other than Marcos Alonso making his full debut at left wing-back, the system featured familiar faces ... but in unfamiliar roles and positions. César Azpilicueta, normally a converted right back playing left back was deployed as a third center back, on the right side of the back three, next to Gary Cahill and David Luiz. But beyond just the formation switch, the key to winning for Azpilicueta was teamwork above all else.
"Obviously we worked for this clean sheet. It's always nice not to concede goals. The last month we have conceded too many goals and this is bad for the whole team. As a defender I obviously don't like this so from the whole team the message was clear: work together."
"We need to work as a team. The strikers don't find chances, they need good balls from the back to be able to create chances. The clean sheet is always the work of the whole team; we pressed together."
"In the first half we were playing well – but not very well – and I think we controlled the game apart from the shot Thibaut [Courtois] saved. The team looked good but we were not creating enough up front. We were not aggressive, we lost the ball in silly positions."
"In the second half the tempo was higher, we moved the ball quicker and we found spaces between the lines. The people up front created a lot of movement and chances. With the quality we have, it's difficult to defend."
We used to joke that Chelsea were cloning Azpilicueta in the dungeons of Stamford Bridge after Jose Mourinho claimed that eleven Azpilicuetas would win a Champions League. Mourinho may be gone, but these plans are obviously alive and well..
"The manager is always trying to find the best solution for the team and for the game. Last week we were working on the system, I trained in this position and I'm happy to help the team wherever the manager needs me. When you win, it means the training and the whole week was for the result."
"It's my first time maybe that we play with three at the back at Chelsea from the start of a game. It is important for the team to have different solutions. We have players who can play different positions and this gives us more options for the team to be able to create more and be more competitive. It's a big part for the team to change and to be able to manage different situations."
"It's up to the manager to choose the best formation for every game. To make a good system, first of all, you have to work together, to run and fight together, to play together – then the system can make the difference."
-César Azpilicueta; Source: Chelsea FC
One game with the new formation, and one win for the good guys. But it was only Hull. We’ll see after the international break, if the new system, combined with the fight and the teamwork, will help us overcome the big boys of the league as well.