Antonio Conte stopped short of revealing of whether he will pick N’Golo Kante to start tomorrow night’s match against AS Roma in the Champions League. The vagueness in this regard is nothing new from the Chelsea boss of course, but it could speak to genuine indecision as well not just purposeful obfuscation.
“Kante has trained with us. It’s very important in this moment to speak with the player, and his sensation is very important.
“I was a player and I know very well after an injury, above all a muscular problem, a bad injury, it’s very important to listen to the player, to find out his sensation and then make the best decision for him and the team. For sure tomorrow we try to make the best decision.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
Given Conte’s tendency to ease players back into action, giving substitute (or low-pressure) appearances to the likes of Hazard, Morata, and Drinkwater after long injury lay-offs, dropping Kante back into the thick of it doesn’t seem likely. A substitute appearance against Roma would set up him up perfectly for a start against Manchester United on Sunday in fact.
So if Kante only starts on the bench, the choice is to either go with the tried-n-true 3-4-3 (but without Kante, who’s key to it), or the often promising, often underwhelming 3-5-2.
Last time out against Roma, Conte tried the 3-5-2, and it worked for about 10-15 minutes before ceding impetus to the visitors at Stamford Bridge. After the game, Conte flat out declared that he made the wrong choice in going with the 3-5-2, though I’d posit that its problems had a lot to do with David Luiz’s poor tactical play and/or in-game injury (unlike his play in the same position against Spurs, for example), some poor play from several others including, shockingly, Cesar Azpilicueta, and Edin Dzeko having a Harry Kane-esque day. We can fix most of those problems, but would Conte try it again or hope for the best with what we know best?
There is no easy answer. If Conte chooses the 3-5-2, he goes against his own self again. If he chooses the 3-4-3, we just might end up with another 3-3 scoreline. (That said, a draw would do just fine.) When used away, the 3-5-2 has produced two of the greatest performances from Chelsea this season (Spurs and Atletico), though Chelsea have only lost one game away from home and given the effort and commitment on that day against Crystal Palace, the 3-4-3 formation had little to do with the actual outcome.
In lieu of an actual prediction, here’s what I would do: David Luiz over Christensen to put a bigger body on Dzeko; 3-5-2 over 3-4-3 to give Bakayoko and Fabregas some help and hopefully reduce their propensity for leaving gaps and giving the ball away; Azpilicueta and Rudiger both on the right to reduce the danger from Perotti and Kolarov, who ran riot at the Bridge. This leaves a couple attacking options on the bench, and Kante can free up others to push forward later if needed as well. It’s not ideal, but it could work.
Courtois | Cahill, David Luiz, Rudiger | Alonso, Drinkwater, Bakayoko, Fabregas, Azpilicueta | Hazard, Morata
The WAGNH community’s preference falls in the 3-4-3 camp, though the percentages speak of plenty of indecision as well, with Kante (49%), Drinkwater (47%), Christensen (41%), and Cahill (39%) all just missing out.
Courtois (97%) | Rudiger (76%), David Luiz (80%), Azpilicueta (95%) | Alonso (91%), Fabregas (53%), Bakayoko (84%), Zappacosta (77%) | Hazard (97%), Morata (95%), Pedro (53%).