Thanks to Jose Mourinho’s constant ... praise ... of Chelsea’s defensive nous (which has seen us concede just two fewer goals than most exciting Manchester United), counter-attacking (which is responsible for a whopping 5 of our 57 league goals), and set-piece abilities (which are responsible for another 10 of the 57, matching the set-piece goals total of Liverpool, the Premier League’s top scoring team), Antonio Conte has had to respond to yet another round of questions about his team’s style and supposed reliance on counter-attacks. Few managers are able to set a narrative as well as Mourinho, even if his powers in that regard are waning a bit.
“I have to tell you one thing. Not only here … but I never, ever, ever train for the counterattack. Never prepare for the counterattack. Never.”
If that sounds familiar, it’s because Eden Hazard just said the same thing after the West Ham game last week (when he did score on the counter) and it also matches exactly what Conte said during Euro 2016 when he was in charge of Italy.
So why does he not train it when it’s a situation that we often encounter in games?
“I think the counterattack is an option, above all, if you have this type of player, players who are very, very fast. Also Costa is a counterattacking man, and Willian and Pedro. It’s normal to have this situation with space, so they know what they can do.
“For me, it’s important to train the other aspects: when we have the ball, when we stay almost always in our opponents’ half, to prepare when we are attacking. It’s very difficult to train counterattacking but it’s not my priority.”
As Hazard had said, Conte basically trusts the players to know what to do when presented with the opportunity to counter, which has led to a few glorious moves like the one for his goal on Monday, but have also led to many more head-shaking moments of indecision and bad choices. Just imagine if we were actually good at counter-attacks, like we are in other phases of the game! But I suppose they are hard to train for as, by their very nature, they are fluid and uncontrolled situations that often arise out of random passages of play. (For example, how would one train for the move that led to Hazard’s goal? We can maybe train Kanté to be in the right place at the right time and getting the ball to Eden, whose role is usually to be open at all times, but after that, it’s all improvisation.)
“There are different situations in games. You have to be prepared to play in different parts of the pitch. If you stay for 70 minutes in your opponents’ half, you must know what to do, otherwise you are in trouble. Sometimes you find teams who force you to defend in your own half and you have to know how to react in this moment. You train for situations and it’s important to have players who are prepared for this situation.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Guardian
Chelsea aren’t the league leaders in any major statistical category, but we’re among the leaders in almost all major statistical categories. The Blues do lead the Premier League in shot conversion (15%), just ahead of Arsenal (14%), and the rest of the top five, who are all between 11-13%. (United, meanwhile, are the fourth worst in the division at just 8.7%.)
Above all, Chelsea seem best at executing the coach’s gameplan and responding to different situations in the game. We’ve proven capable of playing on the front-foot, the back-foot, and any and all foots in-between. With a few exceptions, we’ve successfully dealt with high press, low block, speed on wings, height in the middle. Whatever it is we’re doing in training is working, so if it means having to talk about such minor considerations as “style”, then that’s a price worth paying.