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Can Conte's back 3 work? Why Mourinho doesn't deserve Hazard attack

COMMENT: Okay, okay. So there was a method to it. The centre-back search. The stockpiling of centre-halves. Antonio Conte has a plan. A long-term vision. And it requires a decent group of defenders.

For Conte's Chelsea, it's going to be three at the back. No, sorry. Three in central defence. Just as he did with Juventus - specifically with the BBC: Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini. David Luiz won't be considered for midfield, insisted Conte yesterday. The Brazilian was signed as a centre-back. And that's where he'll play.

It's also why Niklas Sule's agent dropped the bombshell this week of a €30 million attempt for the Hoffenheim centre-half. And why, breaking today, we hear Chelsea football chief Michael Emenalo will have Michael Keane, of Burnley, and Middlesbrough's Ben Gibson scouted this season. Also in the last 24 hours, Alessio Romagnoli has confirmed his club, AC Milan, turned down an offer from Chelsea in the final days of the market.

Now, if it was anyother manager - and you're Andreas Christiensen - you'd be giving it away at Chelsea. Throwing in your lot with Borussia Monchengladbach. But Conte's presence changes everything. He wants three centre-halves in his line-up every week. The Dane can be assured. Well, as much as any young Blue out on-loan can be... the door hasn't been shut on him.

But, please. PLEASE. Don't dub this 'three at the back'. It isn't. It's a five-man defence. Three centre-halves and two defensively minded fullbacks. It's why Conte was willing to go so high to prise Marcos Alonso from Fiorentina last week. He said as much yesterday. He wanted a left-sided fullback. In his ideal system, Cesar Azpilicueta - at left-back - wouldn't work. Chelsea are going to be leaning heavily on the fullbacks to get their crosses in - and at first attempt. Checking back, so to swing one in with the right foot, just isn't going to work. Alonso is no defensive cover. He's been signed to play.

But it's still five across the back. Conte will still be withdrawing a player from further afield to accommodate an extra defender. It worked for his Juventus in Serie A. So why not the Premier League?

But how will such a system be accepted by the Blues faithful? One argument against such a formation is that you're diluting the midfield. The opportunities for one-on-one challenges between winger and fullback disappear. Indeed, in Conte's system it's unlikely we'll ever see any traditional wingers buzzing up and down the flanks.

But maybe after last season's "disaster", as Gary Cahill put it, winning and getting back amongst the contenders is what matters at this stage in the club's history. But that's also a history which includes the likes of Charlie Cooke, Pat Nevin and Arjen Robben. There's a reason why such names are still revered today.

And what about Cahill and John Terry? How quickly can they adjust to the new system? Indeed, can they adjust? Neither defender has spent any significant time playing as one of three centre-halves. It's rare to find any team in the history of the Premier League to employ such a system successfully. If you can recall one, please let us know below...

Conte could break the mould. That's why he was brought to the club by Roman Abramovich. But it's not going to be as smooth as many expect. His two prime centre-halves are English, Premier League veterans. They know inside-out what is required in a centre-half pairing. But three? They're good enough to adjust. But it's not going to happen overnight. And if this is to be Conte's system, long-term, it's also going to take some patience and re-adjusting from the Stamford Bridge support.


MOURINHO DOESN'T DESERVE THIS

Jose Mourinho has really copped it in the neck this week. Eden Hazard and Gary Cahill haven't held back. Both senior Blues slaughtering their old manager for last season.

Hazard couldn't have sunk the knife in deeper. This was the stuff of Barcelona. Of the Madrid press:

“Conte puts trust in his players," he declared. "Now we are good after an ugly season last year. I've always been the same player. But Conte knows how to treat players having played at the highest level himself."

Wow! The club's most successful manager. The one who raised Hazard's game to a never before seen level. Yet, despite all this, the lack of a playing record disqualifies him? It's the sort of garbage you'd expect from the soccer snobs on the continent. Not from inside Chelsea.

But Hazard wasn't alone. Cahill also had his pop:

“We went from winning the league to the disaster of last season. We lost our way tactically, everyone's head was in different directions. Everyone had different situations going on, whether you're playing or not, the manager, or this or that. Different distractions are never healthy.

"People talk as if you wake up one day and suddenly you're a bog standard player. It doesn't happen."

Again, like Hazard, there was no contrition from Cahill. It was the manager. Distractions. They're to blame. Don't point at us inside the locker room.

Chelsea are perhaps the modern game's greatest success story. No club has transformed itself as they have since Roman Abramovich's arrival. And apart from the Russian, no-one has played a bigger role in Chelsea's emergence as a world power than Mourinho.

Of course, with our media hat on, this is fantastic. Hazard and Cahill have provided great copy.

But history is important. And culture matters. It's why Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Bayern Munich's chairman, shut down Franck Ribery after he had spoken critically of Pep Guardiola.

To have two players so publicly sink the boot into Chelsea's most successful manager is not worthy of a club of this stature. It doesn't happen at Bayern. And it shouldn't be allowed to happen at Abramovich's Chelsea.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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