Conte’s Chelsea

I have to admit, this is one system that’s been fascinating me. Antonio Conte has been one of the more entertaining Italian coaches in a while, and with Chelsea he’s delivered a system that’s unique.  I have covered a deep look into his system in one of my earlier blog posts . So I won’t be going into the logic behind it, I will assume you have read it. 

Antonio’s Chelsea is unique in the way they manage to get defenders congesting the midfield area. If you have watched any of Chelsea’s recent matches you would have noticed how they get Cesar Azpilicueta moving upwards in support of N’Golo Kante, you would also have noticed how Kante surges late into the box. In Chelsea’s latest game against Crystal Palace, the winner came off Azpilicueta’s cross. In fact within the first half, he had driven into the Palace half on numerous occasions which included a few through balls for the ineffectual Willian. Conte’s system is built on hard work and both Willian and Hazard are expected to drop into their half when it comes to defending crosses. Sometime during the second half, Willian began to look like that part of his game was missing. On came Cesc Fabregas who slotted ably into the role of another advanced playmaker drifting across the pitch and down in support of Victor Moses. 

The pivot that Azpilicueta provides is unique, he’s got a good cross in his right foot and he’s able to control the ball with his first touch. So its no surprise to see him sometimes wander in front of the defenders issuing orders. He’s found a new lease of life under Conte, and any system that seeks to replicate Chelsea needs to reproduce Azpilicueta’s movements, and that’s not easy. 

chelsea-midfield-transitionBefore you replicate any system you need to isolate how they play in the three thirds of the pitch. My upcoming book will do that in more detail, for now. Lets just focus on how they play in defence. When the ball moves up from the defensive half into midfield, Azpilicueta will be
found supporting Kante. This allows Moses to cut inside or attack the flanks. This is a critical if not necessary feature that has to be replicated. We need to be able to create the congestion that allows Chelsea to control the midfield area. To do that we have three options. If we try to line the 3 at the back up as a BPD-CD-BPD combination, they become flat and the defenders hit a wall when they enter the opponents half.  If we get David Luiz to be the Libero he does go forward, but that’s not the right player.

The attacking position of the Anchor
The attacking position of the Anchor

That leaves us with either treating Azpilicueta as a Halfback or an Anchorman, neither are perfect, but they both do the midfield movements we require. The issue I have with the halfback is that he’s all over the place in defensive transitions. Both roles have similar attacking options which are limited, but we do get the positional requirements we are after, in fact they both can enter the final third positions we need. The downside is that neither one is able to deliver a cross, they do a decent throughball though.

I tested this out with a few saves, and the most remarkable match was a 5-0 London derby. Arsenal left Stamford Bridge in shock. This was a match that saw Azpilicueta take up positions in the opponents half, where he participated in key transition movements that led to three goals. My goal was to capture a bit of what happens in real life in the system and I have to admit that match was a joy to watch. That match will also be heading for Youtube soon, once I get some time away from the baby. In terms of interceptions Azpilicueta produced almost 21 in that game, and his pass numbers were only bettered by Eden Hazard, and Matic. Hazard completed 47 passes while Azpilicueta had 41. Kante was able to bag a hat trick, which would only have been possible with Azpilicueta’s passing from the back. 

Are there weaknesses in the system?  Of course there are. If I play Azpilicueta as an Anchor, there is space behind him that can be exploited. Against lone man forward systems, a tight marking job must be done on the lone forward. And in some matches you may even need to assign Azpilicueta to a man marking job. I do believe that even the current Chelsea system is vulnerable. There are currently only a handful of teams that practice the kind of pressing which puts pressure on the Kante/Azpilicueta axis. And that test will come in January when Chelsea face Spurs.  So far a few teams have tried attacking their vulnerable right flank, but the attempts have been isolated. There have been glimpses of David Luiz struggling, but so far no team has yet forced diagonal pressure on their right. So if you play against a lone man forward system in FM, you will absolutely need to guard the right flank by tight marking a lone forward or man mark if you use this system.

Overall the tactic looks something like this, its played on Standard/Control – Structured. It employs a High Block, the Anchor Man is giving specific PIs. Matic and Kante are also given the High Block settings, and both players are told not to take risky passes, dribble less and shoot

Chelsea Tactic with Anchor
Chelsea Tactic with Anchor

less often. Upfront, Hazard has also been set up with a High Block, and told to Roam From Position and Sit Narrower. Pedro‘s position is unique, if you want Hazard to switch flanks too, then you need to make Pedro into an APM with Sit Narrower and Roam from Position. If you elect to have him as an Inside Forward then he gets the same instructions with the Close down much more and tackle harder PI to get the High Block started. Costa is a DLF(S) with High Block settings. The Anchor will be told to close down more than default. 

Team Instructions
Team Instructions
Short Corner Routine
Short Corner Routine

These are Chelsea’s Team Instructions, and this is where I always have a lot of fun. When playing against a defensively minded team, I sometimes push the Dline to the max settings, sometimes I just take it to Slightly Higher and opt to Work Ball into Box. I treat the defensive line like a switch to increase pressure along with mentality. So far for most games I have been using only standard and control. The setpeice routines well they are set up just like I would set them up for any match. It uses a short corner routine to recycle possession and allow David Luiz to attack the near post.

It may not be defensively perfect, that would happen if the Anchor man or Halfback would just slot perfectly into the central defender slot. For now though, its just good fun.






  1. very interesting interpretation of the system. Don’t you find that whenever Azpilicueta isn’t playing, the back three is a bit more of a traditional one, though? Plus, it might be just my take on it, but the two center mids are usually really close to the backline even when in possession, so I would probably have them in the DM spots if I were to really copy Conte’s set-up. Great read!

    1. Yeah I agree Azpil is a repurposed central defender who’s actually a fullback first. When he’s not playing there isn’t anyone else who can do what he does apart from Ivanoic. And he’s not nearly as cultured.
      I would think they do drop into an orthodox 3. Kante does make a fair few surges into the box, and having him as a DM on support makes sense. That could be another way to look at it. I just like this one, cos it clobbered the gunners 5-0 🙂

  2. This may be exaggerating, but I don’t remember seeing a system as complicated as Conte’s “3-4-3”, when he was at Juventus and I don’t remember Chielini and Barzagli stepping up as far or as frequently as Cahill and Azpil move. especially the side cbs. I also agree with you about Kante, he gets forward quite a bit.

    Would be interesting to see what happens if any of the back 3 gets injured, does Terry step in, or will the more athletic Zouma fill in

  3. I am going to try this with Arsenal I will probably buy Laporte or Bonucci for the Libero role. I am not sure what or who to look at for the Half Back/Anchor Man role so might not try that set up until I get a better understanding of suitable players. I am still confused as to why you have a CWB and Defensive Winger. Why not have two defensive wingers or two CWB.

    Thank you showing how to set up a 343. I always wanted to play this way but did not have a clue and also I was a bit stubborn on trying to play a 4231 with Arsenal.

  4. Hi Rashidi, as a Chelsea fan, this was a great read! i am very interested by how you interpreted the Chelsea system for FM17. I have had reasonable success with the formation- just at times exposed too much on the right hand side of the defence and conceding a lot from crosses and not doing well in away matches. Could you explain the idea of a cover- stopper partnership with a high d-line & offside trap…would the cover defender not break the offside trap by trying to sweep away through balls or would it make sense to reduce moses’s attacking licence and play with a flat back 3 with low block to isolate the forward instead? I’m also struggling particularly with 2-man partnerships as strikers and not clear which defender should be man-marking

    1. I will try to explain it on a video, generally I find with poorer sides, I seem to favour cover/defend even with an offside trap on when playing normal and higher defensive lines. This tactic is an emulation, to make it more solid some people may find it useful to use a conventional backline that has a Defend-Cover-Defend set up. Against 2 man strike forces that comes in handy

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