A 4-2-4 man by nature, Antonio Conte changed to 3-5-2 when he took over at Juventus in 2011 to accommodate playmaker Andrea Pirlo.
There’s every reason to believe he will do the same at Chelsea for Cesc Fabregas – all but Pirlo’s double playing-wise. Or someone like Fabregas.
Chelsea have also been associated with Roma playmaker Miralem Pjanic, though the Romans are doing their best to retain the services of the 26-year old Bosnian.
All of which sets my overall theme: following last season’s debacle not one single position in the Chelsea 2016/17 squad is set in stone.
What is certain is that the days of the lone striker are over at Stamford Bridge.
Unless the persistent Atletico rumours prove true it seems likely that Conte will end up keeping Diego Costa for his strength and leadership of the line. Though the Brazilian-born Spaniard will have to knuckle down to one of the few men in world football who is even scarier than him.
The disciplinarian Italian has no truck with prima donnas; no need to guess how the Don feels about players showing up for the season overweight either.
Costa will also get a playing partner – Conte always plays two up front.
Latest rumours suggest Conte’s targets could be anyone from Alvaro Morata of Juventus or Napoli’s Argentine hit-man Higuain; or even Chelsea ‘old boy’ Lukaku.
23-year old Morata scored two for Spain in a friendly recently, probably cementing his place as Spain’s number one striker in the upcoming Euro 2016 – a spotlight under which his price is likely to grow.
Previous rumours – as well as plain old common sense – pointed to Dortmund’s lightning quick Pierre Aubameyang.
With his scorching pace, the 26-year old from Gabon – this season’s Bundesliga Player of the Year – would be an ideal candidate for Costa’s running mate – pun intended.
Aubameyang’s speed keeps defences on the back foot, always on the look-out for the ball over the top – a problem Costa doesn’t pose. But at six feet two, Aubameyang is no mere whippet – he’s a handful from set pieces too.
Arsenal are currently favourites for his signature. Though in these summer days of swirling rumours, being sought-after by several clubs is just a badge of worth.
Most believe that Conte will play with two wingers – and he will find it hard to get better ones than (a hopefully slimmed down) Willian on the right and a back-in-form Hazard on the left flank. In a playmaker-inclusive 3-5-2, that leaves two midfield spots.
Current rumours suggest that Matic is likely to depart Stamford Bridge. Many believe it will be to join the former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho at Manchester United.
With the lanky Serb’s time seemingly up at Stamford Bridge, the two remaining midfield positions will be the subjects of the most avid speculation. Not least because those two positions are literally and figuratively central to Chelsea’s success.
With a pure playmaker in the side, the players in those neighbouring positions will need to provide a defensive steel sorely missing in front of the back four this past season, as well as dynamism and fire-power moving forward.
There is little information about Conte’s regard or otherwise for veteran defensive midfielder Jon Obi Mikel. In many ways Mikel was the poster-boy for Chelsea’s middling achievements last term. It’s safe to say that the fading Nigerian is unlikely to retain first choice duties.
Not least because one of the earliest names mentioned for Chelsea next season has been Radja Nainggolan of Roma, a fierce holding midfielder without Mikel’s propensity for moving sideways or backwards.
Whether or not the 28-year old Belgian ends up going to Manchester United – a preference he recently made public – Nainggolan is the epitome of the tenacious tackler in the centre of the pitch essential to Conte’s vision.
As is PSG’s scrappy little midfield dynamo Marco Verrati. After repeatedly standing in the way of Chelsea’s Champions League efforts, the Italian would be a valuable brick in the wall.
Anyone with access to sports media will have seen Chelsea’s name attached to that of 23-year old Juventus attacking midfielder Paul Pogba.
Yes, the £80million price tag the Italians have apparently pinned on the big young Frenchman is, well, big. But in this world of rocketing TV money it may well end up being the new normal for football’s A-list talent. Only last week Barcelona’s improved contract for midfield general Sergio Busquets included a £150million buy-out clause.
Conte, according to recent reports, is keen to pay up and grab the Juventus superstar – some among the Chelsea faithful even pay the six foot three inch midfielder the ultimate compliment, comparing him to Frank Lampard.
They’re not alone in rating the young man so highly – Chelsea can expect stiff competition for his signature from the usual moneybags suspects.
Talking of moneybags, where does the Chelsea owner stand these days?
After all, one of the reasons for Chelsea’s recalcitrance in the transfer market last summer was said to be a desire to keep costs down with the imminent Stamford Bridge redevelopment.
Well, according to the Daily Star, Roman Abramovich seems to have discovered some extra transfer cash behind his sofa cushions.
Perhaps the owner recalled Conte’s memorable comments on underachieving in the Champions League with Juventus: “You can’t eat in a £100 restaurant if you only have £10.”
Most believe that the ever-improving Kurt Zouma – ahead of schedule in his return from ACL injury – will be that rare thing next season, an existing Chelsea player who will retain his place in the team.
But Conte already seems to be seeking candidates for the other defensive starting jobs elsewhere.
According to reports, Chelsea have inquired about Juventus defender Stephan Lichtsteiner and are actively pursuing Roma’s big 23-year old German defender Antonio Rudiger. Stiffening the Blues’ recently porous defence is clearly a matter of priority for the incoming manager.
Competition for first team places next season will be severe. Any players looking to prolong their summer vacations like they did last season need not apply.
There’s little surprise concerning the players who seem destined to seek their career prospects elsewhere next season.
The Jekyll and Hyde-like Oscar has ultimately proved too inconsistent for the rigours of the Premiership and will likely be among the first to leave.
Rémy, Baba and Begovic have also failed to convince; the back-up keeper’s limp wave at the ball that gifted Benteke a crushing equaliser at the very end of the penultimate game v Liverpool will likely double as his wave goodbye to Chelsea.
Thibaut Courtois, meanwhile, may prove to be the exception to the rule that says nobody is safe – the lofty Belgian number one seems destined to start between the sticks next season now that he’s dropped all the Real Madrid nonsense.
No such comfort for the rest.
While John Terry has signed on with the understanding that his playing time will be greatly reduced along with his salary, others will follow suit in terms of their place in the pecking order.
For Ivanovic, Cahill, Pedro and even always-willing fan-favorite Azpilicueta, the 2016/17 season may prove contentious.
Like several of the existing Chelsea squad, at least Cahill, Pedro and Azpilicueta have the upcoming Euro 2016 ‘shop window’ in which to impress Signor Conte – perhaps even at first hand: most project Italy beating England and then meeting Spain in the semi-final stage.
And then there’s Chelsea’s gilded youth – seemingly always an afterthought in today’s Chelsea set-up regardless of their continued pre-eminence at club and national U21 level.
Will this prove to be the season that England U21 superstar and Chelsea first team squad ‘veteran’ Ruben Loftus-Cheek finally breaks through? Together with attacking talent the like of Traore, Solanke, Abraham and recent winner of the Golden Boot at the U21 Toulon tournament Lewis Baker?
What fate awaits new boy Matt Miazga – and the plethora of loanees: Ake, Christensen, Musonda, Chalobah et al? And young Kenedy, the electric ‘utility player’, who has so impressed despite only sporadic opportunities this season?
The same agent who brought superstars Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano to Europe believes the 20-year old Brazilian newlywed is the best player he has ever dealt with.
Only today, Kenedy’s name was linked with none other than Barcelona. With his flair and love of hard work, Kenedy seems like a ‘Conte man’.
Another certainty? Roman Abramovich has not indulged in experimentation with his choice of manager.
In many ways, Antonio Conte is the nearest there is to José Mourinho in terms of temperament and philosophy.
Conte, who, according to Italian managerial legend Giovanni Trappatoni lives life “permanently angry”, is not a man given to flights of fancy. Conte believes in discipline, hard work and the importance of spending whatever money it takes to achieve greatness – the latter no great fillip for proponents of homegrown youth.
Upshot? Antonio Conte will be every bit as risk-averse as the man he is replacing in the Chelsea hot-seat.
While most attention has shifted to the north-west and the impending clash of United and City and the resumption their charismatic leaders’ hostilities, Chelsea is about to enter its most fascinating, rollercoaster summer for a decade.
Even as I post this piece, new swathes of rumours and possibilities will doubtless be proliferating all over the internet.
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