Opinion: The Conte set-up

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Antonio Conte
Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

First off, in a much more intense fashion than our last big-name serial winner manager he will get in their faces. He will work them hard, he will challenge them, he will scream at them, he will do everything in his power to get them to do their best. Which they have, with a couple of exceptions, not been doing for the better part of three seasons now. Take no prisoners, sir—Levy didn’t hire you to serve Lemoncello and Tiramisu.

But he is a manic advocate of a three in the back formation—with the only possible variation being whether it is 3-5-2 or 3-4-2-1. That means three central defenders with one of them free to move forward, two wingbacks, and either three core midfielders or two with a huge responsibility to run, create, run, harass, run, pass and run some more. If it is three behind two forwards—presumably Son and Kane—that is one thing. But if it is two in the slot ahead of the central defenders with two more sitting just behind Kane, then that is certainly an invitation for a certain former star to assert himself and perhaps save the remainder of his career.

So we know Cristian Romero is going to be the centre-most defender with the room to roam—Conte saw him become the best defender in Serie A over the last two-thirds of 2020-21—whether his partners are Dier and Sanchez or Dier and Tanganga—or even Emerson or Davies at times—remains to be seen. Reguilon seems the obvious candidate for the left wing-back spot—but apparently Conte has a habit of subbing those players out around 70 minutes because they work so hard, Ryan Sessegnon may yet have a role as a late sub. The right wing-back could be Emerson, it could even be Lucas in certain cases and I would think, again as more of a late sub, Matt Doherty may yet figure in Conte’s plans.

In the middle Franck Kessie of AC Milan likely tops Conte’s wish list, perhaps as soon as January. I see no scenario where he will want to play both Hojbjerg and Skipp—I think the Dane will get the nod and the youngster will be consigned to cup appearances only. And Tanguy Ndombele—an inspired Ndombele—will be the obvious third choice with Gio Lo Celso often one of the first subs. If we choose to play only two central midfielders in a 3-4-2-1—and tuck Son behind Kane, who might be the other forward next to him? Hello, Dele Alli. Conte demands effort, pressing, running—all of those things play to Dele’s strength if he has the desire or if Conte can bring it out of him. I don’t see Bergwijn playing much at all—and Lucas only perhaps on the wing at times. Neither style seems to fit what Conte wants—particularly since Dusan Vlahovic should be headed to London by the summer to provide more talent upfront. 

It’s going to be a thrill ride. This team will very different than any side we have had since early Poch days—the results at first might be inconsistent but by the beginning of the year I believe we will be consistent winners—and if Manchester United open the top four door, we could still walk in. And while that will be Conte’s primary aim, he may pivot at some point to win a trophy knowing that the Champions League is still a season away. And he will be judging the current roster—four or five of them probably won’t be around, at least, by next summer. That’s life. We didn’t clear enough of the deadwood out last year—nor did we add enough new blood to make a difference in the squad dynamic. Neither will be a problem much longer. I can’t wait.

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