Ventura Faces Important Decision Over Italy System

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Chelsea have benefited from the playing style of Antonio Conte this season as the club looked poised to notch their fifth Premier League. The 46-year-old honed his style during his time with Juventus and the Italian national side, enjoying great success with I Bianconeri. He ensured that the Azzurri punched above their weight in Euro 2016 before their quarter-final exit.

Conte opted against using the 3-4-3 system at Chelsea in the early stages of his reign as the Blues had early success deploying the 4-2-3-1 formation that had worked in the second half of the last campaign under Guus Hiddink. However, when they were carved apart with ease by Arsenal in their 3-0 hammering at the Emirates Stadium, the Italian went back to his roots.

During his tenure at Juventus and Italy, the strength of his squad was predominantly at the back. With Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, Conte boasted arguably the three best centre-backs in the world. Due to their familiarity playing at club and international level they were able to form a cohesive unit, with an unparalleled understanding at the back.

Despite the advancing years of Barzagli and Chiellini the system continues to be a success for I Bianconeri and Italy as each of the three players has an incredible knowledge of their position, and of when to track runners into the channels and the consequent moves across to cover the space.

The formation requires extreme intelligence and discipline as a mistake by one player can easily expose the other two, especially considering that the centre-backs lack the pace of full-backs usually deployed on either side that would attempt to atone for a usual error. As a result, it’s an incredibly tough system to build into a team and requires excellent management as well as astute players.

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Italy employed the system with success in their qualifying campaign for Euro 2016, conceding just 7 goals in their 10 matches. Conte’s men shut out the potent attacks of Belgium, Spain and a Zlatan Ibrahimovic-led Sweden before only being eliminated on penalties by Germany. It was testament to the ability of the Azzurri’s defensive players and the solidity of the side that they advanced as far as they did after being criticised before the start of the tournament.

However, going forward new manager Giampiero Ventura faces a challenge in keeping faith in the same system as the long-term future of Chiellini and Barzagli is far from certain heading into the next World Cup. Italy are currently backed at 16/1 in the latest international football betting odds, which could drift pending on whether the duo are able to maintain their high standards.

Their potential replacements Daniele Rugani and Alessio Romagnoli have a great deal of promise, but unless they can build a semblance of the understanding enjoyed by the current trio of defenders it might be in their best interests to move on.

Conte was able to mould his Chelsea side with constant work on the training pitch, and with experienced players who have played alongside each other for a great period of time. However, we may see a transition of the great Azzurri defensive shape in the near future as Ventura prepares to bring along the next generation of talent.