Antonio Conte might decide to match Thomas Tuchel numerically in the centre of the park for the return leg at Tottenham next week.
The Chelsea manager opted for three central midfielders, which had the desired effect of over running Tottenham’s pair of Pierre Hojbjerg and Oliver Skipp. Spurs midfield duo were chasing shadows for the duration of the first half, unable to get a foothold. It resembled a training exercise, where the team with the numerical advantage plays keep away for as long as possible.
Conte’s 3-4-3 system has garnered exceptional results for Spurs, even facilitating an eight-match unbeaten run in the Premier League. And under conventional circumstances, with his entire first-choice team playing from the start, there would be no reason to veer away from the norm that has yielded such success.
Bringing Tanguy Ndombele in for Matt Doherty at halftime, Conte made the necessary adjustment. The improvement was immediate. Tottenham weren’t outnumbered and overrun in the centre of the park, enabling the visitors some rare time on the ball in Chelsea’s half.
Usually Conte would have Emerson Royal and Sergio Reguilon on either wing. Doherty’s inability to impact proceedings hampered Tottenham’s chances of settling things down. Royal was substandard and didn’t do anything to support Hojbjerg and Skipp, who were evidently, and disparagingly, left to their own devices.
The complexion changes completely if Conte has two accomplished, stable wingbacks at his disposal who can keep hold of the ball. Neither Doherty or Royal were able to put their foot on the ball and slow proceedings. They needlessly and far too quickly coughed up possession, allowing Chelsea’s midfield trio (Mount, Jorginho and Saul) to run rampant and unremittingly dictate.
It will be interesting to see whether Conte employs his tried and tested 3-4-3 in next week’s return leg.
That will probably depend on whether he has Reguilon available. Even if Reguilon is good to go, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Conte tinker with things to ensure Chelsea does not have the numerical advantage in the centre of the park, thereby preventing the Blues from running the show in the most crucial area of the pitch.