This season Antonio Conte has switched between the 3-5-2 and 3-4-3 formation, as apposed to using solely the latter in the title winning season last year. He states that it depends on the quality of our opposition and prefers to use a 3-5-2 against the better sides.
I don’t really have a problem with this, except the fact that he seems to be using it against sides who are content with defending and offer little going forward, therefore has a compact defence involving most of the team that needs to be broken down, where perhaps the 3-4-3 would be better.
But I repeat, I’m not against the 3-5-2 and it has worked effectively this season against some of the better sides, notably the success away in Europe against Atletico Madrid. There is no doubt that it can work against the right opposition, but the type of opposition needs to be more carefully assessed before deciding to use it.
However, I do have one major concern, and that is the flat three centre midfielders. Conte prefers to emulate the back three by using three players ahead of them in identical positions.
For me this causes a number of issues. Mainly, like last night against Arsenal for example, you are asking centre midfield players to basically play as a left or right midfielder, which they are obviously not used to nor is it utilising their strengths.
Danny Drinkwater had his poorest game so far and was clearly off the pace, but there is no doubting that he seemed lost and uncomfortable playing as a right centre midfielder, naturally. He ended up wide with the ball on so many occasions and when facing up the defender, he would chose to turn and go back, whereas a naturally wide player would look to beat that man and push the ball down the line.
Cesc Fabregas suffered a similar fate on the left hand side. The Spaniard was also having an off day, but why on earth we have our most creative player being mainly stuck in wide left areas is beyond me. He should be central, where he can effect the game, pull the strings and pick out the passes.
There has also been a couple of games recently where N’Golo Kante has found himself as the right centre midfielder, and I wrote an article at the time stating how I never wanted to see him play there again. Even one of the best centre midfielders in world football looked uncomfortable and out of sorts playing in this odd and unfamiliar wide central role.
For me, the best and most effective way we should be playing the 3-5-2 is using either one holding midfielder and two centre midfielders ahead of him, or two centre midfielders and one attacking midfielder ahead of them, depending on opposition.
This would allow Fabregas to become more pinnacle in attacks and helping create more chances, it will allow Eden Hazard ahead of him to drop in, go wide and roam to get the best out of him. And it will also see more creativity from deep if we have Drinkwater for example using his vision in a more natural role.
For me, this is the normal kind of 3-5-2, it just works better in all aspects. It would not be too narrow as we would have the wing backs and the wide centre backs behind them. It would see more support going to the attacking areas where we are struggling to convert chances, and it will see more late runs from the midfielders arriving into the box from central deep areas.
So against the better opposition, go with one holding midfielder, but against a weakened Arsenal team like last night, I’d have rather seen a Drinkwater/Kante pivot with Fabregas playing just ahead of the two.