For most of this season, Antonio Conte used Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta and David Luiz/Christensen. But that combo only seemed to earn us mixed results. We did win some games, but we also lost others heavily. And on the occasions we won, the defending wasn’t always satisfactory. The humbling defeats we received from Bournemouth and Watford will be remembered as some of the worst games we had played in 2017/18 – and the reason Conte had to reshape his backline.
The presence of Cahill/Luiz in the starting eleven clearly didn’t consistently provide us with satisfactory results, so Conte had to do something about it.
Twice I have watched Chelsea play with a different back line, and perform exceptionally well.
On Wednesday, against Barcelona, we played one of our best counter-attacking football in a while, while also defending astutely. And this was possible because of the combo Conte chose to go with.
Instead of the Usual Cahill/Christensen/Azpilicueta combo, the coach chose to replace the captain with Antonio Rudiger – a decision he would have been happy he made.
Rudiger turned out to be the best defender in the night, and probably would have gotten the man of the match award, had Willian not starred.
There are more than ten games before the season comes to an end, which means more points to be gained, and more games to play. Sunday’s fixture against United is one we must take very seriously.
The tie is a dicey and important one for both sides, considering what’s at stake and how tight the race for top 4 is. However, looking back on Tuesday’s showing, we can go into that match very confident we can nick it.
If Conte decides to go with the same back three that started against Barcelona, we will be tight at the back, and stand a decent chance against United. That will mean ignoring Cahill again, but then, football is about tinkering and finding a working formula. If Conte has finally found what works for him, I don’t see why he shouldn’t stick to it.
Cahill is our captain, and he is an important figure, but even he would understand that the good of the club should supersede individual needs always.
I admire every player we have, but I believe that football is an ever changing game. We must keep changing with it to stay relevant.