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Gary Cahill tires of having to show Chelsea he is still the main man Replic Gary Cahill Jersey
Gary Cahill hopes his return to the Chelsea starting XI can bring about a happy end to the season for himself and his club but admits it is tiring having to prove himself at the age of 32.
The club captain played his part in a 2-0 win against Southampton on Sunday that sent Chelsea into the FA Cup final against Manchester United and he believes a trophy can yet rescue their season.
“I think the performances of late as well as the last couple of wins have been good for us,” Cahill said. “Everything is a possibility when you’re playing, hence why I am happy. I am back out there and let’s see what happens at the end of the season. We have gone into the final and the World Cup is coming, so let’s wait and see.”
Antonio Conte dropped Cahill for some of Chelsea’s biggest games, including both legs of the Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona and league matches with Manchester City and United in March, prompting speculation that the centre-half’s time at Stamford Bridge was coming to an end. He also missed out on Gareth Southgate’s last England squad.
Cahill, who returned to the Chelsea side in the past fortnight, said: “I realise the manager has decisions to make. I realise I’m not getting any younger. I don’t feel like I need to prove anything. I’ve proven it before, time and time again. It gets tiring after a bit, if I’m honest. Maybe that’s just football, maybe that’s just the way my past has gone, I don’t know.”
Chelsea’s season has mirrored Cahill’s as they both struggled for consistency. With four league games left and in fifth place, they face the threat of missing out on next season’s Champions League. “The league has not gone as expected. We realise the history says to win it back to back and keep winning the league season after season is very difficult. We have not managed to do that this year,” he said. “So, if we did manage to win the FA Cup, it would somewhat rescue the season.
“There’s no point shying away from that. It’s a huge trophy. [In the league] all we can do now is try to win our games. The gap is big and you’re looking at some very good teams above us so I would be very surprised if they slipped.”
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Chelsea: Antonio Conte’s new tactics and roles hint at his intent for 2018/19 Replic Antonio Conte Jersey
Antonio Conte used the last three games to introduce new tactics, formations and roles en route to three Chelsea wins. He is acting like a manager preparing for another year at Stamford Bridge.
Antonio Conte’s critics often argue that, after revolutionizing the Premier League with the 3-4-3 last season, he never followed up on that innovation. His changes to the 3-4-3 this season were subtle at best, repetitive at worst. A false-nine here, Pedro a bit deeper there. Cesar Azpilicueta pushing a bit higher towards wing-back, Marcos Alonso coming central while Chelsea set up their offence. None were as dramatic – in form or impact – as the 3-4-3 in October 2016.
Over Chelsea’s last three games, Antonio Conte has made his most significant changes since the original 3-4-3. He has introduced new formations – both mid-game and from the start – and new roles for players in existing formations.
Conte responded to going down 2-0 at Southampton with an immediate double substitution, which reshaped Chelsea into a 4-2-3-1. Davide Zappacosta came off, and the remaining four defenders all shifted one place to the right along the defensive line. Marcos Alonso became a left back and Cesar Azpilicueta became a right-back. Pedro came on for Zappacosta, joining Eden Hazard and Willian to form a three-man retaining wall of wingers. Within 20 minutes, the Blues were up 3-2.
In the next game against Burnley, Conte finally played the formation that defined his time at Juventus: 3-5-2 with two true strikers. Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata gave a commanding performance, showing the gulf between a 3-5-2 with Eden Hazard as a shadow striker and a “real” 3-5-2.
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Against Southampton in the FA Cup semi-final Replic Chelsea Jerseys, Conte once again broke his pattern. First, he stayed with Willy Caballero in net and Eduardo on the bench. Last season, Asmir Begovic only made it as far as Wolves in the fifth round. The stakes around the FA Cup are much higher this season, but Conte is trusting his back-up keeper further along the competition. Admittedly, this could be about the quality of Chelsea’s opponents: last season they faced Manchester United and Tottenham in these stages, whereas this season they played Leicester and Southampton.
Second, Antonio Conte made a bold and unpopular substitution to enact a formation shift and protect the lead against Southampton. He withdrew Willian, who had barely put a foot wrong all game and is still the club’s most consistent forward. Tiemoue Bakayoko came on to bolster the midfield in a 3-5-2. Twelve minutes later, Pedro came on for Cesc Fabregas, maintaining the 3-5-2 but giving it more press.
This three-game series of changes contradicts one common narrative and calls into question another. Conte’s detractors charge him with being rigid and uncreative. After binning everything to start anew with players like Marcos Alonso in the 3-4-3, they say, Conte is now out of ideas and sends out the same XI to do the same thing every week, even as results go the wrong way. His approach to Barcelona and Manchester City reinforced this impression of fatal sclerosis. But here he is, still introducing new ideas for his players and tactics in match-week 34.
Conte is also not acting like a man counting down his final matches in charge. Managers on the plank tend to take one of two approaches: coasting with what works because why bother changing, or throwing as many kids on the pitch as possible because who cares. Instead, Conte is making the kind of changes that have an eye to the future. He is still trying to find the right suit for the club, and the right suit for the individual players. If Antonio Conte knew he was one month away from the sack, why would he care about transitioning an aging Pedro into a new, perhaps more appropriate role? Why would he dabble in four-man defences and dual-striker attacks, unless he was bracing himself for another summer with limited transfer activity and high expectations?
The two narratives overlap in the timing of Conte’s changes. Conte waited to introduce them until after Chelsea bowed out of the Champions League and were a distant hope for fourth place.
This timing shows his risk-reward calculation more than risk aversion. He assessed Chelsea had a greater chance for success in both competitions under the earlier formations. Chelsea would have had a higher chance of losing in a new formation against those top sides. They may have lost with more flair and excitement, but Conte is not interested in losing beautifully or with style. He gave Chelsea their best chance to win, and they lost ugly. Had they won, it too would have been ugly. A win is a win and a loss is a loss. Football is the one realm where Italians may ignore aesthetics.
The Blues have less to lose now, but not nothing. They still have the FA Cup and fourth-place is still a possibility. If anyone can engineer a late season run, it is Antonio Conte. If anyone can engineer a late season collapse, it is Tottenham Hotspur. The risk and rewards are both less than they were in February and March, but they are more balanced in Antonio Conte’s eyes.
Perhaps – despite eight months of rumours to the contrary – Antonio Conte will be at Chelsea next year. He is too proud to quit, and would not want to surrender his £9 million pay-out by doing so. Chelsea may be realizing there are no better replacements on the market, particularly when any replacement would cost them that £9 million pay-out on top of the new wages.
Antonio Conte is acting like a manager who not only cares about the remaining month of football, but the remaining 13 months of his current contract. That alone breaks the narrative that he cares about nothing much at Stamford Bridge.