Chelsea’s transition to a 3-4- 3 formation has taken the club to the brink of a fifth Premier League title, but will another tactical tweak be needed next term if they're to retain the trophy?
When Antonio Conte took over the Blues following Euro 2016, where he led an underwhelming Italy squad to the quarter-finals, many expected the former Juventus manager to deploy a system consisting of a back three.
However, that wasn't the case. Despite having so much success at Juve playing with a three-man defence, Conte opted against it at the start of his Chelsea reign.
The Italian set out hoping the 2014/15 Premier League champions, who last season finished in 10th place after a disastrous campaign, could successfully play in a 4-2-4 formation.
But the Blues were unconvincing throughout pre-season in the formation and come the opening day of the 2016/17 campaign, Conte opted to set his side up in a familiar 4-2-3-1 system.
Chelsea won their opening three games but their performances were patchy. Then came a draw with Swansea City and defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal. Conte had seen enough.
The Italian introduced the 3-4-3 formation and the rest is history.
The west London club have gone on to reach the 81 point mark and need just two more wins to secure a fifth Premier League crown.
Chelsea have reaped the rewards of Conte’s tactical reshuffle – having also booked a place in the FA Cup final against Arsenal – but the Blues could yet tactically transition again despite the success of their current setup?
While the majority of the club’s victories this season have come with 3-4- 3 in place, there have been a few indications of late, both on and off the pitch, that suggests 3-5-2 could be in Conte’s thinking.
The introduction of Cesc Fabregas in Chelsea’s 4-2 FA Cup semi-final win over Tottenham, and his appearance in the 4-2 defeat of Southampton, saw the structure of the team resemble more of a 3-5-2 formation.
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Eden Hazard and Diego Costa received the plaudits after those two games, but Fabregas was just as influential as the pair after joining Nemanja Matic and PFA Player of the Year N’Golo Kante in the midfield.
Fabregas’ displays may be more of a reflection of his ability rather than his role in the system, but with the added invention and control the Spaniard gives a side, 3-5- 2 maybe a system Conte tests again before the end of the season.
Additionally, several of the players being linked with a move to Stamford Bridge this summer would fit into a 3-5- 2 shape.
Everton’s Romelu Lukaku is a Chelsea transfer target while rumours persist that Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata could make a switch to Stamford Bridge and link up with Conte for the second time in his career.
With Costa’s future uncertain, the possibility of Conte demanding Roman Abramovich splash the cash to land Lukaku and Morata can't be ruled out.
But neither of the two are likely to accept a bit-part role should they sign, meaning Conte would need to find a way to integrate the duo.
In a more attacking variant of the 3-5-2, both Lukaku and Morata could play up top, with Hazard stationed just behind in a free role. Matic and Kante would occupy the central midfield positions.
Alternatively, should Chelsea only acquire either one of Lukaku or Morata, Conte could unleash Hazard up front and use Fabregas as the No. 10 or in a deeper role alongside Matic and Kante.
Of course, Conte should not be quick to change a system that has taken the side to the cusp of a title, and such a tactical readjustment could leave the likes of Pedro and Willian, who have made significant contributions to Chelsea’s title pursuit this season, in the wilderness.
But as we have already seen with captain John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Oscar, if changes are needed, even at the expense of club legends and stylish players, then the Italian will not hesitate to do so.
If Antonio Conte believes 3-5-2 is the way forward for Chelsea, then he will make it happen.