Is it fair to compare the two? Time to investigate:
We are just over the halfway point in this year’s English Premier League season and for all the talk about transfers that naturally occurs at this time of year, I’d like to look at something different.
Written in many journalist’s previews for this league campaign the quality of managers that were going to grace the league, was heralded as the greatest group of all time. Joining the esteemed ranks of Jurgen Klopp, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho and after last year’s escapades Claudio Ranieri, were two world-class managers who came in without any prior Premier League experience, Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola.
I’d like to take a closer look at these two high profile newcomers to the league and the main differences I can see from their early approaches to the league and the requirements in a squad to implement their philosophy.
Firstly I’d like to start with the Chelsea manager, Antonio Conte, your quintessential Italian manager, who cut his teeth in the lower leagues of Italy. He shot into the public eye during his time at Juventus utilising a 3-5-2 formation with a philosophy of relentless work rate knitted into the traditional Italian football value of pragmatic and dark art defending. A midfield built of two restless wing backs and two box to box midfielders designed to protect, feed and give creative freedom to the enigmatic deep-lying playmaker Andrea Pirlo who’s only sins in football are hidden by his beard.
Conte’s philosophy and the requirements needed in order to implement are easily transferable. He can implement his 3-5-2 systems at any club with very little impact on the existing personnel and can be built using most things lying around because it’s about the system and not the players. As seen from his work with the Italian national team, where he made Giaccherini look like a world beater. Of course this job was easier for him as the Juventus back three and goalkeeper are identical to that of the national team.
At Chelsea he brought in three important players in the summer window in order to better achieve his goals. We can see a revitalised David Luiz at the heart of a three man back line, carrying the ball out from the back. Marcos Alonso, a man who not only knew the Premier League from his time at Bolton, but had come in off a fantastic season at Fiorentina playing at wing back. N’golo Kante, the man who has been described as covering the ground of two players in central midfield, an almost perfect Conte player.
What Conte has changed in his ever reliant system is the position of his creative players. A dilemma he had when he came into the club is the curious case of Eden Hazard, an unarguably talented player who has flattered to deceive since his player of the year award in 2015 and Cesc Fabregas. Both players cannot fit into the 3-5-2 system, so something had to change. With Fabregas’s inclusion in the starting XI also having the knock on affect of alienating Pedro and Willian, the choice was simple.
As we can see from their current league position, five points clear at the summit of the Premier League, Conte has managed to implement his philosophy successfully. Seven points behind Conte in fourth is a manager who is not enjoying such a happy early period in his managerial tenure.
Pep Guardiola finally made his long awaited arrival on the English shore this summer arriving at Manchester City, who some would say had cruelly let Manual Pelligrini go the previous season. Pep came onto the scene at Barcelona, where he was thrown in at the proverbial deep-end taking the helm after only one year of managerial experience at Barcelona’s B side.
Pep has a personal trophy cabinet larger than most clubs would be envious of, let alone players. His philosophy is that of La Masia’s world-renowned Tika Taka style merged with a formidable forward line press. His Barcelona team was bursting at the seams with talent during his tenure, a fluid attacking forward line with the mentality that everyone was playing for the team, individual moments from players were restricted, a more controlled chaos was in place.
An interesting part of the system was the role of the full backs; at left back Eric Abidal and later Jordi Alba then Dani Alves a consistent feature at right back offered the attacking players an outlet wide, while the inverted wingers ventured towards the centre of the field to mesmerise the defenders with their hypnotic pass and move triangles.
What makes the role of the full backs in Pep’s systems so interesting is that their role completely changed when he came to Bayern Munich. The best way to describe the forward movement of the full backs is inverted, when attacking both would drift in field and sit in front of the two centre backs flanking Thiago or Xabi Alonso. David Alaba and Philip Lahm acted as two additional play makers. This system, although not generating the same level of European success as the Barcelona system, domestic dominance was still a feature of Pep’s tenure.
The job he’s doing at Manchester City can be best described as a work still in progress. Whereas Conte’s systems can be implemented with relatively unspecific player requirements, Pep’s systems are constructed like a fine Swiss watch, built from the best parts to create an effortless perfection.
He is still looking for the correct personnel even if his arrival came with a flurry of transfer dealings five first team players coming in and five leaving the club. It has been talked about even before Pep’s arrival that the defence is a weak link in this Man City team, a mismatch of exotic and expensive flops the he now has to rebuild. Coupled with the ageing forward line, it could not be fixed in a single transfer window.
From what we have seen in the early part of his tenure is Alexandr Kolorov playing in the left centre back position. What I have taken from this is Pep is looking to deploy his fullbacks much like he did at Bayern Munich, and playing Kolorov at centre back is in order to get him accustomed to playing in a central position. The right back position for when Pep eventually transitions to this part of his system, I would expect to see Bacary Sagna fill that role. Sagna spent time playing in a central position during the twilight of his Arsenal career and therefore should fit into that system with little impact.
The transfer dealings both Chelsea and Manchester City complete in the next two windows will be very interesting with Chelsea now adapting their squad to fit Conte’s system, which is why irrespective of the money received for him, Oscar leaving was not a huge surprise. The defensive signings Pep makes will be very interesting, as previously stated, as what he if trying to do with his defence still requires him to bring in the correct components in order to build and calibrate the his system. The full backs are the key in what Pep Guardiola is trying to do.