Eden Hazard cut a frustrated figure at the Etihad Stadium last Sunday. Fielded as a false nine, the Belgian attacker was so ineffective that to call him ‘false’ would be to understate his impact on the game.
Antonio Conte has utilised Hazard in this position a number of times this season, despite having a number of more traditional strikers at his disposal. Àlvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud were both resigned to the bench on Sunday, as was Michy Batshuayi for most of the first period of the season before he was ejected to Germany on a loan deal.
While a ‘false nine’ formation has been utilised to devastating effect on a number of occasions, notably with arguably the best ever ‘false nine’ Lionel Messi at Barcelona, Conte’s side doesn’t allow for the best implementation of this tactic.
Certainly Hazard agrees, as suggested by his post-match comments where he suggested that “[Chelsea] could have played on for three hours and [he] wouldn’t touch a ball.” Conte, as you would expect, fired back at his player, saying that he will field players wherever he wants if he deems it necessary to his teams success.
Conte’s attitude towards his tactical management is seemingly systematic of managers today, where pragmatism is laid aside in place of individual ego.
Many a manager in football today will refuse to concede that their ideas may not be as bulletproof as they thought, and their failure to adapt will see them replaced. Arsene Wenger, while still with Arsenal, has often been criticised for being too dogmatic for a club with elite ambition, and it’s believed that his legacy and time with the club ultimately serve as the thin ice that keep Wenger in his job.
In my opinion, the decisions to stick to preferred and practiced tactical decisions comes down purely to ego, and the power of which is given to those in the limelight.
Far too often it seems that an overwhelming percentage of fans will accurately predict issues in tactical arrangement and will realise where changes need to be made. Despite this, the manager will agressively stick with what they know, despite their ‘superior understanding of the game’ not allowing them to realise their own error.
Conte’s sides are often identified by their solidity in defence, their accuracy in short precise passing and their tendency to utilise long balls and direct play when they attack. Setting up his Chelsea team with wing-backs and three central defenders, Conte’s ideas are clear to see. With ball-playing midfielders, fast-paced wingers and a player of Hazard’s ability sitting in the hole, the Belgian should have plenty of space to play with and opportunities aplenty to stretch the defence.
In reality, without enough height and aerial ability in midfield, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois must resort to short goal-kicks without a striker creating a target. Without enough confidence in defence, far too often against Manchester City would Courtois give the ball to the defence, only to receive it back in panic to then launch up-field, to no target.
Although just one example, Conte showed against Manchester City how showing a certain level of dogmatism and refusal to rearrange his tactical approach effectively eliminated his team from the game. Negative performances breed negative results, and effectively choosing to impose a handicap on your team by being stubborn is simply not the way to go.