Football NewsTuesday 18th October 2016

Jermaine Jenas: Antonio Conte is the ideal man to manage Chelsea's transition

Jermaine Jenas: Antonio Conte is the ideal man to manage Chelsea's transition

Antonio Conte laughed off the rumours circulating last week that he was set to be sacked by Chelsea. He wasn't the only one - I'm certain it was all nonsense.

But then again, Roman Abramovich does come across as a controlling character who sees himself as the main man at Stamford Bridge.

In Conte, he has appointed someone equally strong-minded, so I wouldn't be surprised if the pair did clash. Conte is anything but a yes man, but right now he is exactly what the Blues need.

Shaking up the squad

I've been very impressed by the Italian since he arrived in west London after Euro 2016. It always takes a bit of time for a manager to stamp their authority on a club - and patience in invariably required - but the signs are increasing that Conte is the right man for the job.

For one, he's very quickly managed to get the best out of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa. When these two key men were struggling last season, you knew they hadn't just become bad players overnight. But even Guus Hiddink, who is an excellent man manager, was unable to get them back to where they were the season before. Conte did it almost instantly.

Meanwhile, he's had a good look at the rest of Chelsea's squad and decided what he wants and needs. Victor Moses, for example, has played for everyone except Chelsea over the past few seasons, but Conte is using him as a wing-back with impressive results.

It shows he is a manager who is prepared to give everyone a chance - he doesn't go by reputation. Doing that at a club like Chelsea can be tough, but it tells the players they are dealing with a strong character who believes in what he sees on the training pitch. For a player like Moses, that's a blessing.

I don't think Chelsea will challenge for the title. The reality is that they face a battle just to finish in the top four. Right now Arsenal, along with Manchester City, Tottenham and Liverpool, all seem to have the edge on them.

But that's not Conte's fault. The Blues are, essentially, in the same kind of transition period that Manchester United faced when Alex Ferguson left Old Trafford, with a lot of older players at the club.

Performances and results in this phase are bound to be irregular, and that's exactly what's been happening to the Blues already this season.

Shoring up the defence

The Chelsea players seem to be buying into what Conte wants to do, especially in the last two matches against Hull and Leicester.

Since the dismal 3-0 defeat at Arsenal, Conte has employed a 3-4-3 system, the same as he used when managing Italy and Juventus. I don't think he is a slave to that system; it's more of a case of him realising that it's the right set-up with the personnel he has.

Conte initially had some success with a 4-2-3-1 formation, but it soon dawned on him that the side he inherited in the summer was more defensively fragile than he might have expected.

David Luiz of Chelsea

He has responded not only by playing three at the back, but also by also using two midfield 'enforcers' in Nemanja Matic and N'Golo Kante. He has set his stall out to eradicate Chelsea's soft centre.

At the moment he's playing Cesar Azpilicueta on the right side of that three, with Gary Cahill in the middle and David Luiz on the left. He's unlikely to change that while the Blues keep winning. But in time, John Terry will surely be back at the heart of that defence.

Playing in a three should suit the captain best of all, especially because - and people don't give him nearly enough respect for this - he's probably the best ball-playing defender in the league. If you can find a better passer with both feet, I'd like to see them. A role in the middle of that back three would be ideal for Terry.

Winning the youth vote

The final promising sign from Conte's Chelsea at the weekend was his choice of substitutes. Nathaniel Chalobah, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ola Aina - all young, all English and all products of the Blues' academy - were given run-outs in the 3-0 win against Leicester.

The Blues' youth set-up, and especially their loan system, has been much criticised in the past. Personally, I don't see a problem with loaning young players out because it gets them valuable experience.

But the problem, as a young Chelsea player, is that there has been no one in the Blues' first team to inspire them, because none of these players have made the step up.

Nathaniel Chalobah of Chelsea and Diego Costa embrace

That's why it's so refreshing to see some of them being trusted. It means all those young players out on loan will feel they finally have a Chelsea manager who believes in them and is prepared to give them a chance. Otherwise, you couldn't blame them for wondering whether Arsenal and Tottenham are better places to be.

This approach isn't just good for Chelsea; it's also the only way the England national team will improve. Of all the clubs I thought we might see promote some youngsters this season, I didn't think it would be Chelsea.

The Blues are still a work in progress. Conte hasn't got the players he wants yet  - you can bet David Luiz wasn't his number one defensive target, for example - and it will take a couple more transfer windows until he does. Right now, he's simply working with what he's got. The encouraging thing for Chelsea is that, even though this isn't a proper Conte team yet, he's already improved them.

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