When Antonio Conte was winning three consecutive Serie A titles with Juventus between 2011 and 2014, the makeup of his three-man midfield became a footprint of his success.
Whatever personnel the former Italy manager selected, there were always clear traits in the roles the trio performed.
Andrea Pirlo enjoyed a glimmering twilight as the side’s deep-lying playmaker. Arturo Vidal was the bulldozing whirlwind tasked with covering as many blades of grass as he could, while either Paul Pogba or Claudio Marchisio was given license to join the attack.
At Chelsea it’s becoming clear that Conte is trying to replicate that formula, but with one glaring omission.
N’Golo Kante has been cast as the side’s Tasmanian Devil, while Oscar breaks forward to supplement the front three whenever he can. But with Nemanja Matic in the side, there is nobody mirroring the vital role Pirlo played in those Scudetto campaigns.
There is a player in the squad capable of it, but so far Cesc Fabregas has not been afforded a single Premier League start by his new boss.
Just two substitute appearances and a total of 26 minutes of action has many in the gossip-penning business suggesting the former Arsenal and Barcelona man will be sold this winter, but that would be an act of lunacy on Conte’s part.
Eventually Chelsea are going to need the tempo-controlling skills Fabregas provides. He did, after all, change the game when sent on in the 78th minute against Watford with the Blues trailing and dominating the ball. So he’s not useless to the cause.
However, it’s quite possible that, at the moment, Conte is opting for security over creativity as he acclimatises to the Premier League.
That preference doesn’t make Chelsea an unimaginative bore either, because rather than their primary method of creating chances coming from a central area, they originate from the blurry feet of Eden Hazard instead.
The Belgian’s status as Chelsea’s best player means the system is designed around him. So if Conte wants to harness Hazard’s talent but keep things tight at the back, then compensating for the 25-year-old’s famed indifference for tracking back is a must. That’s where Matic comes in.
There is another major difference between these early Chelsea selections and the majority of Conte’s Juventus XIs. In Italy the 47-year-old used a back-three, but has so far stuck to a flat-back-four in London.
Playing a trio of centre-backs would probably see Fabregas usurp Matic in the side because the additional defender is taking over the Serb’s responsibilities. But that then means Hazard would play as a wing-back and there’s all manner of defensive terrors that come as a result.
So for now Fabregas must sit on the bench until Conte is comfortable in his team’s solidity to start games with him an Hazard together.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.