We've seen Antonio Conte change tactics and formations before. Well, last season that was the case. This year? Eh, not so much. Conte has stuck with his 3-5-2 formation no matter what players were available to him and who the opponent on the field has been.
Subtle changes, sure, but nothing like last season's multiple shifts from 4-2-4 to 4-3-3 to 3-5-2 all within a two- or three-month period. That was until Conte made the switch against Lazio this past Monday to a new formation: 3-5-1-1. With only three strikers available to be called up, it was a logical move by Conte, as he moved Claudio Marchisio up the field in a supporting role behind Mirko Vucinic and Paul Pogba coming into the starting lineup.
It wasn't exactly a bold move, but it was a smart move considering the circumstances that were presented to Conte in Rome. But because of that, it's brought up in interesting decision for Il Mister: Should the current formation — and the starting lineup that comes with it — stick around for the rest of the season?
Why am I all for it? It's pretty simple, really.
1. Pogba starting no matter what the formation is can be described as a good thing simply because he's freaking awesome.
2. Marchisio's tactical awareness allows him to adapt to a more advanced role and keeps him in the starting lineup at the same time.
Marchisio is playing this advanced role superbly, isn't he?— Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) April 15, 2013
I understand that it was just one game, the ultimate small sample size, but the link-up play between Marchisio and Mirko Vucinic was better than some of people — myself included — thought it could be (even though we wanted Conte to use it against Bayern Munich). I thought being a lone striker could mean Vucinic would have trouble getting involved in the build up and be totally isolated without another striker supporting him. But it was the complete opposite of that.
Will that be enough to convince Conte that the 3-5-1-1 is a feasible option? I don't know. But what I do know is that going with this formation brings a new element to the squad that it didn't have before. And if you're thinking "Pobga, Paul," then you're correct.
The added element of Pogba obviously gives Juve more of a presence in the midfield. And, as Mr. Zonal Marking pointed out on his Twitter feed later in the Juve-Lazio game, having more midfielders allows Conte to play even more of a possession game than before. And while Vucinic is the only outright goalscorer on the field in the 3-5-1-1, Juve created plenty of chances against Lazio — a team that is not only a good side, but one that had given Conte's men plenty of trouble in their previous meetings this season.
And let's be honest: With an 11-point lead in Serie A at the moment, Conte has the luxury of having room to play with. A possible draw against Milan over the weekend won't be the end of the world or completely shatter Juve's Scudetto hopes. Three points is obviously the target as it is going into every game, but something other than that won't be the end of the world.
Going forward — translation: next season — who knows which direction in terms of a formation Conte will decide to venture towards. But for now, the options are open to Conte to either go back to two strikers like has been the case for pretty much every game so far this season or just use Vucinic as the only only one with Marchisio supporting him.
Either way, it seems pretty certain that Juventus will line up with a three-man defense against Milan on Sunday. Other than that, it's a 'wait until the starting lineups are announced' kind of situation.