What is Antonio Conte’s style of play? Tactics of Italian coach explained

Antonio Conte Inter 2020-21Getty

Antonio Conte has earned a reputation as a 'tactical genius' in a coaching career that has seen him at the helm of Juventus, Chelsea and Inter, as well as the Italy national team.

Eden Hazard provided some insight into Conte's precision and attention to detail in 2017 when the pair worked together at Chelsea, telling Sky Sports: "In tactics and training we do more with Conte. We work a lot of tactical positions and we know exactly what we have to do on the pitch, where I have to go and where the defenders have to go."

So what is the Italian coach's style of play and which systems does he use? Goal brings you everything you need to know.

What is Antonio Conte's style of play?

Antonio Conte's teams are often described as playing with a counter-attacking style, but while the Italian utilises the counter-attack, it would be unfair to suggest his teams are particularly defensive.

In his first interview after taking over as Tottenham first-team coach in November 2021, Conte explained his desire is to create a team that plays "attractive football" and works hard to win.

"My coaching philosophy is very simple: to play good football and attractive football for our fans, to have a stable team - not up and down," he told Spurs TV. "I think that the fans deserve to have a competitive team with a will to fight."

His preferred tactics have generally revolved around having three defenders, two wing-backs, one or two midfielders who can orchestrate play while possessing energy to provide defensive cover, and inside forwards who support an advanced striker.

In the attacking phases, the wing-backs push forward in order to overload opposition full-backs, while in defensive phases the wing-backs drop in to help the centre-backs and form a back five.

Conte teams tend to be quite direct in their possession play and build-up, getting the ball to the strikers quickly or using the width provided by wingers.

However it should be noted that the coach has shown an impressive ability to tailor approaches for particular teams, while also being adept at tweaking tactics based on opponents' strengths and weaknesses during games.

"I try to give, first of all, a good balance in my team," the Italian told BBC Sport in 2017 when he was Chelsea manager. "Don't reduce offensively, but defend situations correctly."

What tactics does Antonio Conte use?

Conte tends to prefer tactical systems with three at the back, so he has used 3-5-2 and 3-4-3 at different points in his career.

During his time as Inter head coach, Conte used a 3-5-2 formation with Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez forming a lethal partnership in the forward line, backed up by Christian Eriksen and Marcelo Brozovic. 

In their 2020-21 Scudetto-winning campaign, Conte's 3-5-2 formation ensured the Nerazzurri became the strongest team defensively and also one of the top-scoring in Serie A (second only to Gian Piero Gasperini's swashbuckling Atalanta).

At Chelsea, Conte initially used 4-2-4 but eventually switched to 3-4-3 (in reality more of a 3-4-2-1) because they were conceding too many chances. The turning point came during a defeat to Arsenal and it would prove to be a stroke of genius on Conte's part as the Blues swept to Premier League glory that year.

"We started the season with another system because the idea in my mind was that I wanted to play with the 4-2-4, and then we switched with 4-3-3 and we played also in the same way like last year, 4-2-3-1," the Italian explained in a 2016 interview with Chelsea's official website.

"I noticed in some circumstances we didn't have the right balance because when you concede more goals than your opponent and even more chances to score a goal, it is never a good thing. 

"For this reason, we switched to the new system of 3-4-3 and I think this is a good fit for our squad because also we have the strikers adapted for this system. I thought it would improve us offensively as well as defensively and we didn't lose our offensive situation. 

"In this way we have increased it because we scored many goals and created a lot of chances to score the goals and also if you maintain the clean sheet, I think this is the right way."

What type of coach is Antonio Conte?

Conte is a coach with a keen eye for detail who attempts to prepare his players for a wide variety of different possibilities, and he demands that they follow his instructions to the letter.

He is a passionate character who is not afraid to show his emotions on the sidelines when managing his team.

In a 2015 Sky Sports discussion with Thierry Henry, Conte gave some insight into his coaching methods, joking that he would "prefer to kill" a player who had a bad attitude than to include him in his squad.

"If the manager doesn't want to see the bad situation, he loses the changing room," said the former Juventus boss.

He can be said to come from the Giovanni Trapattoni school of coaching, having played under the veteran Italian coach at Juve and for Italy.

When asked in 2019 by Sky Sport in Italy if he felt there were any similarities between him and Trapattoni, Conte said: "Yes. Saying things directly, with great frankness. 

"'Trap' also preferred to tell a bad truth rather than a good lie. I belong to that type of coach. I don't like to make fun of players also because it was the thing I hated most when I was a player. I have always preferred a straightforward, direct relationship."

However, while Conte has a reputation for being stern and demanding of his players, he does have a sense of humour, having been pictured engaging in a play boxing fight with Lautaro Martinez while at Inter.

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