Antonio Conte's January Targets: Why Defence is More Important than Attack

When Antonio Conte took charge of Chelsea and dropped points at Swansea before losing to both Liverpool and Arsenal within his first six ...

When Antonio Conte took charge of Chelsea and dropped points at Swansea before losing to both Liverpool and Arsenal within his first six games, almost everyone in the football world wrote him off. With perennial rivals storming ahead in the Premier League and losses a rarity in the top five, Conte looked almost dead and buried before he'd even got going.

In fact, things didn't get much better for the Italian when he decided to employ a 3-4-3 system. Often maligned by football supporters, the tactical change looked like a shot in the dark by a man who feared his job was on the line (despite signing a three-year contract). However, as they say, football is a funny old game and thanks to seven Premier League wins on the bounce (including victories over Man United and Tottenham), he's now being hailed as a genius.

More Wins Means More Money for Conte.

With Chelsea top of the league after 13 games, Conte has just been handed even more cash to spend in the January transfer window and it looks as though he's going to use it. Indeed, despite an impressive record in recent weeks, it's hard to ignore the fact that Chelsea slipped up against two important rivals earlier in the season.

Yes, the team is playing better now with plenty scored (29) and just a few conceded (10), but there's always room for improvement. When Chelsea lost to Liverpool (2-1) and Arsenal (3-0), it was the defensive line that looked the most vulnerable. However, according to reports, Conte is aiming to bolster his attack in the New Year. Forward James Rodriguez and midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia are reportedly the Italian's top two targets in January.

Rodriguez is currently at loggerheads with Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, and an extended spell on the bench could persuade him to leave Spain for the UK. But, with the Colombian under contract until 2020 and a price tag of £63 million back in 2014, it will likely cost Chelsea a pretty penny if they want to sign him. 

Costa Firing on All Cylinders

Diego Costa is currently the leading scorer in the Premier League, while Eden Hazard has been chipping in with his fair share of goals in stark contrast to the shadow of a player he had become last season. That kind of strike rate from the men at the front suggests that Chelsea might be ok without the services of Costa in January if Real Madrid demand silly money for him. In fact, if you look at the current weight of public opinion, Chelsea might not need anyone at all.

The current betting line at Sun Bets has Chelsea as the joint favourites with Man City for the league. The 2/1 odds are an improvement on the 4/1+ ratings the Blues received earlier in the season, which certainly stands as a testament to Conte's skills as a manager. However, it's important to note that Chelsea aren't the clear betting favourites. In fact, they're not even clear leaders at this stage in the season.

Just a single point separates Chelsea from Liverpool and Man City, but one stat could mean this lead is easily overturned. Chelsea have lost two this season and the only reason they're currently top is the chasing pack's apparent fondness for draws. At this stage in the season, Conte's men appear to be an all or nothing side: either they win or they lose. Walking a tightrope like this can prove costly, especially if injuries and suspensions kick in.

Defence More Important for League Success

With this in mind, it appears as though a midfield signing would be a solid investment. While it seems as though there's little need for Conte to pay over the odds for a forward like Rodriguez (especially when Costa is in top form), there's always a need for some stability in the middle of the park. With the 3-4-3 formation now putting more emphasis on the team's engine room, a player like Inter's Kondogbia could be important.

An untimely injury to the likes of Kante or Matic could leave Chelsea vulnerable in the post-Christmas melee, which is why Conte could make a move for Kondogbia. Although the signs are that he's unhappy at Inter and eyeing up a summer move, Chelsea's recent form and title push could be enough to persuade the 23-year-old to join now.

If the Blues were able to secure his services, he could not only become an asset this season, but a long-term prospect for the club. Although injuries and form have hampered his progress at Inter this season, the defensive midfielder has made five appearances for France and looks to be one for the future. Of course, a lot can happen between now and "the future", but at 6ft 2inches and a raft of experience at the top level, Kondogbia may well become a star in the next few years.

If that's the case and Chelsea can sign him now, it may prove to be a shrewd investment both this season and going forward. While many fans would say there's not much point upsetting the apple cart when things are going well, Chelsea are far from invincible, and some signings would certainly help. Although a flashy forward would be entertaining, the smart money in this case would be on a defensively-minded midfielder like Kondogbia.

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