Will Chelsea manager Antonio Conte drop 3-4-3 system after signing Tiemoue Bakayoko?
Could the signing of Tiemoue Bakayoko herald a switch in formation for Antonio Conte's Chelsea, wonders Dan Levene.
Smiling broadly, and towering over his diminutive parents, Tiemoue Bakayoko painted a picture in blue which seemed to finally justify the tortuous process that had led to his signing for Chelsea.
Beyond the complex network of advisers and agents, all of whom seemed to want a piece of the deal that took him out of AS Monaco, the pride was written clearly on his father's face that the 22-year-old was set to become a linchpin for Antonio Conte's Chelsea.
And that is precisely what he will be.
Bakayoko brings a dynamic to the Blues which they have not truly had in their armoury since the days when Michael Essien was arguably the world's greatest midfielder.
The Frenchman is a fair way off that standard, but his displays for Monaco have shown that he is considerably more than 'just' a defensive midfielder.
In addition to his ability to break-up play, he has a driving presence on the pitch that has called to mind in some observers the box-to-box abilities of Patrick Viera.
FOOTBALL 2004-05 FA Cup Arsenal's Patrick Vieira lifts trophyPA Photos
It had been hoped, upon his return, that Nemanja Matic may be able to offer something of that ilk – though he has struggled to make an impact in Conte's 3-4-3, and looks certain to be departing for pastures new very shortly.
Bakayoko has taken Matic's place on the flight to Chelsea's pre-season: against Arsenal in Beijing; and versus Bayern and Inter in the International Champions Cup, in Singapore.
He will be the man in the middle, alongside N'Golo Kante, that much is certain. But will we see a change to the on-pitch furniture surrounding him as a result?
Most have assumed Conte will continue with his plan for three at the back: a formation which has very much become the in-thing, with other clubs aping it as the last season wore on.
But, with a more mobile foil to Kante, could Chelsea be better served by a more forward-weighted formation?
Many talked abut Conte's favour for the three-at-the-back model before he arrived in London, and he has certainly used it as a ploy elsewhere during his career.
Chelsea's N'Golo Kante celebrates scoring their first goal with Cesar AzpilicuetaReuters
“Then I started that system with Juventus, went to 4-3-3 and eventually arrived at 3-5-2 because I had players better adapted for that system.
" But it's not my ‘preferred’ system. My preferred system is the one that permits my team to win."
4-2-4 is very much out of fashion in England, though the same could have been said of 3-4-3 just 12 months ago – and now everybody wants to try it.
And there were certainly occasions during Chelsea's season when Conte lapsed into 4-2-4 for stages of games.
It requires players to be very well drilled – which is something Conte worked tirelessly on for the whole of his debut Premier League title-winning season.
And its effectiveness lies largely in offering, at turns, six men in defence, and then six in attack: with the two in the middle forming part of each unit as the game dictates.
Antonio ConteGetty Images
The noises Conte has made about the need for Kante to turn supplier have been both noted, and heeded, as his Chelsea career has developed.
Now, with Bakayoko, he has for the first time access to a true box-to-box operator: making this formation a true working possibility.
Conte, fond as he is of talking tactics and formations, is also notoriously reluctant to give anything away about either.
Which is why these coming fixtures – in Beijing and, even more so in Singapore – will be fascinating, for revealing just how Bakayoko fits into Conte's new jigsaw.