CHELSEA ANALYSIS: A PERFECT START? NO! IMPOSSIBLE TO PREDICT? YES!
*SPOILER ALERT* CHELSEA HAVE SURPRISED US SO FAR THIS SEASON!
Yes, sound the klaxon. A youthful Chelsea, mixed with an inexperienced manager and a huge needle injection filled with Roman Abramovich’s Russian bills has been, well, surprising? It may have only been 3 games under this new-look Chelsea, and it really is far too early to take any serious judgements away, but Lampard’s tactical setup has been so far out of the box that nobody knows what they’re doing.
Some will look to this and criticise it. “Lampard doesn’t know what he’s doing”, “Fat Frank at it again with the clueless setup”. Now, while it is fair enough to be confused by what Chelsea are doing, just a bit of context and understanding helps to clear it up a little bit. Or, alternatively, Chelsea really are struggling to bed these signings in and Lampard is desperate. But, the club have signed undoubted quality in abundance this summer and they will come good. They will.
So, let’s address the dumbo sized elephant in the room. Chelsea are playing without Thiago Silva, Ben Chilwell, Hakim Ziyech and a new goalkeeper. Of the two signings that we have seen, Havertz has been in England for two weeks. This isn’t the Chelsea that we will see in the weeks and months to come, it simply isn’t. Excuses? Maybe. But, true? Very.
Lampard is trying to implement an even more free flowing system, trying new tactics, with a team that it simply isn’t designed for. Energetic fullbacks with Marcos Alonso, no thank you. Inside forwards and inverted wingers with midfielders, no, try again. On paper, what Chelsea are trying, just doesn’t fit with what is available, but that isn’t reason to criticise Lampard, it’s an excuse to be excited about what will be to come.
What have we seen in game?
As seen from the average position map from Chelsea vs Brighton on matchweek 1, the adopted formation was 4-2-3-1, as expected. However, due to the nature of the game, Chelsea’s position map is different to how they set up, especially in possession.
On the ball, the Blues often adopted a variant of 4-4-2, with Werner supported by Ruben Loftus-Cheek up front. Mount and Havertz reverted to wide midfield positions and Jorginho and Kante in the centre of the pitch. Due to Chelsea’s lack of fluidity in playing from the back they were forced to play long, hence using Loftus-Cheek’s 6’3ft frame. This was a widely picked apart tactic from fans on Twitter who claimed Chelsea had ran out of ideas, but it was almost certainly part of Lampard’s game plan. Especially when it’s taken into account that Brighton used 3 tall centre backs; playing a direct, long ball game to Werner against Ben White, Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster wasn’t going to work, up steps Loftus-Cheek.
In isolation this could have been a one off tactic used to combat Brighton’s physical presence in defence, but when Lampard chose to use Havertz in a similar role against Liverpool, it sparked a light bulb that said this could be a longer term tactic.
Sidenote, this could be something used by the Blue’s while waiting for and integrating players into the squad, it might also just be a tactic worked on for when playing against dominant defenders (eg. Brighton’s 3-back or Van Dijk at Liverpool), meanwhile, it could also be a tactic used specifically when Werner is playing. I’ll say it again, Lampard has options, so we just don’t know yet.
More analysis of player movement
This is what we saw for the periods in which Chelsea were transitioning into attack quickly and directly against Brighton. Although Loftus-Cheek had a poor game, it was easy to understand the game plan.
Against Liverpool, whether tactically or not, Lampard chose to play Mateo Kovacic instead of Loftus-Cheek, therefore suring up the Blue’s midfield defensively and also speeding up their transition and smoothness in moving from defence into attack while on the ball. However, come the Liverpool game, there was another slight change in set up. Havertz, who had previously operated on the right wing, became the man to support Werner up front in the first half before Christensen’s red card.
Looking at the first half only, Chelsea again moved into a 4-4-2 shape, however, it wasn’t uncommon for Werner to drift very wide towards the left and for Mount to operate centrally himself. Although it looks wrong on paper, this position in a counter attack wasn’t uncommon in game.
From this, it is evident that Chelsea were focusing on exploiting Werner’s pace and getting him one-on-one with either Robertson on the halfway line or Fabinho in the Liverpool defensive half. Also, with Chelsea unlikely to control large periods of the game it would be an effective tactic to use in this sort of game, one in which an overload against an attack heavy side like Liverpool can be exploited to their advantage. Another part of this tactic was using their stronger attacking fullback, Reece James, on the opposite side in case they did have a chance to extend an attack.
As stated before, this may not be long term or it might be, it could be something we continue to see when Pulisic and Ziyech are playing or it could not and it may or may not work even with everyone fit, but one thing is for certain, this is new and unexpected.
It brings shades of how Spurs used to line up with Dele Ali as a wide midfielder that came inside to allow two strikers up front. It’s a hard system to perfect but if it works it can be deadly.
One final point.
Again, just a small thing from the Brighton game which could easily go unnoticed but was tactically outlandish from Lampard. Towards the end of the game, out of possession, Chelsea pressed with a 4-4-2, but, the two players taking up the striker positions were Ross Barkley and Mason Mount. This left Werner on the left of midfield and Hudson-Odoi on the right. Even if nothing else, this shows just how flexible they can be in and out of possession of the ball throughout a game. This frees up Werner and Hudson-Odoi to run inside and outside to attack and it also allows any member of the front 4 to make the decision as to how the attack plays out. Any single movement from them can trigger the others in a completely unreadable play. This is the Chelsea to expect this season.
Unpredictable. New. Innovative.