When Roberto Di Matteo took over last season at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea were using primarily a 4-2-3-1 shape. Di Matteo didn't rock the boat, instead opting to continue using that approach for the remainder of the season. Di Matteo was then rewarded for doing so well with the 4-2-3-1 with a two year contract to manage one of the largest clubs on the planet. The buying began, and most fans immediately started plugging Chelsea's newest acquisitions into the 4-2-3-1. As we finished the season in that formation, this makes some sense. At some point though this starts to become a little unfair to Di Matteo, as it assumes that he's either unable or unwilling to alter the tactics we used last year.
While we were buying, there seemed to be some confusion as to how we were going to manage to utilize all of the players we were adding. Kevin De Bruyne finalized his move, and Chelsea was bringing him into the fold for the first time. Marko Marin seemed an obvious fit, as Chelsea clearly needed attacking talent on the wings. Eden Hazard would seem to fill the same hole as the first two, but it would be hard to find fault with adding such an elite young talent even when there was seemingly less of a need than there was only weeks prior. After all, players with the ability of Hazard just don't come available everyday.
Then Chelsea bought Oscar. Oscar was a bit of an unknown. For most of his young career, Oscar had played in an advanced role. He's only 20 and has shown fantastic passing range though, so it wasn't unreasonable to assume that Di Matteo was planning to use the youngster in a more withdrawn role. If viewed as such, than move still looked to suit the 4-2-3-1. Chelsea weren't done yet though, adding Victor Moses as yet another option for the wings. Things were starting to look silly, as Chelsea were now absolutely bursting with attacking talent.
Those who weren't sold on Oscar in the double pivot were concerned. They wanted reinforcement to Chelsea band of two. Instead of this though, we saw Chelsea subtract in that department, loaning Michael Essien and then selling Raul Meireles. The immediate reaction I see from most fans would indicate that Chelsea are now putting all their eggs in the Ramires/Oscar basket for the double pivot. They may be right, but I don't think they are.
Going back to the Seattle game of the pre-season, Di Matteo mentioned that Chelsea were practicing in a trio of different formations in advance of the new season. He did not, however, fill us in on what exactly those formations looked like. With Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel, it would seem logical that we'll still likely see a fair amount of the 4-2-3-1 this season. Without Meireles or Essien now, it would also seem likely that we'll be seeing several other formations as well.
Like most of you, I'm a bit concerned about the decisions to let both Meireles and Essien go at this point in the season. I'm more than willing to reserve judgement though, as I feel this is another real opportunity for Roberto Di Matteo to show me what he can do. We gave Robbie an awfully tough task last spring, and he came through with ridiculous success by winning both the FA Cup and Champions League with the same squad that AVB seemed incapable of motivating. I don't think too many of doubted at that point if Robbie was a capable manager, and I don't think we should doubt him now either. With that in mind, I don't think many would believe a capable manager could only succeed with a single set of tactics.
We're only a handful of games into the new season, and we've yet to play a single game since we let either of the midfielders go. When we take the field on September 15th, we're going to have more talent at our disposal than our opposition will. That will be the case in nearly every fixture we play this season. Kudos to Michael Emenalo and Roman Abramovich for a job well done in that regard.
Di Matteo's job is simply to best utilize that talent to get results. Last season he did so using the 4-2-3-1. This season he'll likely do that from time to time as well. He'll likely play some 4-4-1-1, as our personnel would seem well suited to such a system. We'd also seem to be relatively well suited to the occasional 4-3-2-1 and 4-3-3 formations, as both Oscar and Ramires should plug relatively seamlessly into those shapes.
Even when we still had Essien and Meireles, we never seemed to be set up perfectly to operate in a 4-2-3-1. We didn't have midfielders that really transitioned the ball from defense to attack, and moving those two hasn't changed that fact. I think it's safe to assume that Di Matteo was in the loop as far as both moves were concerned, and judging by the fact that both moves eventually happened, I'd guess he was more or less ok with both of them.
Di Matteo now has a chance to prove his quality to all of us. By effectively using the talent that Michael Emenalo has given him, he can both help us to be successful now as well as set us up for years to come. We still have depth that most clubs could never dream of having, and much of that depth is of the young, attacking variety that many complain that we never use. We've given Di Matteo a perfect opportunity to both use the youngsters and break away from the tactics Mourinho installed, so let's give him the opportunity to do so before we start complaining to loudly about losing a pair of good but not great players. Watch a few games, see how Di Matteo uses his new squad, and then make judgement on what exactly we need.