With the recent departures of Essien and Meireles, a lot of debate has been going on around WAGNH on the topic of formations and our current squad. Since the transfer window is now closed, and Chelsea have released their official squad lists, I’m going to take a look today at two popular formations and break down the benefits / negatives associated with both the 4-3-3 and the 4-2-3-1, given Chelsea’s current squad. Full breakdown after the jump.
Chelsea’s current 4-2-3-1:
For a long while now, Chelsea have been running out a 4-2-3-1 shape that would appear to be Robbie D’s preference (or at least his preference given our personnel and objectives in his time in charge so far). Let’s start off by taking stock:
Primary – Cech ; Backup – Hilario / Turnbull ; Emergency Cover – Blackman
Primary RB – Ivanovic ; Backup RB – Azpilicueta ; Emergency Cover – Ramires
Primary CBs – Terry, Luiz ; Backup – Cahill ; Emergency Cover – Ivanovic , Romeu
Primary Pivot – Lampard , Mikel ; Backup – Romeu ; Emergency Cover – Ramires , Oscar
Primary Band of Three – Mata, Hazard, Ramires ; Backup – Marin , Oscar, Moses ; Emergency Cover – Sturridge , Lampard , Bertrand , Malouda
Primary – Torres ; Backup – Sturridge ; Emergency Cover – Moses , Hazard
Now let’s talk a little bit about the Pros and Cons of this formation for Chelsea. First the Pros: using a 4-2-3-1 tends to provide more defensive coverage for Ash and Ivan when they want to bomb forward, and it also tends to provide more width than a 4-3-3. Mikel seems to have really blossomed in the pivot, and there is some concern that he will regress a bit if we switch back to the 4-3-3. Finally, Torres seems to like the 4-2-3-1, as he seems to work best with a band of three behind him providing service. Now the Cons: We really only have one good proven pivot midfielder (Mikel), or sometimes two when Lampard is having a good day. Romeu is best used as a lone holder in a 4-3-3. Ramires has never been shown to be very good in the pivot, and has only really excelled at Chelsea as a winger or in a 4-3-3. A lot of people think Oscar can partner Mikel in the pivot (given his passing skills and intelligence on the ball), but he has never shown this at an elite level and it might be a bit of a risk to bet our season on him proving himself there. Oscar, historically, has worked best in the band of three or in a 4-3-3. This is not to say that it would be impossible for him to succeed in the pivot, but simply that it’s a risk as he has never done it before.
Chelsea have used the 4-3-3 to great success in the recent past (although AVB’s version of it wasn’t working so well last year), and there have been some calls to go back to the 4-3-3 given our current stock of players. Again, let’s start off by taking stock (note that the keepers and defenders don’t change from the previous formation, so I won’t bother repeating that information):
Primary Lone Holder – Mikel ; Backup – Romeu ; Emergency Cover – Lampard , Ramires , Luiz , Oscar
Primary Box-to-Box CMs – Lampard , Ramires ; Backup – Oscar ; Emergency Cover – Mikel , Malouda , Hazard , (Bertrand?)
Primary Wingers – Mata , Hazard ; Backup – Marin , Moses ; Emergency Cover – Bertrand , Ramires , Malouda , Sturridge , Oscar
Primary CF – Torres ; Backup – Sturridge ; Emergency Cover – Moses , Hazard
Now let’s talk about the pros and cons of this formation. First, the pros: It seems to maximize the potential of our midfielders, especially Lampard, Oscar, Ramires, and Romeu. To be honest, poor Mikel has been playing like something of a lone holder lately anyway, with Lampard showing very little tactical discipline in the early matches of this season. Only, if we switch to a 4-3-3, there will be more structural support for Mikel in this position, and Chelsea won’t be caught out of position as much in the midfield. Further, this benefit to our midfield comes without really any sacrifice to our wingers (Mata and Hazard), as they are very fluid anyway and playing the wings of a 4-3-3 the way they would play them would be very much like how they’ve been playing right now anyway. Further, it seems to me that having five very capable guys for the middle three (Mikel, Romeu, Lampard, Oscar, Ramires) is better than one capable guy and two or three semi-capable guys and one genuinely bad one for the pivot (Mikel, plus Lampard and Romeu, and maybe Oscar, plus Ramires). The cons: Torres would be more isolated up front, which might take him out of his groove and see him revert to the sulky can’t-get-a-shot-on-target Torres. Although with Hazard and Mata flanking him, one would hope that this is far from a definite outcome. Another con is that this would provide less width (as Mata and Hazard tend to float centrally) and would expose Ash and Ivan on the flanks, especially when they bomb forward to provide said width. But with a dedicated lone holder and two very capable center backs, I don’t think this would be a huge problem (except against the bigger teams, in which case a defensive 4-2-3-1 with Ramires and Bertrand on the wings might be the way to go anyway).
So I’ll conclude by saying that, given the information above, it seems to me that Chelsea should think about switching to a 4-3-3 as the default formation, but keep a defensive 4-2-3-1 handy for big matches (especially against either of the Manchester teams or big Champions League games against teams with a lot of attacking talent). What do you guys think? Should Chelsea keep going with a 4-2-3-1, or should Chelsea switch to a 4-3-3? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!