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Predicted Chelsea lineup against Atletico Madrid: Safe and sound in a 3-5-2

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Chelsea FC v Qarabag FK - UEFA Champions League Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

The biggest test of the season awaits Conte & Co. on Wednesday night at the Vicente Calderon Wanda Metropolitano, as Chelsea take on La Liga powerhouse Atletico Madrid. Atleti may not be on the same level as Real Madrid or Barcelona, but they are very close and, at least so far this season, have proven to be one of the toughest teams to beat in all of Europe.

Diego Simeone’s 4-4-2/4-3-3 hybrid system is working as well as it ever has at the moment, making life difficult for any opponent with their relentless and agressive pressing, narrow and compact block, and (often) clinical counter-attacks. As Filipe Luis alluded to in recent comments, the players are comfortable in the system and the chemistry in the team is palpable. On the weekend, they conceded over 60 per cent of the possession to visiting Seville yet still won comfortably, 2-0.

Even if the attack turns a bit less clinical (no Diego Costa yet!), Atleti’s defending prowess usually ensures at least a share of the points. And that is perhaps what Chelsea should be aiming for. Conte will undoubtedly claim to go to Madrid and aim for the win, but a solid draw would be almost as satisfying.

With David Luiz available, the back three should be at its strongest possible, Rudiger preferred to Cahill to try to contain Atleti’s mobile and quick forwards. Given a lack of options on the left, Marcos Alonso has to play, but we should be able to give Davide Zappacosta the start on the right and save Moses for the weekend’s big game against Manchester City. Filipe Luis is having a rather excellent season once again for Atleti, so Zappa will have his work cut out for him.

Assuming that both Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard start, and N’Golo Kante slots in as usual, the big decision that Conte will have to make is the shape of his midfield and the remaining two starting spots. We could play it fairly standard, with Pedro (or Willian) and Bakayoko. Or we could get a bit more adventurous and start Fabregas instead of the latter. Or, and this is what I’d guess we’re going to try, we start Fabregas instead of Pedro. This gives a de facto 3-5-2 shape (though sometimes written as a 3-4-3 with Cesc in the front line), which is what we’ve played in two of the three away games so far. Depending on how the game plays out, Fabregas could play either in front or in behind the other two midfielders — whichever option gets us to control the midfield is the one we need to switch to in-game.

If we control the midfield and contain the counter-attacking danger as much as possible, we should be able to get that all-important draw, or win with a bit of luck.

3-5-2:
Courtois | Rudiger, David Luiz, Azpilicueta | Alonso, Kante, Fabregas, Bakayoko, Zappacosta | Hazard, Morata

The WAGNH community’s preference is right along the same lines, though with Moses just barely beating out Zappacosta 51%-to-43%. While the 3-4-3 still technically wins out in the lineup selection, Fabregas is clearly preferred to Pedro (61% vs. 44%) and thus would organically switch to a 3-5-2 in-game anyway.

3-4-3 (53%):
Courtois (99%) | Rudiger (65%), David Luiz (88%), Azpilicueta (97%) | Alonso (94%), Kante (98%), Bakayoko (81%), Moses (51%) | Hazard (94%), Morata (97%), Fabregas (61%)