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Predicted Chelsea line-up against Southampton: Back to the 343?

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Chelsea vs. Southampton, Premier League: Predicted lineup

Southampton v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images


Antonio Conte, much to everyone’s surprise but especially those who had proclaimed loud and clear that he was suddenly washed up and devoid of new ideas, unveiled a brand new twist on the 3-4-3/3-5-2 formation family on Thursday, marrying his trend-setting three-man defence with an old school front two of “pure” strikers. Apparently not since 2011, with Drogba and Torres have Chelsea fielded two actual strikers in a pair (as opposed to a striker on the wing, like Rémy would play on occasion).

Drogba and Torres didn’t play much together in their 18 months as teammates at Stamford Bridge, which is all we need to know about how that experiment turned out. Giroud and Morata didn’t exactly light the world on fire either against Burnley — similar to how the first run-out of the fabled 3-4-3 was an underwhelming performance in a 2-0 win over Hull City in 2016 with Willian and Costa scoring identical curling efforts from the top of the box — but they showed good link-up and understanding for a maiden effort.

Conte hinted at further use of this setup in the near future, but whether that means Sunday’s semifinal against Southampton is very much up for debate. The central issue, even if we ignore the short rest is that this version of the 3-5-2 doesn’t have an obvious role for Eden Hazard. It utilizes neither a shadow striker (like the 3-5-1-1 seen earlier this season) or a no.10, as a more generic 3-5-2 setup might. Against Burnley, both Pedro and Bakayoko played advanced midfielders, putting in effort and work at both ends of the pitch. While Willian could conceivably fill a similar role, it’s tough to see Hazard deployed there. It’s not an obvious fit for Fàbregas either.


Having said that, the predicted line-up for tomorrow's FA Cup semi-final will revolve around this two striker 3-5-2, as I believe this should be our starting formation until the end of the season. Conte may yet go for the more mundane and expected 3-4-3, but having just faced Saints last weekend, another tactical surprise could be useful.

In either case, the goalkeeper and defence choose themselves — unless Caballero! — with Christensen returning to the starting eleven. At wing back, Moses and Emerson should retain their places after impressing on Thursday. The former was named Man of the Match against Burnley; the latter was useful with his crosses which the right-footed Zappacosta wouldn’t be able to replicate. If Chelsea play two strikers, proper delivery into the box will be of paramount importance.

And now the big decision, the midfield. Yes, I've dropped Eden Hazard. So, my predicted line-up is:

Courtois | Rüdiger, Christensen, Azpilicueta | Emerson, Kante, Bakayoko, Willian, Moses | Morata, Giroud


The WAGNH community’s preferred line-up was basically an even split between 3-4-3 and 3-5-2, with the latter formation ahead early in the voting, but the former making a comeback to just nick it, 37%-to-36%. This is probably the safer solution. Morata finished with just 50% of the vote while Bakayoko rose to an impressive (for him) 42%. We definitely don’t want to see Zappacosta, with just 20% of respondents picking him.

3-4-3 (36%):
Courtois (79%) | Rüdiger (86%), Christensen (77%), Azpilicueta (98%) | Emerson (89%), Kanté (100%), Fàbregas (54%), Moses (76%) | Hazard (96%), Giroud (83%), Willian (71%)