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Re-imagining Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea

A Positional Play Game Model, part 2

Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

Ed.note: Long-time WAGNH member CasablancaBlue8 (now known as CB8 Reborn) a.k.a. (UEFA B qualified) Coach Rafi Alsaed, first published this work on his website in last week. That was before Chelsea’s USA Tour matches, which showcased many of the same issues we saw last season, giving it even more relevance.

This article is a follow-up to Re-imagining Frank Lampard’s Chelsea: A Positional Play Game Model, which was published on WAGNH in October 2020.

When not writing massive blog posts, Coach Rafi is winning trophies with RC Lens London and the Watford Academy. Please do check out his website and give him a follow on Instagram.


Frank Lampard is long gone, having been replaced by Thomas Tuchel, who has systematically revolutionised Chelsea and introduced the team to many of the key positional play elements I laid out in Re-imagining Frank Lampard’s Chelsea: A Positional Play Game Model, in the process achieving significant success.

I’ve watched Tuchel’s tenure with great interest and enjoyment. Tuchel is one of my greatest inspirations as a coach, I studied him extensively while I was doing my UEFA B qualification and I count his Dortmund side as one of my favourite teams in history. I was incredibly excited when Chelsea hired him, not just because it would mean being able to watch one of my inspirations close up, but because I knew it meant Chelsea would have a coach who shared much of my vision on football and would implement many of the ideas I believed this team needed.

A season and a half later, Tuchel has lifted three trophies, including delivering Chelsea the second Champions League in our history. The difference in level from Lampard’s team to Tuchel’s cannot be overstated.

Manchester City v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Final Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

However, to be great is to be unsatisfied and, looking beyond the success, it’s clear not everything has been perfect, especially in recent months. Chelsea’s attack has stuttered and failed to impress, while our once imperious defence is beginning to show consistent weaknesses. On top of that, Chelsea are becoming predictable and not evolving as much as I would have expected after a full season under Tuchel. Granted, there have been mitigating circumstances — a record injury crisis, covid absences and off the field distractions to name a few — that have harmed our momentum.

Nonetheless, it is clear Chelsea still require some extensive work to reach a level where we can consistently challenge Manchester City and Liverpool. Furthermore, many of the players who have been central to Tuchel’s success have either left the club in recent weeks or are getting older and nearing the end of their time at Chelsea, meaning a significant re-build is required.

As such, I feel now is the right time for a follow up piece on Chelsea’s positional play revolution. This blog will not deviate significantly on the first, the vast majority of the ideas I laid out in Part 1 still stand and I would suggest reading that first before delving into this if you haven’t already, especially if you are not familiar with positional play principles.

Part 2 will predominantly offer an update, specifically discussing the roles of some players who we have now had a full season to assess under Tuchel, most notably Chelsea’s attackers. It will also introduce a few new rotations not previously discussed in Part 1, as well as develop some of those previously introduced. Finally, I will also offer a brief comment on Chelsea’s transfer strategy and who I believe the club should target to fully realise this vision.


Norwich City v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

ARE CHELSEA’S CURRENT ATTACKERS GOOD ENOUGH?

José Mourinho once (ed.note: right before he was sacked by Chelsea, the first time) famously said that if you want good omelettes, you need good eggs. While I don’t doubt a man of Mourinho’s many talents could make an excellent omelette, he most certainly wasn’t talking about food but instead footballers, and in particular, having sufficient quality to build a competitive team.

The greatest game model in the world will still flop if the players aren’t good enough to execute it. As such, every tactical plan must begin with an evaluation of the players at hand.

“Omelette, eggs. No eggs, no omelettes. It depends on the quality of the eggs. In the supermarket you have eggs, class one, class two, class three. Some are more expensive than others, and some give you better omelettes. When the class one eggs are in Waitrose and you cannot go there, you have a problem”

-José Mourinho; September 2007

Chelsea’s midfielders, defenders and goalkeepers have excelled under Tuchel’s positional play set up, with several emerging as elite or even world class talents. Édouard Mendy, Antonio Rüdiger, Thiago Silva, Jorghino, N’Golo Kanté, Reece James and Ben Chilwell, among others, have all enjoyed significant success, many almost unrecognisable compared to under Lampard.

While some refreshment is certainly needed in those areas now that some players have departed and others, namely Kanté, Jorginho and Silva, are getting older, and there can be an argument that certain skillsets are missing (e.g. a creative midfielder capable of combing higher up the pitch and creating chances) these have not been the main problem areas under Tuchel.

Instead, our struggles have very much been in attack and you’d be forgiven for thinking those eggs aren’t quite up to the standards of Chelsea’s prime, free range Waitrose variety deeper in the team.

FBL-ENG-PR-TOTTENHAM-CHELSEA Photo by NEIL HALL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

When I wrote part one, nearly all of Chelsea’s attackers were either new signings (Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech), inexperienced academy graduates (Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi), or players only in their second season at Chelsea (Christian Pulisic). At that time, that blog was primarily theoretical, going off their potential or performances at other clubs and in other systems.

Now that we’ve had a bit more opportunity to see these players in action, I think we’re better placed to answer whether these players are in fact good enough and if so, what system and rotations they’d need to excel.

EVALUATING OUR EXISTING TALENT POOL

I strongly believe that you should never evaluate a player purely on how they’re doing in one set up or under one manager. Instead, you need to evaluate them considering their qualities and skillsets. Evaluating much of this squad under Lampard, you’d come away thinking Rüdiger was average, Christensen abysmal, Jorginho a flop, Kanté well past it and Kepa the worst goalkeeper in history. Players need the right system to truly excel, especially in the modern game which is far more tactical and more inter-connected than ever before.

While none of our attackers have necessarily set the world on fire, I do personally believe that, for the most part, they are good enough. Rather than an innate lack of quality, I believe their struggles come from a combination of not being played to their strengths consistently enough, not being played in pairings and units with sufficient balance, and a lack of momentum, with far too much rotation and chopping and changing.

Let’s take Pulisic for example, a player who demonstrated great quality as a left-winger with license to cut in when he got a significant run there under Lampard. He has the pace, dribbling ability, combination quality, tactical versatility and scoring potential to really excel. He has been compared to Eden Hazard when at top form, even being awarded the Chelsea legend’s No.10 shirt. Instead of being used specifically in the role he’s shown the most quality in, this past season Pulisic has featured frequently out of position as a right wing-back or on the wrong side as a right-winger. I cringe every time I see him defending (or trying to) deep inside our half when he should be causing havoc at the other end of the pitch. Coupled with an unfortunate injury record, which has stalled his momentum, we are seeing a shell of the player Pulisic could and probably should be right now.

Crystal Palace v Chelsea FC - Premier League Photo by Justin Tallis/Pool via Getty Images

Havertz, a centre-forward or right-forward, has barely had a consistent, uninterrupted run and when he has, far too often he has featured as a left-winger, deprived of both the centre and right half-space zones that he excels in. While some may argue that a quality player should be as good playing on either side, even subtle changes such as this can make a difference, especially to young players still seeking confidence and momentum. While he hasn’t been consistently brilliant by any means, he has demonstrated serious potential, especially in the few instances he’s had in his preferred roles, showcasing a unique blend of pace, height, intelligence and tactical versatility to both drop deep and combine, as well as to play off the last shoulder. Unfortunately, he has been one of the biggest losers of Romelu Lukaku’s acquisition, relegated to an afterthought and rarely prioritised or allowed to build momentum early in the season. Lukaku’s struggles opened the door to Havertz later in the year, allowing him to begin to showcase his best again, but whether he will be allowed to truly build momentum now, we’ll have to wait and see.

While Part 1 of this blog discussed Havertz as a central attacking midfielder, potentially even playing as an No.8 in a 433, I now believe he should be considered predominantly as a centre-forward, the role, which will bring the most out of his unique blend of technique, speed, height and intelligence, as well as defensive discipline and work rate.

Manchester City v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Final Photo by Carl Recine - Pool/Getty Images

As for Hakim Ziyech, he started off the season barely getting a look in and playing frequently on the left, (once again also his less preferred side, even more notably so than Kai) as well as a couple of performances at right wing-back. Only towards the latter part of the season did he get a run in his favoured position and role, as a right winger with the freedom to come into the half space, a period that saw him play easily the best football of his Chelsea career and be our most effective attacker for an extended period.

Callum Hudson-Odoi is an interesting one. On the surface, he has all the necessary skills, whether it’s dribbling ability, speed, agility or tactical versatility. However, he has yet to demonstrate enough consistent quality under any of the managers he’s had. While I don’t think he’s best used as a wing-back, the role he has featured in most often under Tuchel, I also don’t think this has been the main cause for his lack of form as he has stuttered and flattered to deceive in a range of systems and roles now. Personally, I think getting out of his comfort zone and leaving Chelsea for a club that will give him a lot more consistent game time (as an attacker, not wing-back) will give him the best chance of reaching his potential, as it’s clearly not working for him here getting limited game time and frequently playing out of position.

THE LUKAKU QUESTION

The elephant in the room, the £98m question. Probably the most controversial signing in Chelsea’s recent history. While he has recently returned on loan to Inter Milan, this move includes no obligation to buy, meaning we might not have seen the end of Big Rom at the Bridge just yet.

Personally, I was never a fan of this transfer and could see it was unlikely to work. Lukaku excels in a very specific system, one that allows him to counter-attack into large space. He also tends to play best with a strike partner, both things he rarely had at Chelsea.

This is why expecting him to suddenly “come good” is futile. He’s not been out of form this year, he’s still elite when he gets a chance to do what he does best. The problem is, he doesn’t get those chances very often. The few times he does, he showcases everything that made him such an asset to Conte’s Inter. Take the penalty he won against Aston Villa for example, running from deep and using his strength to get the better of the defender to force a foul.

This is what Lukaku is, a counter-attacking machine with frightening strength. But as a traditional striker in a high-possession system, Lukaku is average at best and, assuming we plan to continue playing (or trying to play) structured, positional play football, we can expect at best the current version of Lukaku or a slightly more effective one when he has Chilwell and James’s service back. He will score goals, but his overall play will leave a lot to be desired.

For the purpose of this article, I am going to hope and assume that Lukaku does not return to Chelsea but instead finds enough success on loan to make the move permanent. As such, he won’t be discussed in any of the positional play rotations or set ups below.

The same goes for Timo Werner, who despite being a much better servant to the club than Lukaku, has also struggled to adapt to our style. Now that Raheem Sterling has been signed, Werner’s spot in the squad is even more tenuous and I would expect him to move on this summer.

Chelsea FC v Juventus: Group H - UEFA Champions League Photo by Robin Jones/Getty Images

THE STRATEGY

As discussed in Part 1, I still believe that implementing a back 4 system would give us the best flexibility, as well as allow our players to play to their strengths. While a highly specialised back 3 was a great choice to introduce players to the main elements of positional play (something I also discussed in Part 1), a more versatile back 4 would help unlock our creativity by giving us access to more rotations, something I believe would suit the tactical versatility of many in the squad. Take James for example, elite at overlapping out wide, coming central in midfield and staying deeper to provide balance and defensive security. While in a back 3 as a wingback he is limited to being the wide man in attack, a back 4 system pairing him with the right-sided winger and central midfielder would allow him to be more effective, adapting his style of play and positioning more seamlessly based on the needs of the match and exerting much greater influence as a result (more on this later).

Fears that we would return to the open, unorganised mess that we were under Lampard if we were to abandon the back 3 for a back 4 are overblown. The problems under Lampard were not formation-based but strategy-based. We routinely lacked the structure to maintain security and control (something I discussed and demonstrated in Part 1). A positional play 433 or 4231 maintaining the same principles Tuchel has already introduced to the squad can not only unlock our attacking quality, but also retain the defensive solidity we demonstrated for much of 2021.

STARTING XI
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Having said that, if Tuchel does decide to stick with the 343 as seems likely, this would not be a major issue. I don’t share the opinion of fans who think Chelsea can never be a fluid, attacking team in a 343. At the end of the day, both formations should behave in a similar way on the field, especially in attack, if positional play principles are followed, the only difference being a 343 would be significantly more specialised while a back 4 would require (and benefit from) more rotations (see “What does good positional organisation look like?” section in Part 1, as well as comparison of back 3 and back 4 positional play systems).

For the purposes of this blog, I will focus predominantly on the rotations I envision in a back 4. I will begin by discussing only players Chelsea already have, whether on loan or in the squad already, before introducing a few possible signings.

Every rotation has been designed with the following objectives in mind:

  1. Maintain a good structure in line with positional play principles
  2. Place players in roles which maximise their skillset
  3. Create units and partnerships of complementing skillsets

ROTATION 1

ROTATION 1: Ziyech central, James wide on the right. Sterling wide, Mount pushing up on the left
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Reece James has cemented himself as one of the best footballers on the planet this season, putting in several excellent performances and being a key part of Chelsea’s strategy, both in and out of possession. One of the areas of his game that truly standout are his ability to overlap and create from wide areas and any Chelsea game plan must retain this as a key consideration. In order to effectively do this, James should be paired with both a right-winger who enjoys coming central, as well as a right-sided central midfielder who can stay deeper and carry out the “balance” role (see Part 1 section on different roles in a positional play system: the creator, wide player and balance player).

When we signed Ziyech, I was incredibly excited to see him paired with James on the right. It sounded like a dream combination: an attacking left footed winger, with a great shot who loves to come into the right half space and a powerful, marauding right back with a brilliant delivery. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much of this combo. Ziyech spent much of the start of the season on the bench and was only granted more opportunities during James’ injury.

While there have been rumours of a move to AC Milan, I would hope Ziyech’s improving form when given a consistent run at right wing, will persuade Tuchel to keep him and finally give us the James-Ziyech partnership, which looked so promising on paper. If Chelsea do decide to sell or loan Ziyech, I would hope we replace him with another inverted left-footed winger, something that made the links to Raphina especially exciting to me. Alas, he has opted for Barcelona, meaning Chelsea would have to look elsewhere to replace Ziyech.

On the opposite side, Mount playing as a left-sided central midfielder would do best with a winger capable of hugging the touchline and opening up the left half-space for him, allowing him to push up and attack in advanced areas. The recently arrived Raheem Sterling, a player who has spent the last 5 years being schooled by the positional play master Pep Guardiola, should be a perfect fit for this role, as should Christian Pulisic, whose dribbling and pace in wide areas would be maximised in this set up.

ROTATION 2

ROTATION 2: Sterling coming into the left half-space, Chilwell creating width on the left, Mount supporting centrally, Ziyech staying wide right
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This is where Sterling’s versatility comes in handy. As a left-winger, he has shown both the ability to be dangerous in wide areas, as well as the desire to cut in and make runs down the left half-space. Doing so while paired with Chilwell, a well-rounded fullback who has demonstrated great attacking quality, would add a new dimension to Chelsea’s attack, making us less predicable. Sterling’s desire to make central runs is one of the best parts of his game and a major reason why he has scored so many goals for City. This is something Pulisic also excels in, something we have seen much less under Tuchel than we did under Lampard. Playing alongside a false 9 in Havertz who, as a left-footer, favours the right half-space and naturally drifts out there, would open up significant space for Sterling or Pulisic to make these runs, while also allowing Mount to play a supporting role through the centre, an area that will allow him to showcase both his shooting, combinations and counter-pressing in transition.

On the other side, Ziyech has demonstrated tactical versatility I didn’t know he had, an ability to stay wide and still be very effective, predominantly through his crosses. This opens up new possibilities not previously discussed in my last article, namely him staying wide and opening up space for Havertz, Mount and Sterling to combine in the centre. While James would be tasked with staying deeper to provide balance here, he would be able to send in some deep, in-swinging crosses and through balls from the deeper right half-space zone, which would be lethal paired with Sterling’s central runs. He would also be able to step up into midfield depending on how many outlets the opposition use (known as the “one-extra rule” in positional play).

Playing with a winger capable of occupying the central zone would be a major benefit to Havertz, who would be able to drop deeper into the right half-space zone (as shown below). The movement and fluidity of this attack would be an absolute nightmare to deal with for defences, especially ones set on sitting deeper as it would provide a constantly changing picture, a drastic departure from the incredibly static and predictable Chelsea attack spearheaded by Lukaku last season.

ROTATION 3

ROTATION 3: Both wingers coming central, both fullbacks overlapping (back 3)
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ROTATION 3: Both wingers coming central, both fullbacks overlapping (back 4)
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This set up would look most similar to our current 343 set up, with the wingers in the half spaces and the fullbacks/wingbacks overlapping. We could see a similar central rotation here as the last one, with Havertz moving to the right and Sterling making central runs down the left, but this time with Ziyech coming central to create instead of Mount. Such a rotation would require Mount to stay closer to Jorginho to provide balance deeper in order to not congest the left space and central advanced zones, as well as to give us good security in transition.

FLUIDITY

While I’ve introduced them as separate rotations, in reality these would be fluid and ever-changing. For example, in the last rotation, while Mount is deeper when all three of Sterling, Havertz and Ziyech are central, this could very quickly change. For example, Mount may get on the ball, drawing Chilwell deeper to offer support. This would vacate the advanced wide zone, opening up space for Sterling to drift wide to offer Mount a passing option, as well as to get himself isolated 1v1 against a fullback. A quick combination may then see Mount advance into the now vacated left half space, leading to a rotation that looks more similar to Rotation 1 above.

This is the beauty of less specialised positional play systems. While they may look rigid on paper, with each player carrying out specific roles, these roles are interchangeable, creating great potential for creative play. As long as all three main roles (creator, wide player and balance player) are being carried out and players don’t run into each others ways or shirk some responsibilities, these systems can be both creative and defensively solid.


WHAT TRANSFERS?

While Chelsea have made two good signings already in Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly, there are still a few others we should look at in order to take us to the next level and, crucially, to give us good depth.

FBL-FRA-LIGUE1-LENS-LORIENT Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI/AFP via Getty Images

HIGH PRIORITY: Cover for Chilwell and James

There is a large argument to be made that Chelsea’s title challenge fizzled out last year with the injuries to Chilwell and James, Chelsea’s two most important and effective players in the first part of the season. Their back ups, Alonso and Azpilicueta, both failed to match their dynamism and overall quality. With both back ups expected to leave in the coming weeks, Chelsea will definitely need to bring in two new fullbacks into the squad, especially with Chilwell only now coming back from a long term injury.

Although links to new left backs have been limited so far, the recently linked Nathan Aké could fill in there when needed. We were also briefly linked to another Man City player who would do this role: Oleksandr Zinchenko. But he’s since joined Arsenal, favoring a move that would allow him to start, ideally in his preferred role as a midfielder, something he wouldn’t get at Chelsea. Looking within, we have an in-house option for left back in Ian Maatsen but he’s joined Burnely on loan. There’s also Lewis Hall who was brilliant against Chesterfield in the FA Cup, but he is more of a midfielder and utilising him as a back up left back so early in his career may not be the best thing for his development. We also have Emerson returning from loan who could be a back up, but whether he has sufficient quality is another thing. Meanwhile, on the right, we have been linked with both Jonathan Clauss of RC Lens and Sergiño Dest of FC Barcelona. I don’t have very strong opinions on who we should sign for these roles, my only hope is Chelsea will prioritise signing well-rounded fullbacks and not purely attacking wingbacks in order to ensure we can play both back 3 and back 4 systems.

England v Italy: UEFA Nations League - League Path Group 3 Photo by Robin Jones/Getty Images

MEDIUM PRIORITY: A defensive midfielder (or two)

Jorginho has been one of the best performers under Tuchel, but we are far too reliant on him currently. Our best performances have been when he has been in good form, while we’ve struggled when he’s been absent or not fully fit. While this is to be expected to a certain extent with any key players, I do believe our reliance on Jorginho makes us especially susceptible, with such a stark contrast in how we play with or without him. He is also getting up there in age and only has one year left on his contract, so Chelsea really need to decide whether they want to extend him or if not, consider selling him this summer to avoid losing yet another asset on a free. If we opt to sell, we probably need two new central defensive midfielders as currently Jorginho is the only player in the squad capable of playing as a holding midfielder.

The perfect signing for this role would have been Aurélien Tchouaméni, but he, like once coveted Chelsea transfer target Eduardo Camavinga before him, has been snapped up by Real Madrid instead. Ryan Gravenberch would have been another good signing but he has now been snapped up by Bayern Munich. As such, the market for defensive midfielders is looking extremely thin. Chelsea have consistently been linked with a move for ex-Blue Declan Rice but the finances involved in signing him make this move extremely unlikely, at least while he has several years left on his contract. We may opt to bring Billy Gilmour back into the fold, but whether he is ready after an underwhelming loan at Norwich remains to be seen. Having already missed out on two obvious targets, I hope Chelsea’s scouting department have a plan for this.

Real Madrid v Barcelona - Preseason Friendly Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

MEDIUM PRIORITY: A creative central midfielder

While both Kovačić and Kanté have been decisive players for Tuchel, neither are particularly creative in possession and Chelsea could certainly benefit from greater passing quality in midfield. Kanté is in a similar position to Jorginho, with only a year left on his contract. He is also not the best fit for a positional play system, with clear deficiencies in possession. Couple those with an increasingly worrying injury record and I believe it’s clear Chelsea should be looking to move on from Kanté this summer instead of keeping him for another year and likely losing him for nothing next year. Kovačić is still an elite option who should be a starter for us, but bringing in a better back up for him would be necessary if Kanté departs.

We have been linked with both Frenkie De Jong and Matheus Nunes in recent weeks who would both fit this mould. De Jong would likely be a hugely expensive move, putting him in the frame to start immediately over Kovačić. Nunes on the other hand would be markedly cheaper, something we might consider depending on who else we choose to buy. Bringing Billy Gilmour back into the squad would help alleviate the need to sign anyone. Similar to Marco Verratti, while Gilmour is more of a pivot, he is also adept at playing as a central midfielder alongside a pivot, a role which perhaps would help limit the potential weakness of his short stature. Youri Tielemans seems to be available as well but so far the only club seriously linked to him has been Arsenal.

France v Croatia: UEFA Nations League - League Path Group 1 Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

MEDIUM PRIORITY: A left-footed centre back with good athleticism and passing ability

Chelsea have recently signed Koulibaly, a player who, despite being right-footed, has spent much of his career at Napoli playing on the left of a back 2, making the signing of a left-footed centre back less necessary. However, if Chelsea have some extra money to spend, bringing in another centre back and making sure they are left-footed would help solidify the squad, as well as make it easier for us to continue to play a back 3 next season. A left-footer with good passing ability would allow Chelsea to build up play better and make it harder to set pressing traps on us. Ensuring the player we target is athletic and quick is key if we want to play a proactive, high-pressing system, especially with Thiago Silva still in the squad and likely needing the additional speed for support.

Out of all the options we’ve been linked with, Presnel Kimpembe is my personal preferred choice. Not only is he an athletic left-footer with good passing ability, he has played (and captained) a top side used to having a lot of the ball, something he’d experience at Chelsea as well. Having worked with Tuchel and played with Silva already, he would be the most seamless fit. Nathan Aké would, to a certain extent fit this role as well, at least as a left-footer with good passing ability and decent pace, though he has some limitations, most notably his lack of height. Levi Colwill is an exciting in-house option here, though perhaps a bit inexperienced to become a starter instantly and would benefit from a Premier League loan before coming in to replace Silva when he departs, most likely at the end of the next season.

Bringing in such a player would see Koulibaly play on the right, the role he’s played more extensively for Senegal than for Napoli.

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LOW PRIORITY: Another winger, ideally one with a striker profile

Adding yet another attacker may appear to be the least of Chelsea’s concerns right now, and when considered next to other more pressing needs, it certainly is not a priority. Having said that, I still believe there is significant scope for improvement, especially if we move to a back 4 system with Mount playing in midfield and not in the front 3. The sort of player I would love Chelsea to target is a winger who has both wide player and central striker qualities. This is a rare breed of player, one that can play both as a winger, and be an effective goal-scorer in central areas, comfortable at all of dribbling, running, combining and providing the finishing touch. Kylian Mbappé is probably the prototype and most effective version of this type of player. Liverpool’s recent history has been defined by two of the best ever in this mould: Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah. Luis Suárez, Neymar and David Villa have all played similar roles at times at Barcelona with Messi as the centre forward.

Bringing such a player to Chelsea could truly bring the best out of Havertz as a centre forward, allowing him to freely float between the lines to wreck havoc while his teammate occupies defenders higher up, retaining the incisive cutting edge at all times which is so characteristic of great attacking teams. Werner has attempted to play this role for Chelsea in the past, but he unfortunately lacks too many of the key skillsets needed, namely good technical ability to play in tight, central areas, as well as dribbling and 1v1 ability to be dangerous in wide areas.

Sterling should be able to do this role to a certain extent, having been schooled by Guardiola on playing with a mobile centre forward and excelling at dribbling out wide, as well as making central attacking runs. However, he lacks the ability to do more of the traditional striker elements, namely playing back to goal, bringing other players into play and occupying defenders, making him a less ideal option. His versatility and ability to be equally effective playing on both the left and right wing is a major benefit, meaning if we were to sign a new left forward, he would not be redundant and could slot in as the starting right forward.

As far as realistic targets go, there are not many. More ambitious targets would include Federico Chiesa of Juventus and Rafael Leão of AC Milan, both of whom have seen tentative links to Chelsea in the past. Both players have the physicality, skillset and mentality to play this role and would be the perfect foils for Kai Havertz.


SQUAD

These signings, as well as retaining Broja, Gallagher and Gilmour, would leave us with a squad looking like this:

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These moves would make the following players redundant: Marcos Alonso (replaced by a new left back), César Azpilicueta (replaced by a new right back), Kenedy (surplus), Kanté (replaced by a creative midfielder), Barkley (replaced by Gallagher), Loftus-Cheek (replaced by Gilmour or a new defensive midfielder), Hudson-Odoi (replaced by a new winger) and Werner (replaced by Broja). It would also allow us to loan out Colwill to get Premier League experience before bringing him back to replace Silva in 2023-24.

This would obviously be a lot of moves to make in one window and we certainly don’t need to make them all immediately, but it is the general direction I think we should be heading in over the next few years. It would give us everything needed to make a dynamic, exciting and competitive positional play system a reality, allowing us to carry out every rotation listed above and several more.

Cutting down our total number of attackers to 6 would also allow us to fully prioritise our key players, allowing them to develop and grow in confidence, something we haven’t done these last few years with far too many attackers in the squad. Two quality players per position is just enough competition and depth to keep the squad strong, but not too much where you can’t realistically allow players to build momentum or to reward players with a run when they hit form. We also have the academy which can help in league cup games, as Lewis Hall, Soonsup-Bell, Harvey Vale and Xavi Simons have done last season.

Chelsea v Club América - Preseason Friendly Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

CONCLUSION

I strongly believe that in Reece James, Mason Mount, Kai Havertz among others, Chelsea have the foundations of a group that can bring the title back to Stamford Bridge while playing dominant, attractive and entertaining football. The new owners have recruited well, bringing in Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly, both seasoned winners who no doubt strengthen the squad. However, though more transfers are needed and likely will arrive, it won’t be who we sign that determines whether we lift the title but how we play and crucially, how we are organised. If we are to truly unlock the potential of this squad and close the gap on City and Liverpool, I believe we must pursue a positional play system that suits our players’ flexibility and wide skillsets, while retaining clear roles and responsibilities, one that pairs players with complementing abilities and places players in roles that allow them to be the truest expression of themselves. Too much competition must be held back in favour of giving players consistent runs to develop confidence as well as strengthen relationships on the pitch, while the days of frequent experimentation and rotation should also come to an end now that we’ve had 2 years to get to know our attacking options.

While Tuchel may very likely opt to stick with his 343, a move to a back 4 should be considered to open up greater opportunities for more dynamic positional play rotations which will not only suit our players but also allow for greater unpredictability and evolution.

While his name will already go down in Chelsea history for bringing the Champions League back to the Bridge, I do believe that, if he can get this rebuild right, and I have every confidence he can, Tuchel can go even further, becoming the first manager to win both a UCL and Premier League for the club.

Let’s hope he does.

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