Roko Škrabić is the Chief Editor of Chelsea Croatia, home of the official Chelsea FC supporters group for Croatia, where this article originally appeared. He’s been kind enough to translate it for us. Be sure to give them a follow on Twitter.
Roko, whom you might also know as the “TheMightyGorgon” in the comments, is never shy of a strong opinion, some of which certainly aged well — including previous contributions in analysing N’Golo Kanté’s role under Maurizio Sarri and arguing that Frank Lampard should stick with a back-three.
All visuals made with BuildLineup.
There’s no shortage of analyses out there of Chelsea (and Premier Leauge) record-signing Enzo Fernández. In short, he is an extremely versatile midfielder who has been primarily described as a deep lying playmaker (DLP), but who is also capable of carrying out the more defensive role of a back four protector, as well as the more attacking box-to-box role.
The clichéd jack of all trades, master of none would describe Enzo relatively well, as he seems to have practically all relevant characteristics for midfielders on at least a very good level, including technique, short passes, long passes, dictating play, vision, stamina, shooting, positioning, aggression, tackling, intercepting ... you name it.
On the other hand, that phrase would indicate none of those characteristic are elite (yet) and I’d argue he does have a few on an elite level, including vision and long passing. Actually, Enzo is the first player to remind me of Cesc Fábregas since ... well, Fábregas. And that is exactly what we miss so much. How many times have we lamented that our midfield lacks creativity? That it was completely gone the moment Cesc left? Well, now we’re going to have that again, perhaps even the next best thing after Cesc.
So, Enzo is a player capable of dictating play from deep, launching dangerous long passes, and also ably participating in the defensive part of the game, just as a nominal DM should. And the latter he does significantly better than either of his predecessors, Jorginho or the already mentioned Fábregas. Both of those players required a defensive destructor by their side (and were lucky to play with Kanté). Perhaps that is also true for Enzo, but even if it is, that would be to a much lesser extent. Actually, one could argue both Jorginho and Fábregas had only one of the three discussed qualities, with both lacking in the defensive aspect, Jorginho never being good at long passes and Fábregas not that great in dictating play. Enzo, on the other hand, seems to have all three, and that is what makes him so exciting. Frankly, if “Jovačić” has been (just) working out in the defensive aspect all these years, then Kova-Enzo (Kovenzo?) will be more than fine. At least when Kanté is not around, since he will probably always be the first choice, whenever he is fit and available.
How could we fit all three of those players in the same team? Will one of them (most likely Kovačić) have to be benched? We will try to analyse which options Potter has through the prism of Enzo’s role in this team and the players around him. I’m saying “players around him” on purpose, since not only will you have a natural tendency to build the team around your record signing, but also because in Enzo’s case it’s literal — his role is to be in the center of the team, dictating play and making everyone around him better.
Where have we heard that description before? — ah that’s right, Jorginho, the player Enzo has directly(?) replaced (he even took his number). Jorginho was exactly that kind of a player for us, the leader of the team who positioned himself in the heart of the play and dictated tempo. That tempo many criticized for being too slow, while resenting the player himself for having seemingly no vision or will to play more directly and send a few longer balls than were his trademark short backwards and sideways passes. He was also resented for being slow, which made him unable to follow a quicker transition from the opponent, and generally being weak in the defensive side of the game, which is quite awkward if you’re playing as a CDM. As we have already found, with Enzo it’s the opposite story. He’s a player who constantly looks to change sides, play a direct pass, and send a dangerous ball behind the opponent’s backline. He’s also an aggressive, mobile player who is happy to do the dirty work of defending and the hard work of covering a lot of space with his running.
All in all, he seems like a perfect Jorginho upgrade. However, we have to state that Jorginho, as much as some didn’t like him, was absolutely elite in some segments — press resistance, short passes and dictating play — characteristics around which he built his career and without which he would be a Serie B level player, at best. Enzo does not possess those at a level that high (yet?), so it will be intriguing to see how well he adapts to the aggressive and ultra-fast Premier League football. He certainly didn’t have much trouble with that in his first outing last weekend.
Now we’ll try to ignore the aged outlook on football through formations, and analyse Enzo’s role in our team in two separate phases; ‘build up’ phase and ‘end of action’ phase.
BUILD UP PHASE
Let’s start with two assumptions: 1. that Enzo will directly replace Jorginho, and 2. that we will play with four at the back. Getting all those wingers in, and also Potter’s formational tendencies in the last month or so, have made it pretty clear the long term plan is to play with four defenders.
This is how it lately looked when we tried 4 at the back.
Potter’s build up plan is based on playing out from the goalkeeper and forming this kind of a rectangle* consisting of a very active and highly positioned GK, the CBs who are pulled apart as much as possible, and a DLP who would get somewhere in between the CBs so it would be possible to form 4 triangles. When the other two CMs (sort of 8s) drop deeper between the DLP and the FBs to get the ball, the number of options is even higher.
*In contrast, Tuchel’s build up plan consisted of a similar rectangle, only the deepest player was the central CB, and not the goalkeeper. Potter’s insistence on playing with the goalkeeper is what should get us an extra player in the build up, which in practice allows full backs to go as high and wide as possible, acting as wing backs. To be fair to Tuchel, with Mendy as his GK, this was never an option.
Enzo is perfect for this kind of a build plan as he likes to drop deep between the CBs and be the focus of the play, sort of a metronome:
As far as CBs are concerned, any of those shown (even Chalobah who didn’t fit into the graphic) can work here. However, the other two positions are not as flexible. As already stated, we couldn’t even imagine Mendy in this kind of a role. It’s a similar story with the key DLP role as Jorginho was the only player able to really pull it off (Kova to a lesser extent), and that role will now be Enzo’s.
If we are to draw the rest of the team according to this build up plan, it would look something like this:
So the goalkeeper plays high up, the DLP (Enzo) drops deep between the CBs who move laterally, the FBs go as high as wing backs, while the other two midfielders approach the build up if needed, serving as connectors to the attacking players. Note that these roles fit perfectly with the most of the players. For example, James and Chilwell are used to playing as WBs, while Mount’s perhaps greatest strengths are finding space, quick turns and moving the ball quickly.
We could probably have a whole separate analysis of the attacking positional patterns, so we won’t dwell too much on that, but the summary is that with the arrival of the many new players, Havertz could finally play as the ‘real false 9’, and similarly, that role could easily be played by Félix. Kai has actually mostly been playing as a ‘false-false 9’, or better said, a true 9. He was rarely ever tasked to drop deep so he spent most of the time next to the CBs, which has got nothing to do with being a ‘false 9’. Because he was rarely flanked with attackers who like to run in behind, he had no purpose in vacating that space. That is mostly the reason why our attack (and Kai himself) worked best with Werner in it. Now that we have Mudryk, Félix and Madueke, who all like to run in behind, along with Pulisic and Sterling who are also keen ‘runners’, Kai could be flanked by two running attackers which could, in theory, completely transform his game and his effectiveness. (There’s a reason why Pulisic and Sterling were first choice wingers prior to their injuries in the Man City game, and why Ziyech, who’s not a runner, was the first on the chopping block.)
END OF ACTION PHASE
This phase begins once the ball is moved into the final third. In that moment modern coaches want their team to be divided into two parts — the players who look to enter the box and finish the action, and players who remain behind and serve as support for the attack and defence against the counterattacks. The two most frequent set ups are the “5/5 split” and the “4/6 split”. The following is an example of a 5/5 split:
In the attacking 5 we would have 2 players who hold the width on each side, in this case James and Chilwell who’d be like fish in the water having played that exact role as wing backs for the last 2 years (less convenient for the aging Azpilicueta and the so far offensively deficient Cucurella), 2 players in the box, and 1 player in the space between the lines (it could be the other way around if Havertz played as a true 9 and the wingers simply tucked in).
In the defensive 5 we would have 2 CBs who are ready to run with the forward, and in front of them 3 midfielders who are supporting the attackers and serving as the first line of defence against counterattacks. Enzo would once again be the central player, tasked with changing sides quickly and, if possible, finding that killer ball behind the opponent’s defence. The two midfielders next to him would sometimes fall into the space behind the onrushing FB on their side. That, for example, wasn’t necessary in the formation with 3 at the back because that space would be covered by the lateral CBs (the Rüdiger space). That task would fit with all our other midfielders; Kovačić who often likes to drop into that left space and start his mazy runs from there, Gallagher who has lately been playing quite well in that space on the opposite side, notably with excellent crossing, Kanté who can do everything, even Zakaria who didn’t fit into the graphic ... all, except Mount. He definitely prefers to be a part of the attacking 5. That’s why, when he is playing, the following variations might be predominant:
On the graphic above Mount enters the space between the lines where he likes to thrive, Cucurella remains behind (which fits both of them more than the former plan), while Mudryk is tasked to hold width on that side.
On the one below we can see the same, but on the other side - Mount between the lines, James staying deep and Sterling on the byline.
That were examples of the 5/5 split.
Potter, however, likes to attack in a very offensive (and risky) 4/6 split, to have as many players as possible in the ending phase. That could look something like this:
Here both FBs are attacking high and wide, we have 2 players in the box and 2 behind them between the lines. There are, of course, variations to this, but the important thing in the context of this analysis is that this kind of strategy would mostly fit Mount and Gallagher, as they would have the license to attack, while the rest of the midfielders, including Enzo, would be tasked to support and remain behind as a part of the defensive 4.
What do all these plans have in common? Enzo’s role is pratically the same. In the build-up phase he will be the metronome, the deep-lying playmaker, while in the ending phase he will be in support, the first line of the defence, and also remain as the DLP, but higher up the pitch. He will rarely, but not never, be a part of the attacking 5 or 6. That would require certain rotations in the set up, for example if on the above graphic Havertz remained in the box, Cucurella stayed behind, Mudryk on the byline, and then Enzo would be allowed to go into the space between the lines and possibly enter the box. That would not be bad at all, since he does possess technical and shooting qualities required for that role (unlike Kovačić, for example). One need only see his goal against Mexico in the World Cup.
From that perspective, it would be a waste never to see Enzo with the freedom to enter the final phase. Luckily, Potter likes his teams and his players to be tactically and positionally flexible, and he encourages fluid play in attack. That is why I wrote ‘’not never’’ and it will be interesting to see exactly how often.
One of the conclusions we made is that it is possible to field all of Enzo, Kovačić and Kanté. To some, that might be eerily similar to the unpopular Sarriball midfield with Jorginho as the DLP and Kovačić+Kanté as the two offensively inefficient No.8s. The difference now is that we have much more attacking (and attackingly capable) FBs in James and Chilwell, compared to Azpilicueta and Alonso from the Sarri season. To an extent, that compensates for the lack of threat from midfield as all of it would be a part of the defensive 5. Also, for Enzo it would be possible to roam high up and leave both Kovačić and Kanté behind, something Jorginho would never do, and in which Enzo would actually be dangerous. I predict this is the exact formation we will play in bigger matches, especially if we get to the later stages of Champions League. In that particular case Mount would be dropped, while on the other hand, when we would want to play 4/6 split against the weaker sides, Kova is the one most likely to be dropped. That said, considering how rarely Kanté actually plays, the most frequent midfield we will see is probably one of Kovačić on the left, Enzo in the center, and Mount on the right (or in front of them, depending on whether we’re calling our formation 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, but that doesn’t really matter).
Enzo Fernández is a fantastic, versatile player who can play anything and anywhere in midfield, and Potter will most likely use him as a direct replacement and upgrade on Jorginho. He will be the central player in the build-up phase, tasked to dictate play, set the tempo, change sides and find, to us a long forgotten, long ball. Also, we can finally expect a solid defensive output from our DLP.
And even if he doesn’t translate his defensive numbers to the Premier League, Toddfather can simply get Caicedo in the summer to help him out, right? (Kappa)