Four problems with Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1 formation

Four problems with Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1 formation

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1) Lack of cover for the full-backs

The Chelsea full-backs have come under scrutiny a great deal in recent weeks. Branislav Ivanovic has come under fire the most. His lack of pace has been exposed and left-wingers up and down the country are rejoicing when his name is on the team sheet. He’s been getting badly beaten in one on ones and looks out of sorts. Cesar Azpilicueta is also quite slow and hasn’t made much impact barring a looping goal versus West Brom in the 2-3 win. But one issue not spoken about is the great lack of cover they get. Chelsea don’t play with wingers, so the two wide players on the attacking three don’t defend the flanks very effectively. If they attack centrally (which they do… a lot) and lose the ball, then they are central and not in a position to race back and cover the flank. This situation leaves a 2 versus 1 for the respective full-back. The opposition full-back hasn’t been chasing Hazard or Willian into a central position so can break easily. Ivanovic or Azpilicueta are left badly in need of help in these situations.

2) Cesc Fabregas

The midfield duo who protect the back four is also very limited in Chelsea’s current set-up. The two players lack great pace which causes great problems. If the two players held their position this would be fine but Cesc Fabregas creates a tactical problem for Mourinho. He leaves the two making the formation more accurately a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Matic as the sole anchor. If Matic is on form it’s usually OK but his form has dipped a lot which has exposed the gaps in Chelsea’s side. It’s also OK if Chelsea are rampantly attacking and Fabregas is really influencing the play with great passing. He hasn’t been. Chelsea have been carrying Fabregas in this formation as he’s provided very little and left huge gaps. He’s not really made for a 4-2-3-1 which is why he was used as a no.10 at times last season. He’d probably be better in a 4-3-3 where he had a bit more protection from two other midfielders, not just Matic.

3) The back four is too flat

Because the wingers don’t get back the back four is a flat back four at times. Azpilicueta and Ivanovic can end up as two extra centre-backs. This is fine if they’re keeping clean sheets but the side aren’t, instead they’re porous. When Chelsea’s wide attacking midfielders cut in (as we said they do a lot) then you want the full-backs to raid forward on the overlap to take a defender away and or provide another option. They don’t do this. They end up, especially in Azpilicueta’s case, cutting inside as well (because he’s not a natural left footer) and overloading the central areas. Chelsea have no players who hit the byline. If Baba Rahman, a natural left footer who is quick, was starting it would greatly help the attacking play. The same is true at right back where the club need a more modern, aggressive right back with pace to help the system work.

4) The primary role of the no.10

The no.10 is usually a creator. Someone to set the rhythm for a side. In Chelsea’s situation it’s less clear. Oscar is used often to press opposition players and do a more defensive role but in the opposition half. He’d win the ball ┬áback and then launch a quick attack via the turnover. In practice this requires Oscar to be perfect in each game as he’s not the most creative player. If he doesn’t win the ball back and start attack he can be guilty of not doing enough. But Chelsea aren’t creating enough so arguably need the no.10 to also be a real technician and creative player, a Juan Mata perhaps, or David Silva (the former they sold because he wouldn’t defend enough… yet he is now performing at Man United). The problem is that Mourinho’s philosophy isn’t clear.

Amit Singh is the editor of Think Football and contributes for a number of other football websites, follow on twitter @Think_Football