Chelsea’s most featured centre-half pairings have been either Zouma and Tomori or Rudiger and Christensen. This appears to be a decision on the basis of experience, and with little genuine tactical foresight.
Rudiger and Christensen have been at the club for the last three years and have during that time played under three different managers, while Tomori and Zouma have just come in after spells on loan. Aside from this, it seems the pairing of them has proved to be a tactical glitch that we need to look into.
Let’s start by defining the four players’ attributes in simple terms.
Zouma is a strong, aggressive stopper who doesn’t mind coming out of his line to hook attackers down. He likes winning the ball before he gets to the danger zone and he does that by carrying out the task of a defensive midfielder or even the fullback, depending on the situation. Being mobile he covers every ground in defence to win the ball.
Tomori is a fast-paced tackler who loves to do his defending at a higher tempo. His defensive formulae portray winning the ball at the first opportunity given, similar to Zouma, and he also comes off his line to fulfil these. Due to his high pace, he could drop back to act as a fair cover, but that depends on the play.
Rudiger has a strong, aggressive personality but ironically a patient defender who loves to carefully watch the opposition attacking play before deciding his move. In normal situations he doesn’t come off his line; he instead sits back and holds the centre halve position tight. He can be termed an aggressive cover.
Christensen is primarily an intelligent cover defender, a role that compensates for his weak physicality as a defender. He sits deep and acts on loose balls, challenges late headers and intercepts final through balls in an uneven defending situation. His impressive height and aerial ability make him a great cover.
Understanding the four players, it is apparent that a pairing of Zouma and Tomori means you’re playing two centre-halves who will risk their position and come out to shut opponents down in other defensive areas. While a Rudiger and Christensen pairing means you have two covers always in the centre but who sit and watch opponents attack other defensive areas.
Either way, it doesn’t work for Chelsea, with the manager that throws most of his outfields forward to attack. There are always fewer men defending and the perfect centre-halves for that will include a cover + an aggressive stopper.
Hopefully going forward we will start to see pairings like Zouma + Christensen, Rudiger + Tomori, Tomori + Christensen and many other possible permutations from Lampard as we saw at Crystal Palace. Having a centre backs pairing of players who fulfil the same role isn’t bad in a more balanced team, but it is when you have Kepa at the goal.
Edited by: Dan