If you are a regular watcher of Chelsea, there is a great chance that you might have noticed the uncertainty amongst fans and management about the structure of the team’s midfield. While Frank Lampard is known for changing his system from time to time to keep up with the seemingly non-stopping injury problem in his squad, fans have continued their discussion on the ”perfect” system that would fit the supposed “first team starters” when “they are all fit”. Let us start from the simplest thing, will Chelsea have a completely fit squad?
Well if the past is any indication, the answer would be no. In the past few seasons, Chelsea have been one of the most injury hit teams in England. In fact, if you are looking for the last time Chelsea went to a game with a fully fit squad, you will have to go as far as to 2018/19 season. Yes, you have read this right; Chelsea have never had a fully fit and injury free squad under Frank Lampard. These causes Lampard to frequently tweak and change his formation consistently, which makes most of us not unable to guess the next lineup until it is officially released.
While the injuries are one reason why things change rapidly, there are also other tactical reasons. The first one would be Lampard’s reactive side. He occasionally surprises his opponents by reacting to, and utilizing their weaknesses to gain the upper hand. The Tottenham away victory in the league as well as the wins against Liverpool and Manchester United in the FA cup last season can be used to illustrate this behavior. Secondly, Lampard still looks like he is trying to find the “winning formula”. While he has insisted he has a clear plan how he uses his new signings on numerous occasions, it is still not clear what his preferred starting 11 is while he also uses some players in two or more different positions.
That, added with the fact that he is yet to start a similar first 11 in two consecutive games this season, means he is still adjusting and navigating to find his “perfect way”. Third reason has something to do with training and hard work. He usually doesn’t start a player that hasn’t convinced him in training. As he explained for the press when questioned about Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi in the past, he won’t let anyone play any game unless that place is earned by the player, however talented that player is. That further dents the chance of the team having a clear structure and and first team regulars. Single pivot vs. double pivot Lampard has mainly used three formations for his team: a 4-2-3-1, a 4-3-3 and a 3-4-3. While the 4-3-3 has one deep midfielder (pivot), with two further positioned midfielders (no 8’s), the other two systems have two deep midfielders that are commonly referred as double pivot.
Double pivot systems
The Kovacic-Kante pair
While having a seemingly complementary behavior and both being very hard working and aggressive players, the Kante-Kovacic pairing is not as perfect in real life as it seems on paper. That is mainly due to both lacking a proper sense of positioning. They both seem to be attracted by the action and the first phase of pressing instead of one of them dropping of, reading and reacting to dangerous situations. Consequently, unless Lampard and his talented staff somehow work on these issues through targeted and very specific training drills, the team will be very susceptible to counter-attacks, especially against teams that usually drop off and look for opportunities.
The “Jovacic” and “Jovante” Pairing
Jorginho with Kante or Kovacic might seem like the proper solution for the positioning issues. Jorginho, known for his playmaking capabilities from deeper positions, not only can help the team in its buildup play, but also has a very good intelligence to anticipate difficult situations and react accordingly. As a result, if he was paired with the progressive style of Kovacic against low-block oppositions, or the “chase and interrupt” style of Kante against higher oppositions, it should work. Right?
Well, not exactly. This is mainly because of Jorginho’s lack of pace and intensity. As was mentioned earlier, Kovacic and Kante often get attracted to action, leaving Jorginho to deal with any leftovers from the initial press or when the counter attacks come. However, His past two seasons in the premier league have left many people wondering if he is capable of delivering the “dirty job”, he has not done enough to manage the concerns.
The Jorginho-Kante-Kovacic trio
While Lampard has adopted the trio, initially implemented by Sarri, there’s a clear lack of creativity and movement in and around the opposition box. Its applications are very limited, and they give us the uncomfortable memories of the goalless draws and the one nil defeats that were customary the past two seasons.
The “Advanced 8’s”
Lampard started the post-lockdown return of football with Kante-Barkley-Mount trio, which requires the two number 8’s to play in advanced positions near the opposition box. While the final third movements are dominant and fluid, this system requires the Pivot to be very alert and disciplined to stop any potential counterattacks while being very good at building the ball from the back. None of Chelsea’s midfielders fit that profile. It also requires the full backs to stay in midfield instead of overlapping runs; another difficult task required that doesn’t seem to fit the likes of Chilwell. The loans of Loftus-Cheek and Barkley, in addition to Kovacic being uncomfortable playing in advanced positions, also gives Lampard squad depth headaches which makes the prospect of Chelsea using the system highly unlikely.
Many fans have been insisting that Declan Rice would be the solution for the problems regarding the lack of a proper “sitting” defensive midfielder. Some reports also have linked Chelsea with the England international, as Lampard is reportedly keen on having his services. However, West Ham’s demand has made it impossible for Marina Granovskaia and co. to turn Lampard’s wish into reality.
While players like Jorginho have to perform while dealing with the shadow of Rice, only time will tell whether he comes to Chelsea and helps them solve their problems. But, for now, it is up to Lampard and his staff to find the right solution from the existing squad and lead Chelsea in their pursuit of glory.
A very talented and versatile graduate from Cobham, the young Welsh is dubbed to become a star for the future. His versatility means he can cover central defense and defensive midfield spots, as it was seen by him covering both places for his country recently. But Chelsea managers tend to disagree on the position they want him to play. While Antonio Conte played him as a midfielder, Maurizio Sarri, because of his specific requirement from his “deep lying playmaker”, chose to put him as a central defender. But with his loan moves under Lampard are about him learning to cover central defense, it is unlikely Lampard rate him as a midfielder. What’s the Solution? Every system has its weaknesses, something others team try and use to hurt the team. Lampard’s systems are the same. While many fans ask for consistent starting lineup, it shouldn’t be a surprise if he changes a few things here and there to avoid being caught out by oppositions and keep up with the injury and fitness issues of a very condensed schedule. The solution, in my opinion, is very simple; just trust the process. Support Lampard and his judgment with the occasional constructive criticism, as no one is better fit to run the project than the Chelsea Legend.