Tactical Preview: Can Chelsea fit in their trio in a 4–4–2?

Will Lampard be able to create a successful system fitting in all three of his stars?

Chelsea have had one of the most prolific transfer windows they have ever had in recent times. As the likes of Willian, Pedro and Giroud were all nearing the mid-30s, a revamp of the attacking unit was the need of the hour. With the addition of Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz, the Blues have made an attempt towards building a well-oiled attacking machine for atleast the next 6–7 years.

The combined fee of the three stars crosses a massive 150-million, which may still be considered reasonable by some, given their ability to perform. However, it is still absolutely essential that Manager Frank Lampard is able to ensure that these investments turn out to be fruitful ones by having a system in place, that would bring out the best in not only Werner, Ziyech and Havertz but also their new number ‘10’ Christian Pulisic.

There have been a lot of arguments going on amongst Chelsea fans and even among others who have been keen on finding out how Lampard can form a winning XI which brings the best out of all the attacking talent available and yet not give up the balance of the team.

The most discussed options seem to be 4–2–3–1, 4–3–3 or 4–1–4–1 with at least one or two players in midfield adjusting himself into a position he isn’t really familiar with. Here is why an option which hasn’t been discussed at all, may actually be a viable one that checks all the boxes…

The Good Ol’ 4–4–2!

Before we look into whether this is really a practically possible solution with some interesting detail, we have to address the elephant in the room, Ziyech and Havertz!

“Ziyech & Havertz are identical players with identical playing styles occupying the same areas on the pitch”…if we had a penny every time we heard that!

There is absolutely no truth to that statement and probably the laziest analysis made by fans without putting the effort to actually watch the two play for Leverkusen and Ajax. Okay let’s say there is some truth to it, given that both are left-footed players who have spent a considerable amount of games on the right flank with some good attacking output. Barring that, Havertz & Ziyech are just as similar as night & day.

On one hand, Havertz’ biggest strengths are close control of the ball, dribbling, shooting and finishing. On the other hand, Ziyech’s biggest strengths are vision, playmaking, crossing, 1v1 situations and engine-like lungs. To put it in short, Havertz is most effective inside the penalty area while Ziyech is most effective anywhere outside penalty area but within the final third, which means Lampard has two absolutely different beasts to deal with here.

On paper, Leverkusen are shown to field Havertz as a right-winger in a
3–4–3 or a 4–2–3–1 for a majority of their games but if you ignore the
on-paper line-up and watch the games closely, you would realize that the German wonderkid has a lot more than just that. While he was deployed majorly as a false 9 since the restart of the season, he also spent a major part of the season as a forward in a front-two with Kevin Volland or Alario as the other striker and the right wing being take care of by Karim Bellarabi.

Examples of average positioning with Havertz (no.29) in a right-forward position with Bellarabi (no.38) as the right-winger

As a right forward, Havertz’s connection with Bellarabi who was on the right wing was noteworthy as the duo were able to cause trouble via a variety of ways. They sometimes overloaded the flank, attracted pressure and played out of tight spaces and sometimes, made threatening off-the-ball movements to take out defenders and give space for the other one to dribble.

In fact, every game that Bellarabi was able to find the net, it was Havertz who was the striker as part of a front-two or as a false 9. He was also able to establish a similar connect with Moussa Diaby whenever the latter was deployed on the right wing. If Havertz can establish a similar connection with Ziyech on the right flank, then Lampard might not have much to worry about.

Havertz connects with Diaby on the right flank but fails to get the shot off as he slips and gets it off target
Havertz drops into midfield to pull a center-back along with him and allow space for Bellarabi to run into
Havertz goes out-wide to connect with Bellarabi and drifts in back into penalty area to finish the move

This is one of Havertz’s major strengths which a significant number of fans aren’t aware of. The former-Leverkusen star excels in receiving passes with defender to his back. Standing at 6 ft. 2-and-half inches, his big frame allows him to shield the ball, scan and then release it without giving away possession. Moreover, owing to his technical superiority the German doesn’t have to rely on his physique all day every day. In times of being put under extremely high pressure, Havertz can also put the ball into space with an intelligent first-touch and beat the press.

This means that Chelsea can also utilize him as a focal-point up front to bounce passes off to progress play from the middle-third to the final-third. It could also prove beneficial for Werner to play-off of him with quick passing combinations to get in behind the defenses.

Havertz’s no-look flick to put in Volland behind the defense
Here you can see him controlling the ball with pressure from behind on one occasion while the other is an example of his excellent first touch to burst into space
Havertz cannot be easily outmuscled by the opponent with his physique

This is where Havertz can convince pretty much any manager to play him as a central-forward. His eye-for-goal is probably the biggest value-add he brings to any attack. The German’s finishing is just as clinical as any natural striker and he has hardly been wasteful in front of goal. He isn’t the kind of player who would pull the trigger as soon as he sees space but would rather like the ball to be teed up, find those small pockets around the 6-yard or arrive late into the box to find the back of the net.

Havertz was able to score 16 times for Leverkusen in League and European Competitions, all goals were from inside the penalty area.

For a relatively lean physique, Havertz is a significant aerial threat with his height, clever positioning and heading technique giving him the edge against centre-backs. Out of the 16 goals last season, 3 were headers and apart from that, he also had 10 headed-shot attempts. Here are a couple of examples…

While we looked at why Havertz can be a success as part of a front-two, it is also true that Ziyech is the clear winner in terms of who the better winger. As mentioned earlier, there are stark differences in what the major strengths are of the two players. Watching Ziyech’s trademark cutting in on his left-foot towards central areas and wreaking havoc, is an absolute treat to the eyes. The vision to pick runs in-behind the defence combining with the execution of his through balls and crosses from the right flank, needs to be utilized to the fullest.

As noted from an article by ‘The Athletic UK’, Ziyech averages 9.72 crosses per 90 mins which is only behind two Premier League cross-masters, Trent Alexander-Arnold at 10.70 and Kevin De Bruyne at 9.81.

The Moroccan brings a totally different brand of attacking football which encourages free-flowing, risk-taking and forward-thinking. He doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger when he has the ball with space ahead of him. It doesn’t matter where he is, he backs himself to give the goal-keeper a challenge. Only three players in Europe’s top five leagues shot more frequently than Ziyech last season, which pretty much sums up what he is about.

Ziyech can pull the trigger from anywhere on the pitch when he feels he can test the keeper and many times, it pays off
Ziyech doesn’t necessarily have to drift inwards to create his play, he can pretty much do it from the touchline as well

Ziyech had attempted about 108 shots in League + European competitions with a massive 70 of them coming from outside the penalty area, a complete contrast to Havertz

He also averaged over 3 key passes per 90 and over 4 dribble attempts per 90 as well. This is the kind of guy you want out-wide to stretch the opposition or in 1v1 against the opposition’s full-back. Ziyech is also known for his work-rate and engine-like lungs which could turn out to be key in terms of helping out the right-back when Chelsea are out of possession. He averaged about 6 tackle attempts per game in the group stage of the Champions League last season, a number which many defenders don’t have.

Timo Werner & Kai Havertz could turn out to be one of the most lethal duos in the Premier League

In the last 4 seasons in Bundesliga, Werner has managed to score 78 goals with RB Leipzig. This means that he averages over 19 goals per season, an excellent return on investment without a doubt. The catch here is that Werner has shown this level of consistency as part of a front-two and he has hardly had any playing time as the lone-striker. RB Leipzig have had 136 Bundesliga games since 2016–17 and out of these, they have started 116 games with a front-two. Even in the 20 games when RB Leipzig didn’t have a front-two, Werner was deployed majorly as the left-winger and not as the lone-striker.

It is most likely for the same reason that since the 2018 FIFA World Cup debacle, German National Team Manager Joachin Loew has preferred Werner as part of a front-two with Serge Gnabry/ Leroy Sane or as a left-winger when he goes for a lone-striker setup. With Havertz showing signs of excelling as part of a front-two, there is absolutely no reason why Lampard shouldn’t consider pairing the two Bundesliga starlets up-front with Ziyech and Pulisic as the dribblers/playmakers on the flanks. This will also keep the zone 14 or the area where a traditional ‘10’ operates empty for all four attackers to drop in as per the situation.

The only factor which casts doubt on whether Lampard should opt for a 4–4–2 is the fear of over-committing numbers up-front and giving up defensive diligence. This is indeed a point which needs to be given due attention to as Chelsea’s defensive issues remained unsolved towards the end of last season as well. One way of ensuring that the team doesn’t lose out on balance is through asymmetry. This is somewhat Chelsea has done in their previous title-winning campaigns under Jose Mourinho. In 2014–15, Mourinho had given license to bomb forward to Ivanovic on the right but held back Azpilicueta on the left.

Chelsea’s shape in possession if they opt for the 4–4–2

As you can see, there are 5 players to attack with the front-four and Chilwell pushing forward from the left flank. This would give them 5 players to defend as well with the two centre-backs, two central-midfielders and Reece James/Azpilicueta positioning themselves in the middle-third as an option to rotation possession than going forward for width. With sufficient rotational movement, drop-ins to zone-14 and moving the opponent from flank-to-flank, this definitely has the potential to generate a lot of chances and hopefully a lot of goals!

What does a team need to win a football game? 1–0! How does the team do it? Well you can find out right here in, what will be soon, a library of tactics.

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