Tactical diversity needed for Chelsea to accentuate their dominance

Sunday’s Capital One Cup Final clash between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur saw Jose Mourinho spring somewhat of a puzzle on pundits and fans alike as he named five defenders in his starting eleven.

It would become apparent closer to kick-off that the Blues would not line up with five defenders, rather four; with 20-year-old powerhouse Kurt Zouma playing at the bas of a midfield trio, attempting to fill the shoes of one Nemanja Matic.


The few moments of uncertainty surrounding this Chelsea line-up was an exciting time on social media, as the predicted formations were posted in abundance.

Being a fan of Italian football, and a self-proclaimed 3-5-2 advocate, I found myself waiting with bated breath to see whether or not a similar tactic would be deployed.

Mourinho’s side have been playing 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 all season, but have started to stumble of late, this unconventional starting eleven had me thinking it may be worth their time to familiarise themselves with a more divergent approach for the times when they come unstuck.

How Chelsea could alternatively line up.
How Chelsea could alternatively line up.

A formation based around a 5-3-2 could be a perfect platform to build upon, or maybe one more akin to a 5-2-3. It is a formation which could allow for almost limitless flexibility when in possession, and provide a solid base which Mourinho sees as a prerequisite for any system that he is to use.

Let’s take a look at this starting from the back. A back three could see Chelsea’s defence become an immovable object.

Ideally, for me, this would consist of John Terry, Zouma and Branislav Ivanovic for now. All three are good in possession and would find themselves with more freedom to move out of defence with the ball and even start attacking moves.

The wing backs would be Felipe Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta. The latter is always keen to push forward but playing on the left as he tends to, he regularly has to cut back onto his preferred right foot to put a cross into the box and this can often see a chance wasted.

There is the obvious alternative of keeping the Spaniard on the left, while playing Ivanovic on the right and allowing Gary Cahill to slot into the back three.

Moving forward, one of Chelsea’s problems this season has been exploiting space on the flanks. Utilising these two wing backs would have a huge impact in rectifying this.

Both Azpilicueta and Felipe Luis could attack while knowing there is adequate cover at the back with Matic providing a protective blanket by sitting in front of the defensive three.

As most sides tend to play with four at the back, it is likely that the prospect of facing an attacking quintet consisting of Azpilicueta, Felipe Luis, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Diego Costa, with Cesc Fabregas orchestrating the play from deep would leave them stretched to the point of tearing both mentally and physically.

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Eden Hazard chance creation zones.

Each of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian are prone to moving infield when in possession, and often even in search for it.

The overlapping wing backs would allow whichever two are selected to drift inwards as they do while still providing width in the team.

It could be argued that the Belgian is at his most ominous when driving infield and onto his favoured right foot. The statistics back this up. To the right are two graphics, courtesy of squawka.com illustrating where he has been at his most creative and prolific so far this season.

Eden Hazard goal zones this season.
Eden Hazard goal zones this season.

The variations between Chelsea’s current two regular formations are so slight that, at times, it is difficult to identify which formation they are using.

Learning to play in a completely different one could prove vital, especially with their intentions of competing on all levels, particularly in the latter stages of the Champions League.

Many of their slip ups in recent seasons have been due to the predictability of their play, implementing a system similar to the one briefly outlined above could be the difference between a securing a sustained stay at the summit of English football and continuing to linger around second or third place.

The Author

Conor Clancy

Kit nerd who loves calcio. 3-5-2 advocate. News and features editor at ForzaItalianFootball.com. League of Ireland work for Extratime.ie and sporadic musings for BPF. Find me on Twitter @concalcio to talk football.

One thought on “Tactical diversity needed for Chelsea to accentuate their dominance

  1. 1. Formations are just a loose description of players positions, more important are the jobs that the players do in attack and in defence (and in between).

    2. A weakness of the 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 is the opposite of what you’ve stated, that being the lack of width in attack as the wide players are often asked to be involved in the build up which negates quick ball movement to the wing in attacking positions and relies on the ability of the attackers (see Manchester United).

    3. You’ve actually outlined a Liverpool-Rodgers style 3-4-3 in both the image of your line-up and the description of the attacking players movements. Essentially Liverpool deal with the lack of width problem by having the two wide attacking players drop inside as twin No.10s (as you’ve suggested with Willian/Oscar and Hazard) which leaves one player up front and allows the wide players to move up in line with the attack.

    4. The weakness of such a system is obvious also in Liverpool early season failings, if you get the attacking balance wrong, you get caught on the counter-attack.

    5. Not sure what is meant by a sustained stay at the top, Mourinho has a certain way of playing and for the most part it relies on being compact in defence and following prescribed movements in attack. It works for him and has seen his teams consistently at the top of their respective leagues, plus he’s recruited for this system and I’d suggest that Azpilicueta and Luis being great full backs doesn’t necessarily mean they would make great wing players for a 3-4-3 or that Terry is suited to playing in a back three (given that it requires more pace and mobility than a traditional back 4).

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