Last Sunday, Chelsea played against Manchester United in what turned out to be a fantastic spectacle of football. Chelsea, were 3 goals up by the 50th minute only to be pegged back to 3-3, partially down to poor defending and poor officiating as well as United’s hunger and desire to get on level terms. What was noticeable was a change in shape, Chelsea normally adopt a 4-3-3 formation, Torres spearheading the attack with Mata and Sturridge flanking him. What we saw on Sunday was a change in formation where Florent Malouda was played left, Mata behind Torres and Sturridge wide right while Essien and Meireles acted as defensive midfielders. It worked, that’s until Chelsea gave two penalties away and lost momentum.
The two diagrams below show us how Chelsea approached the game. The first diagram is the home game and it is clear to see the 4-2-3-1 formation that was deployed. Torres the lone man while Malouda, Mata and Sturridge support him. Chelsea didn’t lose the game because of the formation adopted, in fact, it was the formation that largely meant that they went up 3 goals ahead. There was no question that they didn’t deserve the half time lead but what they did do was defend stoutly and then counter, the 4-2-3-1 formation gave Chelsea much more fluidity than the 4-3-3 did. With two players as defensive midfielders, Essien and Meireles, it gives more scope for creativity, rather than the one defensive midfielder within the 4-3-3.
The second diagram shows, to a lesser extent, the 4-2-3-1 in action, however, there was little width on the left. Mata drifted inside to support Torres, whereas in the home game, Malouda hugged the left touchline. In the second half in the away game against Manchester United, it was clear that there was a change in formation. With Lampard being taken off for Anelka, Chelsea looked more potent and Fernando Torres looked more dangerous, scoring one goal, although he should have scored 2. Chelsea look more dangerous when they have a 4-2-3-1 formation, which begs the question why Chelsea don’t employ it more often. Well, for this 4-2-3-1 formation to work, it is key that the three players behind Torres are dangerous, Mata, with an 86% pass completion, one goal and one assist was crucial, as was Sturridge who drifted in behind United to provide the first, however Malouda looked static and a shadow of his 09/10 self.
With the 4-3-3 maybe AVB feels that there is more consistency in Chelsea’s play, however many fans would argue that the 4-2-3-1 breeds more creativity and is the way forward. The problem is having the personnel to have such a system, the wide players have to stay wide and it is arguable that in Sturridge and Mata, Chelsea don’t have natural wingers, in this sense the next transfer window will be key to get players who would suit this new style of football that AVB wants to adopt for the next few seasons.