Some slack defending may have taken a touch of gloss off ‘Oscar night’ but there can be no denying the excitement over the quality of attacking talent on view. This season Chelsea clearly have players capable of flair, sublime skill and assured touch – and now with the added threat of pace. We’ve had a disjointed preseason and start to the campaign, due to the encroaching international calendar, but over the next few weeks we have the ideal period to bed in all the attacking ability at our disposal.
The coaching team can use the intense fixture list to not only rotate, and try out different players and formations, but to fit together a first eleven jigsaw that utilises all of our best talent yet is still balanced. Judging by the deficiencies that resurfaced against the Old Lady it’s a taller order than we would have hoped. As excited as us fans may be anticipating the silky skills of our attacking play the defensive side of our game is a concern. Oscar’s superb debut performance obviously made a big impact, this kid is clearly a first team regular in waiting, but quite how we get the best out of all these forward thinking players in the same line-up is currently a conundrum. With Hazard, Mata and Oscar simply too good to miss out we need to do some head scratching and drills on the training ground to make it work.
There are a certainly few options open to accommodate all three in a starting eleven. One would be a switch to a 4-3-3, with the left footed Mata on one side, and right footed Hazard on the other, and El Nino in the centre. These wide players could switch wings easily and also look to drift infield in search of the ball or space and likewise hug the touchlines to stretch the field. A midfield three would see Oscar deeper alongside two from Ramires, Lampard, Mikel and Romeu. Judging from last night’s excellent performance he has the work rate, pressing and passing ability as well as vision to excel in a midfield three. Alongside Ramires he would also offer a burst of pace and alongside Lampard an attacking threat from deep. Also the tactical job he did pressing Pirlo and suffocating Juve’s attacks high up the pitch was superbly done – he didn’t lose concentration once. The big drawback though would be the brilliant attacking triangles we’ve seen Hazard, Mata and Cole perform to devastating effort down the left flank. The linkup between these three has been a pleasure to watch so far this season and it’s arguable that such understanding should be harnessed rather than wasted. Similarly there was some promising interplay between the samba boys on the right that will have been noted.
Another interesting option is to stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation and drop Ramires back to one of the deep lying midfield roles. One of the most common bug bears over tactics at the start of this season is seeing the energetic Brazilian stuck out in a wide forward position. I think, importantly, in a deeper lying role he would be terrier-like in putting pressure on the ball – something severely lacking by the midfield base at various points so far. Also, as mentioned, his engine to get up and down – offering a goal threat and defensive cover in the centre, would be a big plus. If he were to venture forward then Hazard, Oscar or Mata all have the intelligence and work ethic to cover him and track back.
What a midfield base would allow these three creative players is a platform, some defensive security, to switch positions, go searching for the ball in dangerous areas and link up together in a more fluid way. If we need width on the right Oscar could fill the number ten position. If we want to see link up play on the left, Mata can be the trequartista and closest to Hazard on that flank. It would be an attacking line that could cause some serious damage in the final third but also capable of pressurising the ball high up the field and winning the ball early in transition. Giving the players the option to switch positions out on the pitch means they would have the freedom to create and roam wherever the available space dictated and, with a central shield of two, not be overly burdened about the threat of a swift counter attack.
However the stumbling block for the 4-2-3-1 formation is making sure that the defensive base works well and it does look to be the problem area for us at the moment. In Wednesday’s game both Lampard and Mikel were guilty of one of two sloppy passes, just through a drop in concentration more than anything else, with one of those mistakes eventually costing us and contributing to points lost. We also need to make sure that if the forward line are pressing high up the pitch the base pushes up as well and closes down space rather than leaving wide gaps for the opposition to run into.
Dropping back may leave us with an added body or two at the back but offers little if there is no pressure on the ball and attackers can pick a pass or try their luck on goal. It’s also a lot harder to stop an attacker who’s had the space to pick up momentum. Whatever happens over the coming weeks it’s clearly going to be work in progress but Oscar’s award-winning (sorry, more puns) Man of the Match performance means Di Matteo must work on his line-up to give the Brazilian the stage to shine his talent deserves, sooner rather than later.