Frank Lampard enjoyed a successful first season with Chelsea F.C., despite no new summer signings coming through the door. The Blues hovered around 4th for the majority of the season in behind Leicester City, and eventually secured 4th behind Manchester United. Lampard relied heavily on young talent in 2019-20 and the club were rewarded with fantastic performances from the likes of Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori and Reece James. However, although all of those players have potential, they might not be at the level of Premier League champions just yet. Lampard and those above his authority recognized that and responded with several new signings of the highest quality. In fact, very few other clubs have (on paper) done better summer transfer window business…ever. Despite the promise all their new signings have, it remains to be seen how they will all come together and whether or not it’s worth it to bench some of the young players that secured their Champions League finish last year, for a heap of new players that have never played together before. So with that, here is a Tactical Analysis of Frank Lampard’s Chelsea heading into the 2020-21 season.
system of play: 4-3-3
Frank Lampard operated primarily in a 4-3-3 system in 2019-20, as he did with Derby County the year before. The former Chelsea player/legend did however utilize the 4-2-3-1 as his most common second choice and with Havertz, Werner, Ziyech and Mount all capable of playing as a ‘number 10’, Lampard might opt for the 4-2-3-1 on a more frequent basis in 2020-21.
Beyond all the new signings, another interesting point of contention will continue to be how to get the best out of N’Golo Kante and Jorginho. Maurizio Sarri was lambasted throughout 2018-19 for his use of Kante as an ‘8’, only for Lampard to do the exact same thing to no criticism whatsoever. The Blues could opt for a double-pivot, but then it becomes increasingly difficult to fit both Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic into the lineup. The Croatian was one of Chelsea’s key players in 2019-20 and arguably their most productive in central midfield; while the Italian international hardly ever misses a beat in build-up phases. So with Frank Lampard already preferring the 4-3-3 and even more central midfield options available this season, the British manager may stick to the same approach in 2020-21. This formation has some holes, but it allows Chelsea to get the best out of Jorginho, who might falter more often without the extra support a 4-2-3-1 can provide. It also allows the Blues to operate with an overlapping fullback approach, something that was crucial to their play in 2019-20.
The question surrounding Chelsea’s predicted lineup going into 2020-21 might be the most frequently asked question I’ve been asked in the build-up to the start of the season this weekend. It’s unsurprising why, given how many new signings they’ve made. In Havertz, Werner and Ziyech, Chelsea have signed a number of players who can play in a number of different positions. That might be a major advantage for Frank Lampard, but it makes Chelsea’s impending lineup all the more difficult to predict.
In goal, Kepa Arrizabalga looks prepared to hold down his place, after a rather abysmal 2018-19 campaign. Chelsea have been linked with Stade Rennais’ Edouard Mendy, which seems almost silly given how much they spent on Kepa only two seasons ago. The number 1 spot between the posts might be the only position that Lampard needs to stress about. That should be a good thing…but given that it’s his goalkeeper, it’s still rather troubling.
Ahead of him, Ben Chilwell, Malang Sarr and Thiago Silva may come straight into the back-four as reinforcements, but Lampard could also stick with a relatively consistent back-four from last season of Reece James, Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta. Azpilicueta in particular is Chelsea’s supreme defender and arguably their player of the season in 2019-20. Whichever one of James, Chilwell or Azpilicueta misses out more often, we have to believe Lampard would be wrong to leave out his team captain. Out of Chelsea’s new signings at the back, Thiago Silva looks likeliest to start, as he overtakes the Spaniard as their most accomplished and experienced defender. But speaking of accomplished Spaniards, Marcos Alonso could also still have a role to play in 2020-21. He was fantastic in a back-three under Antonio Conte and often underrated last season at times for his defensive attributes not being quite as strong as his attacking attributes. He’s still a fantastic defender and often does not get the credit that he deserves. When you consider that more of Chelsea’s attacks come down the left than the right anyway, Alonso is a very useful option to have.
Ahead of the back-four, a trio of N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic may be set to continue as Ross Barkley and Mason Mount play second-fiddle. Hakim Ziyech could play as an ‘8’, ’10’ or on the right wing, which might be most required now given that the Blues let go of their most productive option in that regard – Willian.
Frank Lampard’s selection headache will continue further forward as he works to get the best out of new summer signing Timo Werner. Werner can operate as a ’10’, on the left wing or as a striker. But throughout his time at Leipzig he always had someone to play alongside whenever he was deployed up front. His ability to play as a ‘number 9’ was questioned by readers of our RB Leipzig Tactical Analysis last season and even when playing in that position for his national team he’s always had someone like Muller or Reus in behind to aid his cause. Tammy Abraham really doesn’t deserve to be sacrificed, but if Werner establishes himself as an out-and-out number 9, Lampard might not have any choice. However, for reasons that we will talk about later, that scenario appears rather unlikely.
To complete the eleven, Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic could battle for the final spot on the left wing; with Werner representing a third option. Pulisic had a fantastic end to the 2019-20 campaign post-lockdown and Chelsea fans will be hoping that he has a more complete season this time around. Havertz has come in for a lot of money and may take some time to gel with the rest of the squad, but he could also hit the ground running, having found the back of the net 29 times in the past two Bundesliga seasons combined. The biggest problem for Havertz is that he’s operated primarily as a ’10’ or false ‘9’ throughout his career so far and may not have enough defensive presence to fit into Chelsea’s system if they play 4-3-3. He’s also never really played left wing, but neither has Hakim Ziyech. As a result, Christian Pulisic should retain his place.
Beyond what seems likely, I would love to see Chelsea experiment with a 3-5-2 system this season. The 3-5-2 could allow Azpilicueta, James and Chilwell to operate in the same side, while easing the defensive responsibilities on Thiago Silva. It would also allow Tammy Abraham to retain a place up front alongside Timo Werner – who has always operated in two-striker systems, enable Kai Havertz to play as a ’10’ and permit N’Golo Kante and Jorginho to play as a double pivot with some level of support nearby in the form of wing-backs. Chelsea could achieve some of the same outcomes in a 4-2-3-1, but not as many. It’s unlikely, but something that could become an out of the box option for Frank Lampard’s team.
jorginho & playing out from the backEmbed from Getty Images
Although Mateo Kovacic was brilliant last season and N’Golo Kante remains one of Europe’s supreme defensive midfielders, Jorginho’s role at the club cannot be understated. The Italian international is superb at picking out a pass from deep and often their key player in build-up phases. What he lacks for in pace and discipline, he certainly makes up for in his precision on the ball. While remaining in constant communication with his defenders, the Brazilian-born midfielder is the first one they look to in the quest to go on the attack and create numerical advantages in possession. Jorginho is fantastic at finding players in between the lines. In 2019-20 this was on full display in Frank Lampard’s system. With the movement of players like Willian and Pulisic, combined with the running power of Kovacic and N’Golo Kante, Jorginho often looked to start attacks by playing centrally, where Chelsea secured overloads through the drifting inside of their wingers. The fullbacks meanwhile were adept at creating space out wide and going on the overlap, which made for another crucial element to Chelsea’s build-up play in 2019-20.
Someone like Hakim Ziyech who has a natural inclination to drift inside and play through the centre of the park, will fit into this plan wonderfully well if he is deployed on the wing. The Blues also utilized this same ideal of wingers drifting inside and fullbacks going on the overlap when they last won the league under Antonio Conte, and continued to be a feature of their play on the rare occasion that Lampard switched to a 3-4-3 system last season. If they continue this approach, they will get the best out of players like Ben Chilwell and Reece James, while providing Jorginho the ability to work his magic from deep.
will werner fit in as a target man?Embed from Getty Images
Timo Werner is an incredible player, but how he’ll fit into Chelsea’s style of play remains to be seen. Lampard’s never really been one to deploy a false nine at either of his two clubs, and it seems almost unfair to drop a player like Tammy Abraham or even the reliable Olivier Giroud. With Lampard’s direct approach, quick attacking transitions and reliance on crosses into the box, Giroud and Abraham both fit into Lampard’s style and system like a puzzle piece. Werner is incredibly mobile, so much more versatile than some of Chelsea’s previous failures up front and will prove to be a good signing. But it’s quite possible he falls into the same trap that Alvaro Morata found at Stamford Bridge when deployed up front. The 24-year old has previously played as a lone ‘number 9′ for his national team, but never really fulfilled that role for Leipzig. He’s not a typical target man or one to hold defenders back with his position, nor is he particularly good in the air (unlike Morata). Last season he lost nearly 80% of his aerial duels and didn’t score a single headed goal in the Bundesliga. On a more positive note, the German international likes to come deep and get on the ball, his movement is practically second to none, he’s extremely capable of playing on the wing and regardless of where he plays he always seems to score goals. But if he plays any lower on the pitch, such as in the ’10’ position, that could mean a player who is arguably even better in possession like Mateo Kovacic or Jorginho, is forced out of the side. Other than perhaps the goalkeeping issue, the question of what to do with the German striker might be Lampard’s toughest pre-season question of all.
defensive issues…solved?Embed from Getty Images
Lampard’s biggest worry going into 2020-21 will undoubtedly be on the defensive side of things. With all the new additions, the squad is almost overpowered in attack. By comparison, one could argue Chelsea are a bit underwhelming in defense. Their replacement for the aging Marcos Alonso was a player who gets beat in 1v1 situations more often, and might not even offer the same level of threat in attack. This is England’s first-choice left-back – Ben Chilwell – but Cesar Azpilicueta might continue to be their best option in the position instead. On the bright side, Rudiger and Zouma will undoubtedly be complimented by the simultaneously robust and elegant Thiago Silva. But the back-four can only do so much to keep goals out if the goalkeeper isn’t up to standard.Embed from Getty Images
On paper, Chelsea boast some impressive statistics. Given how much time they spend on the ball, they’re insanely impressive at interpreting the space to win it back. Remarkably, only Bournemouth made more interceptions last season, despite Chelsea accumulating 58% possession in the Premier League. In defense, the 4-3-3 becomes more of a 4-1-4-1, with Kante and Kovacic pushed higher than Jorginho. All three are excellent at reading the play and stopping attacks before they truly take off. Mason Mount has a lot to develop in that regard and that might be why he had to bide his time from the bench toward the end of the season. Even when Chelsea’s midfield line is bypassed, the defenders are more than capable of adequately reading the play and stopping attacks before Kepa’s called into action. Cesar Azpilicueta is the first one that comes to mind, but Kurt Zouma was much improved in that regard and established himself as Lampard’s first choice centre-back as a result. No Chelsea player made more interceptions or clearances in the league last season than the Frenchman, which bodes well for him going into 2020-21.
Despite some of those impressive stats, Chelsea still have some defensive issues worth noting. It’s far too simplistic to put it down to individual errors on the behalf of players like Kepa or Alonso and is more of a function of Lampard’s system and style of play than anything. Firstly, the energetic nature of the side’s attack and willingness of the fullbacks to gallop forward can leave them exposed in transition and/or powerless against speedy attackers. They commit so much energy going forward that even someone with the stamina of Cesar Azpilicueta can falter when the Blues come up against players like Anthony Martial or Adama Traore, given how much they are required to exert going forward.
The bigger cause for concern however is the lack of defensive presence from N’Golo Kante being pushed higher in Chelsea’s 4-1-4-1 defensive shape and Jorginho being forced into having too much ground to cover when the opposition bypass their midfield line of 4. Chelsea only picked up 60 yellow cards last season, but it’s no surprise that Jorginho picked up the most with 1/6 of their total. Kovacic for that matter wasn’t too far behind with 8, making up nearly 1/3 of their total when the two are combined together. Only 6 other players were dribbled past more times per game than Jorginho last season, which is more of a feature of Chelsea’s failure to give him enough cover than the individual player having some kind of excruciating David Luiz downside. It’s a positional issue that arises out of their 4-3-3 system, and also a tactical one that comes from the high-press they deploy. It probably goes without saying that Jorginho is not the type of player that fits into a high-press system, but playing in a 4-3-3 requires him to become more involved than most other formations. That is because Kovacic/Mount will always be pushed higher when attempting to win the ball back, leaving a potential gap on the left that Jorginho needs to cover. If the press is broken, Jorginho can be forced into situations where he is outnumbered or up against players that are quicker. Chelsea’s aggressive press then becomes rather pointless. The problem is further complicated by the fact that if Chelsea opt to play without Jorginho, someone like Kovacic may have the same issue. So this above all else, may be what Frank Lampard needs to focus on going into 2020-21, especially if the Blues are to challenge for the Premier League title.
Chelsea have done some miraculous business in the summer transfer window and look set to have a better season than they did in 2019-20. Their young players performed admirably to help the club secure Champions League football last time out, but it appears that they will be pushed out of the way for more experienced players, who are more capable of leading the club to glory. Despite all they have going for them up front, Lampard has a major selection headache on his hands and will need to figure out how to get the best out of players like Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Jorginho. If he gets it right, Chelsea could be genuine title contenders. If he gets it wrong, Chelsea won’t be far better off than they were last season and the massive amount of money spent could mean trouble for Lampard’s future.
So there it is! A Tactical Analysis of Frank Lampard’s Chelsea! Be sure to check out more of our Tactical Analyses, and our recent Transfer Market Analysis series where we analyzed the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United in regards to their summer window plans. How do you think Chelsea will line-up in 2020-21? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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