Burnley proved that even bottom-half teams can effectively counter Chelsea’s tactics. Chelsea need new creative solutions in midfield to power their run-in to the Premier League title.
Burnley played a traditional 4-4-2 to earn a draw at Turf Moor on Sunday. Burnley played eight men behind the ball to stifle all of Chelsea’s offensive power and creativity. Their two front men – Andre Gray and Ashley Barnes – played in the spaces between Chelsea’s three centre-backs to create just enough uncertainty to launch the occasional threat.
Burnley adapted Tottenham’s and Liverpool’s tactics against Chelsea to their strengths and style. Where Tottenham used quality and speed, Burnley used position and physicality. Spurs showed how to defeat the Blues. Sean Dyche took those lessons to deny Chelsea two of the three points.
Chelsea do have a genuine creative issue. There is no creative impetus that comes out of the midfield right now. N’Golo Kante – for all his work rate and defensive nous – is just that. – Barrett Rouen, The Blue Lions
Chelsea took the Premier League lead using far fewer players than their nearest competitors. Once Antonio Conte set his XI for the 3-4-3, he made very few changes to his lineups. The Blues seemed unstoppable as they opened up their lead atop the league. But it was only a matter of time before an opponent cracked the code.
Antonio Conte now needs to find different creative solutions for their attacking play. Cesc Fabregas is the team’s most creative playmaker. However, his introduction in place of Nemanja Matic opens up a significant defensive liability.
N’Golo Kante can only do so much. Placing Fabregas alongside Kante will reduce the number of midfield battles Chelsea can win. Equally troubling is how much more this will expose the defence.
Resolving these conflicting demands may require a change in formation along with a change in personnel. The 3-4-3 is rarely a long-term solution, and the Premier League run-in may force Antonio Conte to adopt a 3-5-2 earlier than planned.
If Eden Hazard has decided to play well he’s going to be the best player on the pitch. Other days he’s invisible. Moving forward, Chelsea must end up in the 3-5-2 because then there will be a deep-lying playmaker as well to complement the strikers up front.
A 3-5-2 would allow Conte to have Fabregas on to create offensive opportunities, while protecting midfield and the defensive third with Kante and Matic or Nathaniel Chalobah. The 3-5-2 will also be better suited for the club’s future. Whether Conte promotes Lewis Baker to the first team, transitions Cesar Azpilicueta into a defensive midfielder or purchases Marco Verratti, a three-man central-midfield will best accommodate and maximize these players.
Few people predicted the Blues would lead the Premier League, let alone for so many weeks with a commanding margin. This may make Chelsea like the dog that caught its tail. They were not expecting to be here, but now that they are, they need to figure out what to do about it.
“This run-in to the end of the season is going to be a lot riskier than people say it is,” Rouen concluded. “Bigger leads have been lost by teams that have more depth and talent than Chelsea does.”
The last year of sports has been full of comebacks and blown leads. Chelsea does not want to be England’s version of Golden State, Cleveland or Atlanta.