Emerson and N’Golo Kante are back in Chelsea’s lineup, which has Frank Lampard setting up the Blues in a 4-3-3 again. The formation worked well enough in the Super Cup against Liverpool, but the defensive vulnerabilities may again be in the forefront.
Chelsea seemed to have solved many of their issues on defence – which have their root in midfield – by switching to a three-man defence for the last few games. The extra centreback helped protect Jorginho, which in turn helped protect Cesar Azpilicueta. Marcos Alonso quickly returned to his leading form as a wing-back, and these and many other factors suggested this could be the stable formation the Blues have needed.
Maybe it still will be, but not from the opening whistle today against Liverpool. The return of Emerson to the lineup has Lampard comfortable enough with the left side of the defence to use Emerson as a left back in place of Alonso as the wing-back. N’Golo Kante’s return similarly has Lampard thinking the Frenchman will be enough to cover for Jorginho in screening the defence.
While the adjustments induced by Emerson’s and Kante’s returns are surprising from a tactical perspective, Mason Mount’s return is surprising and slightly concerning from an individual perspective.
Mount had played every minute for Lampard so far this season before coming off early against Valencia after a dangerous challenge. The consequences of the tackle could have been much worse, and Mount and the Blues are fortunate that all tests came back negative. However, even though those tests cleared him by the “letter of the (medical) law,” this still seems like a premature return to what will be a demanding and physical game.
The Chelsea XI and formation against Liverpool show how certain Frank Lampard is in what he wants his side to look like this season. The team showed an immediate improvement defensively with the 3-4-3, and were making good adjustments as they grew into it over the two games.
However, the immediate return to the 4-3-3 upon Emerson’s and Kante’s return, and the immediate inclusion of Mount, shows that those recent deviations were only stopgaps.
One decision that remains consistent is another game without a start for Christian Pulisic. Mount’s potential injury and the expectation that Lampard would be cautious with his return seemed to open the door for Pulisic, who was surprisingly left out of the Champions League squad to face Valencia despite his relative wealth of experience in the tournament.
The American could fill in for either Mount or Willian in a formation like this. Willian had been in reasonable form, but that, too, could have been a function of the formation. Against Valencia, his energy levels seemed lower than in the previous game against Wolves. Pulisic would have been a chance to let Willian rest or Mount to recover, but Lampard chose against both options.