Frank Lampard is taking his 3-4-3 to Europe, returning Cesar Azpilicueta to the backline to give Reece James his turn at right wing-back. N’Golo Kante is back to ensure Chelsea’s midfield is well-protected at Lille.
Chelsea had strong performances in their brief experiment with the 3-4-3 earlier this season, but Frank Lampard reverted to his four-man defence once he had the right people for it. Now, with Reece James ready for his first European start, Lampard is once again deploying the 3-4-3 (which could easily chameleon into a four-man defence) with James on the right flank, Marcos Alonso on the other and Cesar Azpilicueta as the right centreback.
But as is so often the case, the real story may be who is not in the XI, or in this case, not even in the matchday squad: Christian Pulisic.
Pulisic is learning a hard lesson about Frank Lampard, player power, blowback and the English game. Whereas publicly airing frustrations about playing time may work in Major League Soccer and perhaps even on the continent, in the Premier League – and in light of Chelsea’s long history of player power from David Luiz all the way up to David Luiz – Pulisic is learning all about the wrong way of doing things.
Frank Lampard will obviously have a tactful and diplomatic way of addressing this decision. He may adhere to his downplaying joke with a light laugh before “No, but seriously…” method of handling such things.
But we can only wonder what has been said and will be said behind closed doors.
And we can only rue and regret all that will be said on ChelsTwit, the Men in Blazers podcast and the entirety of US Soccer Twitter in the coming days. Pulisic may deserve this, but we don’t (Narrator: Actually, they do).
Back to those who did not inflame the manager, Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Willian will lead Chelsea’s attack. Lampard continues to rely, perhaps to the point of over-reliance, on his prolific pair of Cobham graduates. This is a bittersweet birthday, then, for Michy Batshuayi.
Perhaps most importantly, though, is having N’Golo Kante in the midfield. Kante will ensure that there is no available space between the defensive line and the attacking line, compared to the hectares of space the Blues permitted there in the first half against Brighton. Kante will allow Jorginho to run, point and shout as all good leaders do from anywhere on the pitch, while the Frenchman takes up whatever positions are necessary to offer a passing outlet to the defenders or Jorginho himself; cover Jorginho’s bait-taking pressing; join the attacks as necessary; and help the three very defensive defenders protect Kepa Arrizabalaga so the young man can earn a second consecutive clean sheet.