Chelsea manager Frank Lampard is primarily a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 guy on paper. But positions and transfer targets paint a flirtation with 4-4-2.
There is no “best” formation. No rock, paper, scissors relationship to be used to gain the upper hand against an opponent. At the end of the day, the numbers are just a guide line or a general overview of something much more complicated.
On paper, Frank Lampard puts Chelsea into a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 (which are, more or less, the same minus one small tweak). In practice, however, it is hardly uncommon for the average position maps to turn into something more akin to a 4-4-2. Add on the transfer rumors involving a lot of strikers and that notion only becomes stronger.
Average position maps, both for Chelsea and Derby County, often showed that the offensive line became a line of four with four supporting midfielders in behind and two center backs behind that. Often, Mason Mount is the player that pushes up but the phenomenon shows up even without the young Englishman.
One does not have to go far to see where Lampard may have been inspired by this either. Manuel Pellegrini used the 4-4-2 to great effect before and after Lampard played for Manchester City. Carlo Ancelotti plays around with formations, but he often returns to some sort of 4-4-2 at almost every club. Even Jose Mourinho used a second striker as a winger pretty much everywhere since Inter Milan.
The transfer targets only serve to reinforce this theory. Whereas Tammy Abraham needs someone who can rotate him out, he just as badly needs someone on the field with him who can assist in the scoring load. Chelsea’s recent issues have come when the nominal second strikers (Mount or Christian Pulisic mostly) saw their goals dry up.
The concern many will have is that 4-4-2 is seen as an “inferior” formation. Because it has one less midfielder, it is unable to control a game in the same way as a 4-3-3. But again, formations are merely guidelines. Even Pep Guardiola’s teams defend in a 4-4-2 often but then they shift into a 2-3-2-3 shape on offense most days. Ancelotti’s Everton flows between multiple shapes, all beginning with the same 4-4-2 base.
For Chelsea, this has mostly taken the form of a 4-2-3-1 with Mount pushing up (and often rotating wide). When Mount starts as a winger, it generally means one of the fullbacks goes all the way forward on attack. The same is largely true for Pulisic as he has been tasked with driving towards goal rather than staying wide or dropping in behind the striker.
Through the 4-4-2 lens, rumors about Moussa Dembele, Timo Werner, and even Wilfried Zaha make a lot of sense. All three have plenty of experience in two up top formations. More so, Werner and Zaha are both able to play wide as well. If they were to come in to Chelsea, that fluidity that Pellegrini and Ancelotti used to win trophies could become a function of Chelsea.
4-4-2 has a bad reputation as being a defensive formation but it, like any formation, is down to the players involved. The right players can make it just as effective as a 4-3-3 in controlling a match. How Chelsea already plays implies that it is part of Lampard’s end goal. Or at least the fluidity between multiple shapes with one XI is. This transfer market could add the final pieces Lampard needs to complete his 4-4-2 flirtations.