Chelsea had a fantastic window, but the new signings may step on one another’s’ toes as well as that of previous first team players.
When people talk about formations, they generally mention the likes of 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 for Chelsea. Both are not necessarily inaccurate descriptions, but they do not paint the full picture. A better place to start would be the defensive or offensive shape. Especially for a team like Chelsea which will play in their offensive shape more often than not, that is a good place to start.
Most modern managers such as Frank Lampard have their sides line up in 2-3-5 or 3-2-5 shape in attack. There are a few variations (Pep Guardiola has fullbacks invert into the three, Jurgen Klopp has the fullbacks become the width of the five, and Antonio Conte has a back three in a 3-2-5 to start). Lampard, thus far, appears to prefer the 2-3-5 with the fullbacks providing the width, though he occasional uses the 3-2-5 shape when Cesar Azpilicueta is playing. He has also had Reece James join the three in midfield when he has had a winger on that side to provide width.
The makeup of that five is perhaps the most important and where Chelsea begins to hit issues with new signings. Ideally, the five consists of one left footed and one right footed player either side of a striker pinning the defense in. Having two right footers on a flank or vice versa makes the play predictable and much easier to stop. That is where the new signings, plus the old players, get in each other’s way.
It may help to understand before going further that much of Chelsea’s window was based on opportunity. Entering the window, it was clear Chelsea wanted at least a left back (Ben Chilwell), a new keeper (Edouard Mendy), and a left footed attacker (Hakim Ziyech). The rest were there for the taking and too good to pass up. Timo Werner was an easy target once Liverpool pulled out. Kai Havertz was too expensive for anyone but Chelsea. Thiago Silva was free and further reinforced the squad.
Therein lies the issue. Go back to the ideal makeup of that front five. Chilwell and Reece James or Azpilicueta take up the widest roles. Ziyech and Havertz, both left footed, battle over the spot to the right of the striker. Christian Pulisic and Timo Werner fight over the spot to the left of the striker.
At this point, you may be asking why Werner is not in at striker. The answer is that the striker has to be able to pin the centerbacks into place. If they like to roam, as Werner does, the centerbacks are freed up which in turn gives the fullbacks more freedom too.
Chelsea has tried a few workarounds to this already this season. At first, Ruben Loftus-Cheek would burst from deep to fill in as Werner roamed. Against Liverpool, Havertz was asked to keep the defense back. As of late, Frank Lampard has gone with the easier solution in Tammy Abraham or Olivier Giroud who are actually pinning strikers. That forces Werner wide, into competition with Pulisic, but it is one of the prices of balance.
Werner and Pulisic stepping on each other’s toes is not much different than Ziyech or Havertz doing the same. Given the need for a player to pin the centerbacks into position, it becomes very hard not to play one of Abraham or Giroud up top. Havertz could potentially fulfill the role, even in a false nine compacity, though that would hinder his ability to roam. It would also likely force Pulisic to wide right, which hinders his attacking ability as well.
Perhaps the best solution overall is the 4-3-3 with dual eights. Looking at a 2-3-5 or even a 3-2-5, it becomes clear why Lampard wanted someone like Declan Rice who could slide back and forth to change the shape. Ziyech could allow the play to overlap him as he stays in the midfield group and he could rotate with Havertz on the field. That keeps them out of each other’s way without causing issues. The same could happen on the other side with Mason Mount and Pulisic or Werner.
Of course, that leaves out Chelsea’s player of the season Mateo Kovacic. Simply put, that is how this situation goes because of the new signings. All of them are individually brilliant but it is impossible to get them all on the field in a balanced way without losing someone crucial. It is the same situation throughout.
That isn’t necessarily a negative as the season will be long, but if 4-2-3-1 is the way to go, it will be difficult to justify a front four of Pulisic, Werner, Havertz, and Ziyech without a striker like Abraham or Pulisic. These players can play in rotation while keeping Chelsea competitive and balanced. It may unfortunately come down to Werner versus Pulisic, Ziyech versus Havertz, Abraham versus Giroud, and Mount versus Kovacic. If Lampard handles it right, it will not be unfortunate however. It will be another strength in the Blues against their opponents.