Chelsea: Is Lampard ditching the 4-2-3-1 and reverting back to the 4-3-3?

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard has played around with multiple formations throughout the season, but is the 4-3-3 coming back?

Chelsea’s summer spending spree cleared up many of the cracks and answered a lot of questions about Frank Lampard’s young squad. These answers also brought a few new questions to the surface. For example, how will the Blues’ coaching staff fit all of the talent into the starting XI and which formation will be used?

Last year—and throughout his young managerial career—Lampard turned to the 4-3-3. He occasionally set his team up in a 3-4-3 for big matches, but the former was used more often than not. While both have made appearances this year, the two aforementioned set ups have made way to the 4-2-3-1 early on in the 2020/21 season. Of course, the 4-2-3-1 is a variation of the 4-3-3 at its core, but like many of the minuscule aspects of football, the small variations matter.

Lampard brought on a host of substitutes in the second half of the Blues’ latest match against Krasnodar and with them, he made a tactical tweak. The second-year Chelsea manager used the personnel changes to shift the shape of his team into a more basic 4-3-3—one similar to the end of last season—when his team needed production, clinging to a 1-0 lead after 70+ minutes.

Although the Blues had worked hard throughout the match, the play looked eerily similar to that of its attacking against Sevilla and Manchester United—both goalless draws. The English manager turned to Mason Mount (for Jorginho), Christian Pulisic (for Callum Hudson-Odoi) and N’Golo Kante (for Mateo Kovacic) as he looked to put the game away.

These swaps allowed Chelsea to simplify the play. Kai Havertz and Mount would play as dual No. 8s (instead of Havertz rotating with Hakim Ziyech on the right wing); Kante would deputize the middle of the park, covering the back line, and Pulisic and Ziyech would run freely on the wings. As previously mentioned, such microscopic shifts can have seismic impacts on a match. Luckily for Lampard, these substitutions paid off. Just moments after the three substitutions, the Blues doubled their lead and went on to score three goals in just 14 minutes—all because of the formation change.

The 4-2-3-1 has largely failed Lampard early on this season. His experiment of Kante and Jorginho as a double pivot has led to stagnant offensive performances. Havertz has found himself tripping over Pulisic, Ziyech and even Werner at times as he’s released into an advanced role. Even worse, the team has lacked creativity. A 4-3-3 resolves these issues as it pulls the reins in on Havertz by giving him a more defined position, it allows Kante to play in his best position and it introduces a player like Mount into the mix to add creativity.

Obviously 15 minutes is hardly a sample size to base the rest of the season off, but it makes sense logistically, as well. The Blues have figured out their defensive woes—keeping four clean sheets in Edouard Mendy’s five starts—and have now looked to amend attacking worries. Circling back to the opening few words of the paragraph, 15 minutes may not be a lot, but Chelsea made the most of that time by scoring three goals in the latest Champions League match.

Lampard is by no means going to stick with the 4-3-3 for every match this season, but the closing stages of the game against Krasnodar could signify a changing of the guard. The old 4-3-3 is going to withstand the test of time and last the duration of the season if Lampard knows what’s best for his side when fully healthy. What do you think Chelsea’s best formation is? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!