Despite talks of a tactical change ahead of Chelsea’s FA Cup game against Morecambe, Frank Lampard turned to his 4-3-3 with his back against the wall.
Frank Lampard lives to see another day. Usually a third round FA Cup tie against Morecambe would be a meaningless game, but given Chelsea’s form over the last month, this was a fairly large game. Perhaps most importantly, this match got the Blues back to winning ways after claiming victory in one of their last seven matches. Furthermore, it showed supporters everything we need to know about where Lampard’s head is at given all of the rumors of his sacking being considered.
Lampard chose to field an uncharacteristically strong side against the Shrimps, which signified the manager was not taking any risks; he knows his back is against the wall. While he turned to his trusted players, he also looked to a tried and tested formation to get Chelsea through to the next round. Lampard’s decision to stick with the 4-3-3—coupled with some fantastic player performances—reminded us all that despite how many other set-ups we discuss, Lampard’s favored formation is here to stay.
The inexperienced gaffer—now in his third season of management—turned to different set-ups last season when the going got tough. Most prominent in these times was the 3-4-3 formation that Lampard used most notably in wins over Manchester United and Tottenham. The 3-4-3 is nowhere to be found this campaign though, even when Lampard’s back is against the wall. Every Blues supporter has their own dream starting XI and formation. There are countless ways to set up a side with this many talented young players, and although Lampard has narrowed it down to two formations, one has pulled ahead of the others.
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Chelsea began the season playing a 4-2-3-1 with a combination of players slotting into numerous attacking positions. However, as the Blues got off to a rocky start, Lampard changed things up. He reverted back to a 4-3-3. Despite the recent struggles and speculation he would change again, the boss stuck with his formation and put any rumors of a different desired shape to bed. Lampard’s usage of the 4-3-3 against Morecambe shows that even when his job is on the line, he’s confident in his side’s ability to maximize their potential in this set-up. That’s exactly what they did.
Before diving into the tactical aspect of the formation or analyzing some player performances on the day, it’s important to remember that this was a contest against a League Two side. Chelsea was always going to win. However, that doesn’t mean there cannot be positive takeaways; nobody is over the moon about the outing, but there were still things we learned.
Perhaps the most positive aspect of playing a 4-3-3—as opposed to a 4-2-3-1 or any other formation—is the fact that it allows two of the Blues’ best playmakers to get involved higher up the pitch. Mason Mount and Kai Havertz have the potential to make up one of the deadliest attacking midfields in Europe, as was shown by their individual efforts in the FA Cup. Mount bagged a birthday goal on a rocket from distance and Havertz notched a goal and assist on the day. Their attacking contributions speak for themselves, but what often goes unnoticed is the off-ball work both put in.
Havertz and Mount track back excellently and do well to win back possession for Chelsea consistently. Further, they have already built a solid relationship and link-up well with those around them. The duo is also incredibly versatile with both being able to play in the midfield and on the wings. The former is also capable of playing as a false nine or second striker. This gives Lampard a lot of options up top, but what about the other midfield player? After all, the only real difference between the 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 is the midfield roles.
Overall, a large part of Lampard’s tactics include intensity and possession. The 4-3-3 gives the aforementioned attacking midfielders the opportunity to press when off the ball. It also allows the lone defensive midfielder the freedom to sit back and deputize ahead of the back line. Billy Gilmour stepped into this role perfectly against Morecambe. The Scot may not make headlines for his play—there wasn’t anything sexy about it—it was effective though. Morecambe was only able to control 16 percent of the possession and often struggled to string three passes together. Sure, part of that comes down to the glaring gap in quality between the teams, but some credit must also be given to the midfield.
The 4-3-3 formation with dual eights is the way forward for Chelsea. Lampard displayed to us that he is comfortable lining his team up that way, even when the pressure is on him, and that reveals a lot about his future plans. Hopefully the pressure will alleviate and the Blues will begin to build on Sunday’s impressive outing.
What do you think Chelsea’s best formation is? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!