In recent weeks, Frank Lampard has spoken about how Chelsea has gotten the basics wrong. Simple passes, simple positioning, simple runs, and simple ideas were all absent. What had made the 4-3-3 with dual eights work was a distance memory.
With his job maybe on the line, Lampard opted to go with the 4-4-2 against Leicester City. It was a disaster with Kai Havertz often too far up and too close to Tammy Abraham and the pivot of Mateo Kovacic and Mason Mount struggling. Against Luton, Lampard opted to put Timo Werner with Abraham and Billy Gilmour with Mount.
It worked far better, not only because it was a Championship side. Chelsea took back to basics to the extreme with the most basic formation and players that understood one another. It wasn’t the best performance at times, but it clicked far better than it did against Leicester City.
One of the advantages of the 4-4-2 is how well players know it. There is not a person in the world who has played the game who has not played in the 4-4-2. More than any other formation, people and players know exactly where there should be someone at every moment of the play. So, when Mount made a run out wide from the center, Hakim Ziyech knew exactly where he had to be to cover the hole. When a player received the ball, they knew exactly where a teammate should be to receive the next pass. And when a player pressed, they more or less knew exactly where their support would be if their press failed.
By taking going back to basics to the extreme, Chelsea actually played far more fluidly than they have in months. Yes, it was against a Championship side and yes the same shape struggled against Leicester. But now, with this group of players, the idea seems to be much more engrained.
It likely also supports Lampard’s philosophy better too. Lampard often speaks about moving the ball quicker which has not been happening much if at all this season. Chelsea often plays it too safe and they are too conservative with their runs off the ball. With the 4-4-2, the Blues almost force themselves into playing the ball faster. There are less players in midfield to play through but more out wide, which makes possession harder to maintain. The alternative is to play it forward faster and that worked for Lampard and Chelsea.
That can also end up being a disadvantage, however. Chelsea has defended well this season in part because of their control of the ball. Less control and a faster style of play will see the ball come the other way more often. It obviously worked against Luton, but Premier League sides like Wolves and Tottenham in the coming weeks might prove far more difficult.
That being said, it worked a charm against Luton and it is likely something Lampard will continue with against Wolves now. Simplicity worked and if that is how Lampard can lift the burden on these players’ shoulders that is exactly what he will do.