Whether or not you believe Frank Lampard wanted many of the new signings at Chelsea, he certainly did not balk at their versatility. One of the advantages, he thought, of players like Timo Werner and Kai Havertz was that they were used to playing in multiple positions and multiple shapes.
Of course, once the season began, Lampard settled into one shape a little more than others. The 4-3-3 worked, for a time, but it left Werner especially in an awkward place (though not one that didn’t work until his form plummeted). Whatever versatility Lampard had envisioned was seldom seen. There was the occasional late game 4-4-2 or 3-4-3, but overall, 4-3-3 reigned totally.
That being said, the foundations that Lampard built do benefit Thomas Tuchel. The German manager likes to tweak things tactically, both in game and game to game, and a large and versatile squad allows him to do that easily. Even his preferred formation thus far, the 3-4-3 (which no one should assume will remain his preferred formation, this is Tuchel after all) allows for flexibility in roles and shape quite easily.
One of the most interesting things about many 3-4-3 formations is that it can quite easily shift into a 4-2-3-1. This was true even under Antonio Conte. Imagine Victor Moses going to right wing, Pedro/Willian tucking in centrally, the left wingback becoming a left fullback and Cesar Azpilicueta sliding over to right back. The names have (mostly) changed but Callum Hudson-Odoi is filling a role that Moses did too.
Hudson-Odoi is surely one of the biggest examples of the versatility Tuchel is looking for. Though he did not play as a wingback for Lampard, both Lampard and Maurizio Sarri spoke about how he needed to improved defensively. He clearly has enough to take on wingback responsibilities, albeit against two teams that left him relatively untested on that front.
There are a few key differences, but they are mainly a response to three at the back becoming so popular since Conte’s title win. Azpilicueta’s goal perhaps signals that the best. Under Conte, it was not unusual to see him temporarily join midfield in support of possession. The notion of overlapping centerbacks has become widespread since and Azpilicueta took advantage of the distraction the forwards provided as he burst into the box.
Then there was the tactical (or injury enforced?) change by Tuchel at halftime. He needed to only swap Tammy Abraham for Christian Pulisic to change from 3-4-3 to 3-5-2 (3-4-2-1 to 3-4-1-2 to be most specific). Now, instead of Mason Mount and Timo Werner sitting between lines and lanes, Werner stepped up to just be between a lane and Mount went far more central to pull players away from their defensive duties. On paper, it was the 3-4-1-2, but in practice it operated a lot like a false nine.
Only three outfield players have truly been “static” in Tuchel’s two matches thus far: the centermost center back and the “double sixes”. Those three form the base where everything else revolves. Wingbacks are both wingers and fullback. The wider centerbacks are both centerback and fullback. The wingers are wingers, 10s, and maybe even support strikers. The striker is both a striker and a 10.
It is fluidity that Lampard asked for and valued, but fluidity he had little time to use. Lampard’s left many legacies at Chelsea, but Tuchel will be most appreciative for the flexibility he has left behind.