Chelsea: Thomas Tuchel should use 4-2-3-1 to maximize attack

RENNES, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 24: Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho (left) of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Group E stage match between Stade Rennais and Chelsea FC at Roazhon Park stadium on November 24, 2020 in Rennes, France. (Photo by John Berry/Getty Images)
RENNES, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 24: Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho (left) of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Group E stage match between Stade Rennais and Chelsea FC at Roazhon Park stadium on November 24, 2020 in Rennes, France. (Photo by John Berry/Getty Images) /

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel needs to respond to its goal drought by trying a new formation, the 4-2-3-1 to maximize his attacking potential. In a nice discussion, the YouTube channel, Chelsdaft, suggested the 4-2-3-1 formation as a possible solution to Chelsea’s goal drought. It’s certainly an interesting idea and worth considering since Chelsea can’t seem to score under Tuchel’s current 3-4-3 formation. Utilizing three central defenders and two wingbacks to provide defensive numbers has been fine but to win you need to score goals and right now Tuchel’s system is not delivering enough of them.

Goalless draws against top four or six clubs are not going to get Chelsea into Champions League qualification absent a collapse by their competition as happened under Maurizio Sarri and delivered a third-place finish in 2018/19. In addition, sneaking by lower-level sides one-nil is also perilous for a side that had sky-high expectations after securing several of Europe’s most sought-after attacking talents last summer. So how might Tuchel adapt his system to the talent he has at hand, rather than trying to shoehorn players who don’t fit his system into something they’re not? It’s a good question, and maybe not so easy to answer. But let’s explore this in a bit more detail.

First, the backline. In dropping a defender, Tuchel risks loosening his vice-like defensive structure that has been very successful to-date. That has to be looked upon as a negative. Fair enough. However, the two wingbacks that he has utilized, Marcos Alonso or Ben Chilwell on the left and Reece James or Callum Hudson-Odoi on the right are more attacking-oriented players than the opposite. So in a new 4-2-3-1 staring XI, keeping James and Chilwell in place as fullbacks retains that attacking flair while dropping Cesar Azpilicueta diminishes the defense concurrently. Again, fair point.

But it’s in the midfield pivots that the real gains can be realized. And this is where some innovation and leading-edge thinking might have to come into the equation. Here a major shift for arguably Chelsea’s Player-of-the-Year to-date is made. As was suggested in a previous article, that entails shifting Mason Mount from a more forward position as a No. 10 to a no. 6 in a dual six formation. As a No. 6, Mount would play alongside first-choice N’Golo Kante (whose value to the squad was so evident against Manchester United) in a rotation with Mateo Kovacic with preferably Billy Gilmour subbing in for Mount as required.

Now, before the walls come crashing down in critical comments, let’s further explore how this helps the Chelsea attack while simultaneously keeping the defense sound. The absolute key to the entire formation is Mount. Here’s why. Mount is an amazing talent. Critics in the past perhaps didn’t fully take into account how his amazing work rate and phenomenal pace can truly be a major asset to the Chelsea squad both in the attack and on defense. But at which position and how?

Mount’s pace in the midfield becomes a tremendous asset in transition. While he’s not the most accurate finishing passer nor is he an accurate shooter, he would nevertheless be Chelsea’s best overall combination No. 6 in the midfield. He’d be about equal to Kante in pace and not too far behind Kovacic in dribbling and passing. Overall, Mount would be Chelsea’s best attack-minded No. 6 by far. So one might grumble, a No. 6 is a defensive-minded position so it’s not that important to have a capable attacking talent like Mount there. That’s where his overall ability enters into the equation.

Mount’s pace and work rate allow him, as does Kante’s (but Mount has the more attacking ability), to augment the attack substantially in transition and also allow him to get back into position to defend. You then have two players starting in Mount and Kante who excel with blistering pace in advancing the ball to the forwards (hopefully accurately), while also brilliantly defending on counters due to their work rates and pace. So then, how does employing Mount and Kante as dual pivots assist both the defenders and the forwards in the attack?

The primary response is in numbers. Mount and Kante are basically expected to play the role of three midfield players. And they have the requisite qualifications to do just that. These two, plus the four additional defenders on hand can likely handle any defensive circumstance numerically. (Quality in the back four is another issue for another time). Meanwhile, in the attack, both Mount and Kante with their exceptional pace lend support but not to just three attackers, but to four. That’s where the attack will be significantly enhanced. That’s where Tuchel can hopefully unlock the great talents that were acquired in the past year or two and ignite what is up to now a stagnant attack.

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Tuchel has the talent and he has numbers but he doesn’t have the goal production. The 4-2-3-1 may just help unlock all the talent he has if they are utilized to maximize those talents and to not deploy his players out-of-position. The center-forward situation is clear-cut. Olivier Giroud must play and Tammy Abraham must play, as well. There are enough games to fully utilize both to their best potential. Giroud shouldn’t play two games in one week. It minimizes his effectiveness. Rotate the center forwards. It works.

Then, in this formation, Chelsea has three additional attackers to augment the striker. On the left-wing, the likely candidates are Christian Pulisic and Timo Werner. On the right, they have Hakim Ziyech, who playing wider will have a breakout shortly and Callum Hudson-Odoi, who is a natural winger. In the center, the central attacking midfielder can be Kai Havertz or Timo Werner, depending on how Tuchel decides to deploy against any specific opponent. Here’s what these formations might accomplish.

First, when Pulisic starts on the left, Werner can be deployed in the middle as almost a second striker. When Werner is on the left, Havertz could man the middle. On the right, Ziyech and Hudson-Odoi provide strength-in-depth to the attack and the fight for minutes could be an asset. Hudson-Odoi can also be deployed on the left should injury or squad rotation necessitate. The major point is this, in this formation, three of Chelsea’s very talented wingers will be on the pitch at all times in addition to a top striker. Meanwhile, Mount will also be available to provide additional attacking flair from the defensive midfield. While Mount occupies a forward position in the 3-4-3, one of the other talents is left on the bench.

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That’s the theory. What do you think about the 4-2-3-1 with Mount as a no. 6?