2. How does Chelsea cope with an overloaded midfield?
Everton’s midfield is sneakily deep with talent. The additions of Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure, not to mention James Rodriguez, have rounded out what was a fairly average set of players last season. This gave Ancelotti’s squad an infusion of control, energy and quality.
The former two are likely to start alongside at least two of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Bernard and Andre Gomes as part of a packed midfield against Chelsea. That’s a wide ride range of abilities and potential avenues of play for Chelsea to cope with. The challenge is made more difficult by the fact that the Blues’ excellent run of form under Tuchel has come with the consistent use of only two true central midfielders. Whether it’s been Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, Kovacic and N’Golo Kante or Jorginho and Kante, Tuchel has relied on the bare minimum number of bodies in the center of the park—opting for overloads on the flanks and more direct play through the middle.
That four-on-two disadvantage for Chelsea could be hugely problematic, no matter how much ground Kante can cover. It’s something the Blues haven’t had to reckon with since Tuchel arrived, but it certainly seems like it will impact the outcome of this match. This being the case, the upper hand will be gained by the team that can funnel play towards the areas of the pitch that best suit them. If Chelsea is stuck trying to get the ball out of the midfield, it’s going to be a long day. The outlets won’t be there, and even passing back to the centerbacks or goalkeeper runs the risk of Richarlison or Calvert-Lewin intercepting and being clean through on goal.
Instead, Chelsea will need to aggressively shuttle the ball out wide while in possession, and press through the middle without the ball to force Everton to play wide, as well. With wide centerbacks, wingbacks and wide forwards, Chelsea should be able to dictate play on either flank. If they can routinely bypass the Everton midfield, Chelsea’s forwards should find themselves with plenty of one-on-ones against Toffees defenders, which is all you can really ask for as an attacking player.
Of course, it’s worth remembering that Tuchel’s reputation is to be a tinkerer. We have yet to see a true tactical curveball from the new manager, but the odd disadvantages posed by Ancelotti’s dense midfield formations could provoke a change in the Blues’ structure. A 4-3-3 would reduce that midfield deficit, but it perhaps limits the effectiveness of players like Mason Mount and Hudson-Odoi by altering the roles they’ve been so effective in. Tuchel has been a few steps behind Ancelotti in their coaching careers, following distantly behind him to PSG and Chelsea, but here’s to hoping he’ll be one step ahead on Thursday.