Frank Lampard may not be the manager at Chelsea anymore, but he undoubtedly left his mark at the club. The transfer ban period in which Lampard navigated saw the young stars break through in abundance. Perhaps more importantly though, the Blues used that time to begin ridding the squad of fringe players. Individuals such as Pedro and Willian departed, freeing up space in the side for new, exciting players like Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz. This, for lack of a better term, ‘cleansing’ of the depth chart allowed Chelsea to focus its efforts on purchasing world class talent.
The habit of only making top tier buys has bled over into this summer as the Blues look to defend their European crown. Romelu Lukaku recently gave his first interview with the club after making a record transfer from Inter Milan. His arrival is reason enough for supporters to get excited about a potential title hunt, as it should be. However, the addition of another attacking asset means making room for the striker in the starting XI.
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The last spot in Chelsea’s starting XI could come down to a battle between Kai Havertz and Timo Werner after Romelu Lukaku’s arrival.
In a pre-Arsenal briefing where Thomas Tuchel updated supporters on the status of N’Golo Kante and Lukaku for Sunday, he hinted at a possible formational switch. Chelsea has set up in a 3-4-3 shape since the German took over in late January. The Blues didn’t deviate from that plan for the remainder of the season except for in an early afternoon clash at Leeds United where they tested four at the back. The result of that game was a draw and Tuchel subsequently stopped entertaining the thought of anything other than a 3-4-3 immediately following. This went against his nature though.
Tuchel made his way to SW6 after being sacked by Paris Saint-Germain. He brought with him a reputation for adapting his team’s shape to different opponents. Fans have seen none of that at Chelsea thus far. The arrival of Lukaku allows for that creative coach to come out of him though. Different ideas—like the 3-5-2 and 4-2-2-2—have been kicked around recently as supporters scramble to create their favorite and so-called “best” starting XI. The problem everybody runs into is there aren’t enough spots in the attack to fit all of the Blues’ best players.
After factoring in the spaces occupied by the goalkeeper, three-man defense, midfield pivot and wingbacks, Chelsea is left with just three places unoccupied. One goes to Lukaku, meaning Tuchel has to squeeze two of Kai Havertz, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic, Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech into the wide positions in the current 3-4-3. Mount is a virtual lock given what he brings to the side, meaning the battle for the right wing comes down to Havertz versus Werner.
The two won’t only vie for a place in the 3-4-3 either. If Tuchel chooses to stick with a back three and play two strikers up front, it turns into a struggle between the Germans for the right to line up alongside Lukaku. It can be assumed Mount would assume the No. 8 role above the pivot, although Havertz could deputize when the reigning Chelsea Player of the Year needs a rest.
The only formations that could seemingly squeeze all four talented attackers (Havertz, Lukaku, Mount and Werner) onto the pitch at the same time are the 4-2-2-2 and a modified 3-5-2. The former would allow Tuchel to play his most important attacking pieces while keeping the pivot in tact. However, the downside to this formation—which Lampard tried his hand at against Brighton in the Premier League opener last season—is the Blues would revert back to four at the back. This has proven to be far less effective defensively than the current 3-4-3, but it also could explain Chelsea’s desire to pursue Sevilla centerback Jules Kounde, who would help smoothen the transition. The modified 3-5-2 could see Tuchel do away with the pivot and elect to use Kante as the anchor. This would allow for dual No. 8s in Mount and Havertz slightly behind the front line of Lukaku and Werner. Once again, the downside to this is the dissembling of the successful pivot.
In all likelihood, the three at the back will remain. Tuchel will then be forced to make the crucial decision of starting either Havertz or Werner. Joachim Low did the same at Euro 2020, electing to go with the former, who repaid his national team manager by having a fantastic tournament. Each brings a different skillset to the table, but given Werner’s struggles and Havertz’s fine form, the youngster would likely win the duel.
Who would make your Chelsea starting XI? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!