Chelsea shouldn’t abandon the 3-5-2 after recent struggles

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 11: Romelu Lukaku of Chelsea celebrates with Mateo Kovacic and Timo Werner after scoring their side's third goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on September 11, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 11: Romelu Lukaku of Chelsea celebrates with Mateo Kovacic and Timo Werner after scoring their side's third goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on September 11, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images) /

Thomas Tuchel took over Chelsea in January following Frank Lampard’s departure. The fanbase was split over the decision given its love for Lampard and Tuchel’s history of falling out with former clubs’ boards. One thing was certain regardless of these mixed feelings though: the German was a superb tactician. Tuchel earned a reputation at Mainz, Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain for his astute tactical decisions. The 48-year-old would often change his side’s formation completely based on the strengths and weaknesses of his opponent. Needless to say, it worked.

Nevertheless, Chelsea supporters have yet to see this side of Tuchel. He changed the Blues’ shape to a 3-4-3 immediately upon his arrival and hasn’t looked back. Tuchel tried a 4-2-3-1 away at Leeds last season, but the goalless draw seemingly made the manager’s mind up for him as he resorted back to the trusted formation the next contest. The Blues’ manager took another leap of faith against Manchester City late last month when he lined his side up in a 3-5-2. The shape had been teased ever since Romelu Lukaku’s arrival as it is seen as a way to get Chelsea’s two goalscorers on the pitch at the same time. The Blues were rendered useless as a change in formation once again saw them blanked in a meaningful match. Man City beat Chelsea 1-0 on the day, but unlike the 4-2-3-1, the Blues should not abandon this experiment so easily.

Chelsea should not abandon the idea of playing in a 3-5-2 as it’ll be beneficial to the attack given its personnel

Chelsea’s latest meeting with Man City saw it produce zero shots on target for the first time in recent memory. Tuchel—who was missing some key personnel for the contest—decided to set his team up to play counterattacking football. This was an unpopular choice amongst supporters. Regardless, the tactical decision worked until a bit of luck fell the visitors’ way and Gabriel Jesus’ deflected shot found the back of the net. This was always going to be a tough debut for the 3-5-2 as the Blues’ most attacking midfielder on the day was Mateo Kovacic. The forwards didn’t receive any service as Pep Guardiola pinned the wingbacks back in defense and essentially set up his side to suffocate Chelsea when out of possession. Hats off to Guardiola.

The 3-5-2 on display in the Man City match is nothing compared to what it could be though. The formation could unlock attacking doors that lead the Blues to their first Premier League title since Antonio Conte was roaming the touchline. After all, it was Conte’s utilization of the same shape that saw Inter Milan with the Scudetto and end Juventus’ nine-year run atop Italian football. Lukaku was the talisman for Inter as he and Lautaro Martinez reached new heights as a partnership. Timo Werner—Chelsea’s chief playmaker last season—also played some of his best football in a striking duo at Leipzig. These facts have been beaten into the brains of Blues fans for the last few months, so why was everyone quick to jump ship when the 3-5-2 failed on its debut?

Humans naturally fear the unknown. Chelsea won the Champions League last season in a 3-4-3. Therefore, an overwhelming majority of fans are afraid of what will happen if the Blues deviate from what is working. All of this makes sense until one realizes that the current set-up isn’t exactly working as well as everyone hoped it would. Chelsea is atop the Premier League table right now, that much is true, but its performances of late need to be questioned.

Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech have been subpar—to put it nicely. Christian Pulisic still remains sidelined with an injury. Therefore, a majority of the Blues’ options out wide are unreasonable at the moment. Callum Hudson-Odoi’s showing on the left wing against Southampton proved he needs more time there, but only if the 4-3-3 stays. Otherwise, Lukaku and Werner have been Chelsea’s best forwards thus far. The duo needs to be rewarded for its success with minutes.

The contrasting styles between the two make the prospect of this partnership so frightening for opponents. Lukaku is a complete striker who possesses the ability to play with his back to goal as the focal point of the attack or off another forward. Meanwhile, Werner’s pace is absolutely elite. The German striker’s runs cause a ton of problems to opposing defenses. Both of these No. 9s are capable of being a nuisance to opposition on their days, but together, the prospect is terrifying.

This duo lacked proper service the first time they led the line together. Mason Mount, who is often seen as the Blues’ most impactful player, was missing due to injury. He’s already built a great relationship with Lukaku, as have Reece James and Kovacic. However, neither of the aforementioned offers quite what Mount does. Mount’s presence tucked in behind means the ball will be played through him in a No. 10 role. His distribution skills and constant pressing mean that Lukaku and Werner would be able to perfect their craft while the English youngster does the dirty work—both in and out of possession. Tuchel should not abandon the 3-5-2 experiment until he gets those three “up top” together.

Luckily for Chelsea, one of the toughest stretches of the season has come to an end. The Blues will square off against the likes of Brentford, Malmo, Norwich, Southampton and Newcastle on the other side of the international break. The next time they come up against a ‘major side’ is Juventus and Manchester United on November 23 and 28 respectively. This means Tuchel has time to iron out the kinks in his imperfect squad. The Blues have one of the deepest squads in world football and it’d be a shame to see Tuchel stay so narrow minded in a pivotal, experimental period.

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What formation do you think the Blues should play in going forward? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!