Friday, 13 August 2010

Chelsea - 2010/11 - Season Preview

So after waiting literally weeks the new football season is now upon us.  After last season's incredible domestic success and freewheeling, goal scoring style (plus reviewing my post that argued for evolution not revolution) Chelsea appear to have decided that huge changes to the side are not yet needed. 

Yes a few cracks were seen against the incredible organisation of Inter Milan and the occasional lapse against "lesser" sides seemed to happen more often but having a 6 and 0 tally against your biggest rivals (Man Utd, Arsenal and Liverpool) means that the evidence of terminal decline is still not apparent. 

With the continued development of Man City into a credible side I think this season will be similar to last in that one team will certainly not run away with the title.  Many games will be lost and a points tally in the mid 80's should seal the deal.  In my mind Man City are the biggest danger to Chelsea's ambitions of retaining the title should the incredible talent on offer merge into a decent unit as opposed to a collection of individuals. 

Ancelotti's Options

What I think will be trully interesting this season is to see what side Carlo Ancelotti will select both with regards to tactics and personnel.  Last year we saw a number of different systems used from the the 4-4-2 diamond, orthodox 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-2-1.  All of those formations used different variations on players and had the same players playing a number of different roles. 

For example, at the start of the season, Lampard was deployed at the "tip" of the diamond with Deco playing at the "base".  This was an interesting deviation for Chelsea who have been striving for another "Makelele" for years.  This system, however, proved to be slightly wrong as Lampard was simply not creative enough and Deco did not have the presence to be effective in the creative holding role against "top top" sides.  As such the team moved to a more orthodox 4-3-3 with Lampard having a stunning second half of to the season.  So what options are available for this year? 

An Orthodox 4-3-3

I believe that Ancelotti will deploy a relatively orthodox 4-3-3 at the start of the season that can merge into 4-2-3-1 with Lampard joining Malouda and Anelka or, more likely, a 4-3-1-2 with Malouda playing just behind the two strikers. With this side you will once again see a flat back four with Terry and Alex or Ivanovic (as Carvalho has gone to Real Madrid) alongside Cole at left back and Bosingwa/Ivanovic at right back.  This defence has a lot to prove this season with Terry needing to have a real return to form or he could risk seeing his place up for grabs come the end of the season. 

Midfield is where we will see most tweaking from last season.  With the purchase of Ramires Chelsea have purchased a player with great mobility and strength allied with technical quality  He is an excellent addition to the side.  In this system I think we will see Ramires or Mikel being given the nominal holding role.  They will be expected to play unfussy football and perform a role similar to that performed by Busquets for Barcelona and Spain.  This will ensure that both Lampard and Essien (who has returned from his lengthy layoff) will have license to use their considerable talents in a more attacking sense.

The preferred front three in this system will feature Molouda on the left, Drogba down the middle and Anelka on the right.  This could quite easily change though as Drogba will be missing the start of the season and Anelka is likely to start up front supported by new signing Yossi Benayoun replacing him on the right.  It will be interesing to see what happens should Chelsea start well without Drogba.  As I have previously argued on this blog Chelsea often look like a better team, if not neccesarily more effective, when Drogba does not start and if Benayoun appears to offer guile and pace down the right it will be interesting to see if Anelka and Droba start many games together after that. 

So far so conventional but now I would like to see what other options Ancelotti might have should he decide to go down other routes. 

The Return of the 4-4-2 Diamond

Ancelotti showed at the start of last season his preference for a 4-4-2 diamond.  He initially saw good results and a change to a more possesion based system than seen under Mourinho.  However like the system tried by Scolari this system relies very heavily on the full-backs creating width.  If they are occupied by the oppostion wingers in a 4-3-3, 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 then they cannot get forward and this leaves the side very narrow and one-dimensional.  Ancelotti noticed this problem and reverted to a system pretty identical to that used so successfully by Guus Hiddink the season before.  However will he return to it this year? 

In this formation I think we will have a midfield four of Ramires/Mikel, Lampard, Essien and Malouda.  With the performances of Malouda last season, his technique on the ball, and his ability to create chances there is no reason why he cannot play at the "tip" of the diamond.  This in turns frees Lampard up to drive forward from the left of centre midfield that he thrives on.  With Ramires or Mikel holding this also gives Essien the chance to get forward and drive from his slightly deeper position.  This will ensure that Chelsea keep the ball for extend periods as they will often go 4vs3 in the middle against a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1.   

One of the other benefits of the 4-4-2 diamond is that it allows the team to select both Drogba and Anelka in their preferred central positions.  However this also leads to its inevitable flaw: the two centrebacks can easily look after two the centre forwards yet the two full backs have noone to mark other than the two opposing full backs.  This means they can get forward and draw the two centre midfielders out of position leaving Chelsea exposed in the middle.  I think that whilst this system may look good on paper and actually produces very nice possesion football it fails to cause enough problems to opposing sides in an attacking sense.  As a result I do not think this will be the default formation although it might be used periodically throughout the season against weaker opposition.      

Trust in Youth? 

Whilst we will almost certainly not see this team in the Premier League I would be very surprised if in the Carling Cup this team, or something very close to it, does not see the light of day.  It is an exciting prospect for the future and if one or two of these players play well then they may just force themselves into the first XI.  Due to the changes in rules it will now be important for Chelsea to keep hold of players like Sinclair and Mancienne, who may have otherwise been sold, as they help the club hit the eight homegrown player target.  Due to this rule they should get a few games this season.   

Football Fans Know Better

I have opted for the modern interpretation of 4-2-3-1 as I think this system could suit the players that Chelsea have coming through.  The defense will consist of Turnbull in goal supported by a flat back four of Hutchinson, an exciting defensive talent, at right back alongside Bruma (the new Carvalho?) Mancienne (who is back from two seasons away on loan in the Premier League) and pacy Dutch youngster van Aanholt at left back.  Both fullbacks will be given permission to attack deep into the opposition half. 

The midfield will be made up of two very experienced, but young, internationals in Ramires and Mikel.  Both will be tasked with performing as ball playing deep lying midfielders where they will be expected to both anchor the side and provide good balls for the more advanced four ahead of them.  These two will form the heart of the side and are critical to its good performance.  

Playing just ahead of these two will be Namanja Matic will be expected to perform a playmaker/goalscoring role from midfield.  There is also scope for Matic to play as one of the central two with Kakuta given a more free-roaming role similar to that performed by Oezil at the World Cup.  In the system outlined above Kakuta will be given a wide role where his passing and ability on the ball should see him cause major problems as he drives down the left or cuts in from the right. 

Out wide on the right I have gone for Scott Sinclair.  He has been out on loan for a number of seasons and never seemed to become a first team regular but he has devastating pace and if he is given a good run in the team he may well start to build on his much hyped promise.  Running the line will be Daniel Sturridge.  I am very excited by his talent and feel that even though he is still raw, he has the ability to force his way into the Chelsea team over the next couple of seasons.   


The season ahead should be very interesting for Chelsea fans with a number of young players being drafted into the first team squad and two (possibly three if Neymar joins) very interesting signings.  I, for one, am looking forward to a season of ups and downs which hopefully builds on Chelsea's development towards a side based on attractive, attacking possesion football.  I will hopefully keep you posted on my musings about Chelsea and other footballing issues throughout the season.  Adieu and goodnight.