After various experiments, Chelsea can cover Ben Chilwell’s absence by these three formations

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Ben Chilwell’s season looked over when he suffered a devastating ACL injury in November last year. The left-back underwent a surgery for the same and the club confirmed Chilwell won’t take the field again for this season. Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel was thrown into a sudden dilemma as Chilwell was a crucial piece of game-plan. Moreover, no other player in the squad offered the qualities as that of Chilwell. As a result, Tuchel had to try different formations with the Chelsea squad at his disposal.

Chilwell offered immense fluidity and wide rotations made it for the opponent to defend against him, thus executing Tuchel’s exact game-plan. In his 6 league appearances before sustaining the injury, Chilwell scored 3 goals and provided an assist. This was the versatility Tuchel was going to miss, which was not even provided by Chilwell’s replacement Marcos Alonso. Alonso has played a total of 18 league games, in which he has scored only once and provided 2 assists. Further on, injuries and covid cases in the squad forced Tuchel to switch formations regularly. The Chelsea boss toggling four formations since December.

Hudson-Odoi provided better rotation and pace on the left, and Tuchel wasted no time in replacing Alonso with him. Reece James had cemented his place at the right-wing back but his hamstring injury forced him out. However, James is in full contention to return for weekend’s Crystal Palace game and should give Tuchel some relief. We look at three formations for Chelsea which can absorb Chilwell’s absence and still reap positive results for them.

Chelsea Formations: A 3-4-2-1

Mendy; Chalobah, Thiago Silva, Rudiger; Reece James, Jorginho, Kante, Hudosn-Odoi; Mason Mount, Kai Havertz; Lukaku

This is one of the formations Tuchel favors more often since taking the Chelsea job. The options this 3-4-2-1 can provide is transiting this formation with a 3-5-2 or even a 3-2-5 as the game demands. In the three-man defense, Silva and Rudiger remain untouched. But Tuchel has many option to slot in the third defender; Trevor Chalobah, Malang Sarr and Andres Christensen have all displayed solid performances there. However, Chalobah looks more convincing as the third defender. However, frequent injuries to Kante saw Kovacic more often paired along with Jorginho in the midfield. Still, Kante is always the first option on any day.

Reece James’s return means he takes over his wing-back position on the right. Most importantly, Hudson-Odoi replaces Alonso on left wing as he has shown more potential in that position. The change can be explained best through Chelsea’s recent club world cup win. Alonso started on the left wing in the semi-final, and failed to provide any attacking threat. Hudson-Odoi replaced him in the final and his dazzling performance on the left provided the assist for Lukaku’s opener. The only sacrifice you have to make in this formation is the dropping of an attacker for a defender, but it does provide more defensive strength.

A transiting 4-1-4-1/4-2-3-1

Mendy; Reece James, Thiago Silva, Rudiger, Malang Sarr; Kante, Kovacic; Ziyech, Mount, Hudson-Odoi; Lukaku

On of the formations Chelsea played against Tottenham. The German went with this line-up in the league against Spurs and won 2-0. As is it clear, Sarr seems a make-shift wing-back here, but is not. Sarr merely crossed the half-way line against Spurs, and rather formed a three-man defense with Silva and Rudiger. Tuchel deployed Jorginho in that lone number 6 role in the premier league tie against Tottenham, but he failed to adjust and was replaced by Kante. Kante excelled there and since he makes the cut above the Italian.

Tuchel chose an attack of Lukaku, Mount, Hudson-Odoi and Ziyech against in three games, against Brighton, Spurs and Plymouth. Chelsea won two out of these three games, and looked pretty much settled with the formation. Christian Pulisic, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner also found playing-time here. And with Mount currently injured, Pulisic has a greater chance to start regularly after he replaced the English midfielder in the club world cup final.

A bold 4-2-2-2

Mendy; Reece James, Thiago Silva, Rudiger, Sarr; Kante Kovacic; Ziyech Mount; Lukaku Kai Havertz

Tuchel ventured with this formation for three games; twice against Tottenham in Carabao Cup semifinal and away to Brighton in the league. Again Chelsea won two of the three games. The player who benefited the most from this formation is €113 million striker Romelu Lukaku. Couple of months ago he confessed in an interview that Tuchel’s system is not helping him. But since Havertz partnered him as the second striker, things have changed for positive. Lukaku played with Lautaro Martinez as his strike-partner at Inter. The system helped Lukaku score loads. Similarly, Tuchel put Havertz as Lukaku’s partner and the Belgian was back on the scoresheet for Chelsea. Havertz and Lukaku played as the two strikers in the club world cup campaign, and Lukaku ended up scoring a goal in the semi-final as well as the final.

Hakim Ziyech also come alive brilliantly in this formation. Ziyech was able to cut-in from the right to put in some key-passes as well as line up shots at the goal. The most influential aspect of this 4-2-2-2 formation is its flexibility. Chelsea pull back to a 3-5-2 when off-the ball, as Ziyech plays the wing-back position, and Azpilicueta forms a three-man defense. This was more evident against Tottenham in the first leg of Carabao cup semi-final, and the away game to Brighton in the league.

In the end, Tuchel is all about flexibility and constantly trying new things. The Chelsea manager has used over half-a-dozen formations in the last couple of months. Though injuries and covid infections to the players forced him to do so, but this experimenting is going nowhere even when he gets a fully-fit squad. Various formations have helped various players, but this four at the back provides an idea as to what exactly Tuchel is planning with Chelsea.

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