Football Features

How Chelsea could line up after the international break

By Harry Edwards

Published: 14:30, 1 September 2019

After three weeks of pulsating action the Premier League is set to take a break for the September internationals.

For Chelsea it has been an interesting start to life under club legend Frank Lampard, with the Blues gaining five points from their opening four games.

The season started with a 4-0 humbling at the hands of Manchester United before Lampard got his first point with a home draw against Leicester City. A first win against Norwich City followed but the Blues would go on to drop points at home once more, losing a two-goal lead against Sheffield United.

Although there have been positives for Chelsea, such as the form of Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount, the first four games under Lampard have been somewhat overshadowed by defensive issues – with the Blues allowing opponents frequent chances.

This has left fans frustrated with certain players, although Lampard has been hindered by the transfer ban and injury problems. Currently, Chelsea have six first-team players out injured, including Ruben Loftus-Cheek who is expected to be unavailable until November at the earliest.

But the other side of the international break could see Chelsea have several returning stars, adding to Lampard’s options and potentially shaking up the Blues’ starting XI.

So, just how could Chelsea be lining up once the international break is over?

Frank Lampard’s favourites

In his first season as a manager, Lampard showed his tactical flexibility, setting up Derby County in various ways.

But at Chelsea, the Englishman appears to have adopted a very early favourite formation. When in correct use, the 4-2-3-1 strikes the perfect balance between defence and attack. And after the international break, Chelsea could finally see defensive improvements.

In goal Kepa Arrizabalaga will have no worries about losing his place, such is the luxury of being the world’s most-expensive goalkeeper and Chelsea’s No. 1. But in front of him it there could be two new faces.

Antonio Rudiger was a regular for Maurizio Sarri last season and is arguably Chelsea’s best centre-back. The German has been missing for the early stages of Lampard’s reign due to a knee injury picked up in April, which saw him miss the end of last season and subsequent Europa League final victory.

But he is back in training and has featured in two games for Chelsea’s developmental squad, preparing for his return after the international break.

The German is likely to replace Kurt Zouma alongside Andreas Christensen at the heart of Chelsea’s defence, with the Dane looking slightly more composed than his team-mates. To the left, Emerson has secured the full-back role after a fine start to the season, but Chelsea’s right side is weak.

Usually Mr. Reliable, time finally appears to be catching up with Cesar Azpilicueta, with the Spaniard having endured a poor start to the season. Potentially as a result of playing 255 games since the start of the 2014/15 campaign – an average of 42.5 per season – the Spaniard has been far too easy to beat, and sloppy in possession.

In four Premier League appearances this season, Azpilicueta has also lost possession 76 times – more than any other Chelsea player – and been dribbled past by opposition players on three occasions – the worst among Blues defenders.

Right now, however, Lampard has little choice but to play Azpilicueta with Davide Zappacosta on loan at Roma. But shortly after the international break, Chelsea will welcome Reece James into the first-team squad.

The 19-year-old enjoyed a stellar campaign with Wigan Athletic last season but life back at Chelsea was halted by an injury picked up while representing England in the Toulon Tournament.

And he is already being tipped to replace Azpilicueta sooner rather than later.

Chelsea have also been missing N’Golo Kante in midfield, with the Frenchman not having had a full pre-season after a knee injury picked up towards the end of last season. When he did return to the starting XI, with a wonderful performance against Liverpool in the Super Cup, it was short-lived as an ankle injury soon ruled him out again.

But the Frenchman has been granted a rest by national team manager Didier Deschamps and should be fresh to slot in alongside Jorginho in the two-man pivot.

Ahead of them, after substitute appearances, Willian is likely to return to Chelsea’s starting XI, potentially sticking to the right-side to give Christian Pulisic slightly more freedom on the left. The Brazilian is certainly has a Marmite persona at Chelsea, with fans split on his influence, but the experience Willian does bring will be useful as Lampard tries to steady the ship.

In between Willian and Pulisic, Mount has played himself into an almost-guaranteed starting role, after an impressive first five games as a Chelsea first-team player, grabbing two goals so far.

And leading the line will be Abraham, the 21-year-old who doesn’t seem to care about Chelsea’s ‘No.9 curse’, scoring four goals in his past two games.

4-2-3-1: Arrizabalaga; James, Christensen, Rudiger, Emerson; Kante, Jorginho; Willian, Mount, Pulisic; Abraham.

An inspiration from Sarri

Should Lampard fancy something different, the Chelsea boss could take some inspiration from the man he replaced.

The 4-3-3 is something Lampard has experimented with in parts for Chelsea so far, but the lack of certain personnel have meant it just hasn’t quite worked out.

A back five of Arrizabalaga, James, Rudiger, Christensen and Emerson appears to be Chelsea’s strongest defence, so it would make little sense for Lampard to make any changes there.

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But further forward, a change in formation would bring a different set of players who could be key to unlocking the 4-3-3.

Although Kante keeps his place in the midfield, Lampard may be tempted to keep the Frenchman away from the deepest role – as he did against Liverpool. In the Super Cup, Kante played in the right-sided midfield spot as he did under Sarri, and ran the show despite not being 100 per cent fit.

As Lampard so brilliantly put it, “He [Kante] said to me at half-time in extra-time that his legs were finished, his legs were dead – and then he’s sprinting 50 yards to cover.”

But while Sarri’s Chelsea had Jorginho at the base of the midfield trio, Lampard could try the improved Mateo Kovacic as the passing base. The Croatian looks a completely different player under Lampard, already showing more attacking threat than he did last season. Even in a deeper role, Kovacic would feel safe enough to move the ball up, knowing Kante was alongside him to put out any fires.

It also worth noting that Lampard mentioned the possibility of using James or Christensen in midfield, with the former proving a fine defensive midfielder for Wigan, so either could come in for Kovacic.

Completing the trio, Mount showed his capabilities at playing deeper for Derby last season and has outshone Ross Barkley so far – the man whom he will be competing for a starting spot with.

Then there’s the attacking trio. When Pulisic was signed in January, he was predominantly talked about as a right-winger, leaving the left open for a headline star. And although he has been playing on the left so far, a switch could be on the cards after the international break. The American has shown early promise in the Premier League but there is still a lot more to come from him.

His move to the right will open up space for Callum Hudson-Odoi, the fledgling star so many Chelsea fans willed into the team last season. With Lampard at the helm, it finally looks like Hudson-Odoi will get the chance many feel he deserves, making the left-side his own.

With his direct style of play, the teenager can build a deadly understanding with Emerson, causing serious problems down the left. But his flexibility and eagerness to move about will also allow Lampard to swap his wingers constantly throughout matches, joining with Pulisic to cause confusion.

And, once again, Abraham is Chelsea’s starting striker having already begun to repay Lampard’s early faith in him. Olivier Giroud is an experienced back-up, but the Frenchman appears at risk of falling behind Michy Batshuayi in the pecking order when Chelsea need something different – as shown by Lampard’s changes in the draw with Sheffield United.

4-3-3: Arrizabalaga; James, Rudiger, Christensen, Emerson; Kante, Kovacic, Mount; Pulisic, Abraham, Hudson-Odoi.