How Chelsea could line up with Kai Havertz following summer spree
Chelsea appear to have taken a time machine back to 2004, as the Blues are currently undergoing a very expensive, heavy squad revamp.
The Blues have just finished their first season under Frank Lampard and it was a decent one. They secured Champions League football for the upcoming campaign, something many expected them to struggle with, and reached the FA Cup final. But they were by no means perfect.
They would lose that FA Cup final to Arsenal and were knocked out of last season’s Champions League at the round-of-16 by Bayern Munich, losing 7-1 on aggregate – showing how much work remains to be done.
But Chelsea have not wasted time in getting to work, already signing Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner before the summer transfer window even opened – aided by the funds from Eden Hazard’s sale the previous summer. And now, as the 2020/21 season edges closer, there looks to be at least three more new faces on the way to Stamford Bridge.
The biggest name who looks set to join Ziyech and Werner at Chelsea is Kai Havertz. The 21-year-old enjoyed an excellent season for Leverkusen, as they finished fifth in the Bundesliga and reached the quarter-finals of the Europa League, scoring 18 goals across all competitions.
As well as an improvement to the attack, Chelsea were also in need of rebuilding at the back, with the Blues’ defence very leaky at times last season. And they have looked to remedy that, with Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell, announced as Chelsea’s latest signings.
So, with big changes happening at Stamford Bridge, how could Chelsea line up next season?
Lampard’s strongest XI?
Over the past season, there was a lot of debate surrounding what might be Chelsea’s strongest XI, were all players fit and available for selection. And it’ll be the same for next season, especially considering the stature of players coming in.
Although he experimented with other formations during his first season as Chelsea manager, Lampard may look to utilise the 4-3-3 to get the best out of those at his disposal.
Starting at the back, as things stand there is no replacement lined up for goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, so the Spaniard is likely to continue despite a poor 2019/20 – though he may improve with a new defence in front of him.
Although Reece James had a decent season when he got onto the pitch, for now it might be wiser for Chelsea to go with Cesar Azpilicueta at right-back for the experience and defensively solidity. James looked slightly off the pace in Chelsea’s final games of the season, but it’s easy to forget how young he is.
Then, the potentially brilliant centre-back pairing of Thiago Silva and Kurt Zouma. Although Silva turns 36 in September and is certainly not a long-term purchase, by putting him straight into the starting XI, Lampard is giving his younger centre-backs a chance to learn from the Brazilian. As things stand, Zouma is Chelsea’s most competent centre-back – with Fikayo Tomori’s immediate future in doubt – and will only improve alongside Silva. And at left-back, another impending arrival in Ben Chilwell, who will add a solidity to Chelsea’s flank that they haven’t had to some time.
“We are confident Ben will adapt very quickly to being a Chelsea player and with the fixture programme for 2020/21 especially busy, he is a fantastic addition to the squad needed to challenge for honours,” Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia said on his arrival.
The midfield is where things start to get difficult. Mateo Kovacic was one of the first names on the team sheet for 2019/20 and was named as Chelsea’s Player of the Year – though he wasn’t without his shortcomings. In the 4-3-3, Lampard is likely to drop N’Golo Kante into a slightly deeper role as he did towards the end of the season, relying more on his defensive capabilities and reading of the game. Then, completing the midfield, as a second ‘no.8’ alongside Kovacic – or possibly Mason Mount after his excellent season – would be the headline buy of the summer: Kai Havertz.
Although the German is used to playing further forward either as a no.10 or even false no.9, Havertz’s abilities make him just as capable when playing slightly deeper, carrying the ball through the midfield rather than just being at the end of the attacks. His slightly weaker defensive aspects will be made easier by Kante’s position in the holding role.
Moving further up the pitch is where the biggest chances would come. Ziyech, almost forgotten about by some as his arrival was announced so long ago, will be a shoo-in to replace Willian on the right wing. There, he will be joined by Christian Pulisic once he returns from injury, after the American had a very good season, particularly in the final run-in, scoring 11 goals in 34 games across all competitions.
And then in comes Timo Werner. The 24-year-old is one of the most highly-rated young strikers in the world and once he finds his feet in England, can be the frightening forward Chelsea need. Tammy Abraham did his job well last season, but Werner’s prowess in front of goal could be a difference changer, scoring 28 goals in 34 Bundesliga appearances for RB Leipzig last season.
Last season Lampard used three at the back when required, be it in big games or simply to try and combat a poor defensive record – and it has had mixed results.
But with the right attacking set up, it could cause devastation in the Premier League, and boost Chelsea’s potential title credentials. For Lampard, it has very much been 3-4-3 given the players at his disposal, but next season he could take a leaf out of Julian Nagelsmann’s book and use a 3-5-2 to get the best out of Werner.
Werner could potentially work well with Havertz, who spent the second half of the Bundesliga campaign playing as Bayer Leverkusen’s striker. Fairly strong in the air, Giroud could prove to be Lampard’s Yussuf Poulsen, being the second striker to knock the ball on for Werner to score – happy to give his partner the limelight.
The problem with using two strikers, however, is that Chelsea will struggle to find a place for their exciting wingers – having to leave the likes of Ziyech, Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi on the bench.
When it comes to the midfield, any trio will do as long as it has the balance between defence and attack, and two-thirds of Sarri’s first-choice three could be the one for it, with Kante again dropping deeper and Mount coming in. James once again stars as a wing-back, such is his versatility, with Chilwell on the left, testing himself as a wing-back.
Then, in defence, a back three of Silva, Zouma and Christensen strikes a blend of youth an experience, although Rudiger, Tomori and Azpilicueta are just as capable.
Chelsea’s summer of signings means they could essentially field two staring XIs with first-team ready players, capable of competing – perhaps in the Carabao Cup.
Starting at the back, Willy Caballero was picked over Arrizabalaga towards the end of the 2019/20 campaign and is a suitable deputy if he doesn’t usurp the Spaniard.
In front of him, James gets his chance at right-back but, again, he could just as easily be in the first XI and may look to replace Azpilicueta as the season goes on. Joining the Englishman in defence are Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen who were the slightly more underwhelming of the Chelsea centre-backs last season, and Marcos Alonso who will undoubtedly fall behind Chilwell in the pecking order.
Then, Jorginho gets his spot in the midfield, should he remain at Chelsea with his future currently uncertain. Joined by Mount, or Kovacic, depending on who you pick in the strongest XI, the duo represent a good attack-minded central midfield duo, but there are defensive shortcomings that Lampard would need to combat in some way. Of course, he probably wouldn’t be completely rotating XIs – this isn’t FIFA or Football Manager – but it’s an interesting prospect.
Moving slightly ahead of them – or wider depending on the game – are the English double-barrelled duo of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The pair are perhaps the biggest losers of Chelsea’s transfer window so far, with more competition for places, but both are expected to fight for their spot. Both endured injury-hit 2019/20’s, particularly Loftus-Cheek who only returned from an Achilles injury in June, but can provide something different with their dribbling.
Then, up top, a duo of Olivier Giroud and Abraham will certainly give Chelsea goals and potentially even get the best out of the latter. Between them, Giroud and Abraham combined to score 28 goals in all competitions last season, and the Frenchman’s presence and ability to hold up the ball may allow his partner to play a more free role, drifting to hurt the defence.
Another experimental line up, Lampard may want to look to his more experienced players for those big European nights – and despite having lost the likes of Willian and Pedro over the summer, he can still do it.
Starting in front of Caballero is a vastly experienced Champions League-level defence including a centre-back pairing of Rudiger and Silva, flanked by Alonso and club captain Cesar Azpilicueta who has won the Europa League twice at Chelsea.
Moving slightly up the pitch, a double pivot of Kovacic and Kante will certainly be interesting to watch. Kante will be expected to do most of the defensive work while Kovacic – who has three Champions League winner’s medals – can move Chelsea up the pitch with his silky footwork.
Moving onto the trio of attacking midfielders, Ziyech once again remains his spot as the new elder statesmen of Chelsea’s squad despite still being just 27. As Chelsea fans will remember, Ziyech has a knack for performing in the Champions League and has experience of winning trophies at Ajax, something that will be key to the Blues’ younger squad.
Joining him, Ross Barkley is another of Chelsea’s older attacking midfield members, and this may be his only chance of getting into the Blues team – with the depth of quality behind him. That’s not to say the Englishman is a bad player, it’s just that he’s being replaced by better stars. On the left, Werner comes in for his RB Leipzig experience. Although he is a striker, Werner has had experience playing on the wing for Germany and it is a position that allows the 24-year-old to cut inside to hurt opponents – while also giving them something to think about, taking attention away from Giroud in this instance.
The exact opposite of the previous XI, this one stands more to show the quality young players Chelsea have on their books. Its members are likely to get game time over the season, but just not as a complete XI.
Strictly sticking to players who will be under the age of 25 at the start of the 2020/21 season – which means no place for 25-year-old Arrizabalaga – Chelsea could field a side capable of challenging for the top four.
With Arrizabalaga ruled out and Jamie Cumming loaned, Karlo Ziger would be the choice in goal – unless he himself is loaned.
The back four is pretty much the same as it could be in the current season, with James, Christensen and Tomori all still in. But now there’s 23-year-old Chilwell, though Chelsea do have impressive left-back Ian Maatsen in the academy, with the 18-year-old getting his first-team debut last September against Grimsby Town in the Carabao Cup.
Moving to the midfield, we have what may be the best trio Chelsea’s academy may ever produce with Loftus-Cheek and Mount joined by the wonderful Billy Gilmour, who is already making waves in the first-team and will be fighting for a spot next season.
Then in attack, Havertz would be joined by Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi for an explosive trio, with Abraham unfortunately missing out unless he is pushed to the wing.