Chelsea In A 4-2-3-1 Formation? An Analysis.

If Sarri switches to 4-2-3-1 instead of 4-3-3 formation, how could Chelsea lineup? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a 4-2-3-1 formation? A detailed analysis.

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So I came across something interesting on Twitter and wanted to write in detail about it. After the loss against Arsenal, fans on Twitter were going crazy as expected. Some of them wanted Sarri gone while others suggested that Sarri must make some changes in his startling eleven and the team formation.

There was this tweet from a Will Reyner (who creates some excellent photo edits, by the way) that I found intriguing.

It’s a 4-2-3-1 formation. Whether we are going to have all those players in the starting eleven remains to be seen, nevertheless it is an interesting idea that I think everyone should be familiar about.

How does a 4-2-3-1 work?

The 4-2-3-1 formation, obviously, has 4 lines. It starts with 4 players in the back, just like the usual 4-3-3. Two center-backs and fullbacks on both sides. However, the similarity ends there.

Next, we have something called ‘double pivot’. It’s a pair of defensive midfielders just above the defense line. These two players are there to ensure that there is no space in front of the defense. When the opposition presses high up the pitch, these two players often win the ball back and pass it to any one of the midfielders or the lone striker at the front. Usually in a ‘double-pivot’, one of them will be a ball-winning midfielder while other will be more of a regista, someone who starts attacks and direct the game-play.

In Dec 2014 match against Stoke City, Jose Mourinho setup Chelsea in a 4-2-3-1 formation and used Matic and Mikel as double-pivot to free up the forward line consisted of Hazard, Oscar, Willian and Costa as the lone striker.

Given below is an analysis on Sky Sports about how it was successfully used by Jose.

In addition, when the fullbacks run up the pitch and overload the flanks (like Alonso frequently does for Chelsea on the left and Azpi on the right sometimes), they leave huge gap in the defense which makes the team vulnerable to counterattacks especially against teams like Tottenham and Manchester City who use pacy wingers and fullbacks in the transition stage. With the ‘double pivot’, when there is a space on the flanks, the two center-backs can move to the sides and the defensive midfielders can cover the space left behind by others.

The midfield doesn’t end there. We have three more midfielders in the attacking zone. The Left Attacking Midfielder (LAM), Center Attacking Midfielder and Right Attacking Midfielder (RAM). The LAM and RAM are usually wide midfielders who are excellent at dribbling and like to cut inside or run into the box. The CAM, who is the ‘No.10’, feeds the ball to the wide midfielders and the striker. The CAM is usually the most creative player on the pitch.

There is a match from 2015-16 season in which Arsenal and United both lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Arsenal in a 4-2-3-1 with double-pivot
MAnchester United in a 4-2-3-1 formation with ‘double-pivot’

In Arsenal, Coquelin played the ball-winning midfielder role and Cazorla as the deep-lying playmaker while in United Schweinsteiger was the ball-winner and Carrick was the playmaker sitting deep. Arsenal destroyed United in under 20 minutes and the highlights are here. The second goal by Arsenal is a perfect example of how a 4-2-3-1 formation can help with the attack.

How can Chelsea make use of 4-2-3-1?

We know that Sarri usually prefers his team to be setup in a 4-3-3 formation. The formation usually looks like this.

A back four, Jorginho playing just above the defense at the base of the midfield, Kante as a RM (Right Midfielder) and Kovacic or Barkley as the LM (Left Midfielder). Willian is used on the left when Pedro starts on the right wing and Hazard is deployed as a False 9.

As you can see, Jorginho is the one that is supposed to start most Chelsea attacks like Fernadinho is doing at Manchester City. However, teams like Tottenham often manmarked him or press him so bad and made him useless. Even when he managed to evade such presses and tried to put some good balls, his colleagues at the front let him down.

Take a look at this article by my colleague Daniel Childs and check out the following video as well to understand how Jorginho has been made a scapegoat for faults of his colleagues.

Anyway, I digress. I have created multiple possible elevens in a 4-2-3-1 formation for Chelsea under different circumstances. They are given below.

Don’t ask me why Hazard can’t play in the right wing. Hazard can play anywhere so I just picked his best options. I know Kante is irreplaceable but we need to give him some rest at times in which case we can use Kovacic in that place I believe. I removed Alonso from the eleven though we don’t have a good free-kick taker of his quality (Willian is good from the left hand side and Hazard and Luiz have their specialties.) from the right side of the pitch.

The above eleven is based on our current squad.

About Jorginho, there is no direct replacement for him in the current Chelsea squad. No matter what you think, the regista role is not something anyone can occupy. As far as I have seen, only Luiz has the vision and skill to do that. If it is up to me, I’d rather have someone like Sandro Tonali who is just 18 years old and can act as a good backup for Jorginho.

There is a good chance that Hazard and CHO might leave in the summer. Assuming they both leave, who will replace them in the squad? If that happens, here’s how we could lineup. We already have Pulisic who can either play as a right-winger or as a center-attacking midfielder

Chelsea are rumored to be in the market for Lyon’s Fekir who can play on the right wing or in the CAM role. Fekir could be an upgrade over CHO. For Hazard, there could be three replacements based on where he goes. If Sarri has his way, then Insigne from Napoli could be a direct replacement for Hazard. Otherwise, it could be either Coutinho or Isco. Check this interesting article on Hazard’s replacements by my colleague Liam Wilson.

The starting eleven could be something like this.

Only issue that I see here is the fact that Jorginho is not so great defensively which means when he goes forward he leaves a huge space in front of the defense. Even Kante can’t cover that space all by himself. Therefore, someone like Azpi should step in occasionally like he covers for Luiz at the back. This would leave a space on the right flank and therefore we need a right winger who should be able to track back very well.

Overall, 4-2-3-1 formation could definitely help Jorginho and therefore, Chelsea.

However, whether Sarri will switch to 4-2-3-1 instead of his preferred 4-3-3 remains to be seen as Sarri himself admitted recently that he is not going to change his formation anytime soon.

Please comment your thoughts below and follow me on Twitter if you liked my article.

Written by Sarav

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