Pre-season is well and truly underway for Chelsea, with the Blue’s trip to Ireland concluding following a 1-1 draw against Bohemians as well as a 4-0 victory over St Patrick’s. Frank Lampard certainly has some selection headaches and has already tried out multiple different formations, including a 4-3-1-2 system in the first half against St Pats. But what is his best lineup for the Premier League season once everyone is fit?
In my opinion, Lampard should utilise the 4-2-3-1 system in the Premier League as his initial plan, but obviously have different options to adapt in games if the formation isn’t working. Interestingly we saw the side lineup with two strikers for the first half of our final game in Ireland, a system Chelsea haven’t made use of in years. Both Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi started next to each other and impressed, particularly the Belgian. However, this formation does not accommodate the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi or new £57M star Christian Pulisic who once both fit and ready are likely to be starters for The Blues, with their natural positions being out wide. As a result a 4231 system, with overlapping fullbacks which create space to allow Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi to come inside and create chances could be the key for Frank Lampard’s Chelsea.
Here’s, in my opinion, our best starting eleven for the upcoming season;
Now, the image above would be my preferred starting eleven and basic shape next season. I decided to go with Kovacic rather than Jorginho, but if I’m honest it was a 50/50 toss up and I’d be happy for either to start. Jorginho offers a better passing range with through balls over the top of the defence which could benefit the attacking fullbacks or diagonal runs of the wingers. However, Kovacic has the ability to drive from deep and beat a man which is something the side could miss following Eden Hazard’s departure. The Croatian also improves the press thanks to his high energy levels and willingness to close down the opposition quickly. Either could start and both would do a good job, that’s not the most controversial area of selection in terms of personnel.
The striker position and the defenders are the areas which will cause the most debate. I’ve seen many fans call for Luiz and Christensen to start and I completely understand why due to the quality that they both offer on the ball. I think we need to remember that Rudiger and Zouma are both extremely competent passers themselves and just because of their large and quite inelegant physique their actual ability to play football can be underrated. While I don’t doubt Luiz has the best passing range of our entire defence and can create chances with long balls – we aren’t managed by Sarri anymore and Lampard’s system is much less possession and keep-ball focused. While he tries to play attacking, fast football it is less about squeezing 80% possession from a game and more about chance creation – meaning less emphasis on ball playing defenders. I think Zouma and Rudiger are our best two defenders, and while we may miss the occasional Luiz wonderball we certainly will see fewer errors at the back and attackers bullying our centre halves. Since we will have less possession than next season, ultimately (and obviously) that means that our opposition will be in our final third on more occasions than under Sarri, and as a result having our two most solid defenders at the back will be beneficial. The Frenchman and German also provide an increased threat from set-piece scenarios as well as defensively against crosses into the box. These two are certainly quicker across the ground than Luiz and Christensen too, so that could be important in counter attack prevention and against the many tricky, quick wingers throughout the Premier League.
As a side-note I’d also like to see both Fikayo Tomori and Ethan Ampadu used at centre-back this season when necessary. Personally, I think David Luiz is surplus to requirements. While the Brazilian is a deserved fan-favourite and an undoubtedly good ball-playing centre half, he makes too many rookie mistakes. There’s no doubt he’s a decent leader and good for the dressing room however I’d much prefer to see Tomori and Ampadu given the reigns to be backup defenders next season.
Again, the fullback choices were pretty obvious for me. Emerson has to start at left back and I don’t think too many fans would debate otherwise. Marcos Alonso is simply not good enough as an out-and-out full back and despite the transfer ban I’d let him go if Atletico come in with a good offer. Right back was a slightly tougher choice, my head said Azpilicueta but my heart wants to start Reece James. For now, I’d stick with the Spaniard. He’s the club captain at the moment and certainly offers leadership and experience on the pitch. I admit that he lacks the attacking quality of a proper modern full back however his ability to defend cannot be questioned and his strong footballing IQ ensures he so often is correctly positioned to prevent attacks. Reece James does not need another loan move, he clearly is ready for the Chelsea first team and it will do no harm to utilise the Englishman as a deputy this season. James would be my starter in cup games no doubt, and should get plenty of minutes. Azpilicueta is pushing 30 now though and it’s likely that Reece would be able to take over the starting right back position in the 2020/21 season, or even midway through next season if Azpilicueta’s performances haven’t improved – however *for now* the Spaniard should start.
The big one, who starts up top? Well as shown in the previous image I’ve opted for Michy Batshuayi. The Belgian has been impressive in pre-season so far and actually boasts a very good goals/mins ratio throughout his career. The 25-year-old has scored a goal on average every 112 minutes in the Premier League. To put that into perspective Sergio Aguero’s average is only 3 minute fewer at 109 mins/goal and Harry Kane scores once every 117 minutes. Michy is a complete forward in that he is quick, physical and a lethal finisher. He regularly smashes home one-touch finishes in the penalty box following through balls or low crosses and does not hesitate to pull the trigger whenever there is an opening. I feel that he will benefit from the space created by the wingers cutting inside and has the intelligence to make runs where he can then drift away from the defender as they are drawn towards Hudson-Odoi or Pulisic. This, combined with his impressive finishing, should lead to success for Chelsea in front of goal. Olivier Giroud is always a reliable option off the bench and will almost certainly score important goals next year, he could be used as a starter in certain games if we need to play more direct (against Manchester City for example) in order to make use of his ability to hold the ball up, however he’s best suited to being a backup option in my opinion. The more unknown quantity is Tammy Abraham. What’s not unknown is that this guy can score goals. The Chelsea academy graduate has proven to be lethal in the Championship where he scored 48 league goals over two seasons with Bristol City and Aston Villa on loan. Between those two seasons, however, was a Premier League season with Swansea. The England U-21 international managed just 5 goals in 31 appearances, in his defence though, the team around him were extremely poor and ended up being relegated. While it’s not clear yet if Tammy is capable of being a potent Premier League forward he has all the assets to do so, and I’d have him as my second choice next season behind Batshuayi. There’s no reason that he can’t become a starter though if Michy’s form isn’t consistent.
The rest of the team, I think, pretty much picks itself. Kepa is obviously our number 1 after a brilliant first season where he kept 14 clean sheets in the Premier League and was a penalty shoot-out hero on two occasions. Ruben Loftus-Cheek proved in the latter stages of the season that he was a key player in the side, regularly getting on the scoresheet and impressing with his passing and dribbling in midfield. I’d play him further forward in the number 10 position in the 4231, allowing him to get into the box more often and demonstrate his impressive goalscoring ability. This would also make Ruben the main playmaker in the attacking third and he has shown that with his ability to beat a few defenders and pick a pass that he is more than capable.
N’golo Kantè sits next to Kovacic or Jorginho in the pivot and is undoubtedly a nailed-on starter. There was calls for him to play at defensive midfield last season, however the Frenchman has rarely played there in his career and instead is suited to midfield two which this formation would cater for. The World Cup winner is a world class player and probably the best ball winning midfielder in world football, while he wasn’t completely suited to the football Maurizio Sarri tried to display at Stamford Bridge. Frank Lampard would likely return him to a more natural position in which his job is to press and win the ball before supplying simple passes forward – something he excels at.
Lastly, the wingers – Hudson-Odoi is the golden boy of this Chelsea team and the Crown Jewels to the club’s academy. Goalscoring, pace, crossing, passing and dribbling are all areas of strength for the 18-year-old and he’ll only improve more. He’s likely to be handed the number 10 shirt following Eden Hazard’s departure and once he has recovered from injury there is no doubt he should start. On the other flank has to be USA wonder-kid Christian Pulisic. After winning young player of the tournament at the CONCACAF Gold Cup where he supplied an impressive 3 goals and 3 assists in 6 games Chelsea will hope he can continue this form next season. The American brings Champions League experience and despite being only 20 years of age has played in 3 seasons of senior men’s football. Again, his pace and dribbling are key assets and will undoubtedly prove a challenge for opposition full-backs. While his final product has been criticised he has shown that it is improving and he will certainly be one of The Blues’ key figures under Lampard. In my lineup I’ve featured Hudson-Odoi on the left with Pulisic on the right, however they are both capable on either flank and I’d expect this to be fairly fluid with the two of them regularly switching sides.
Of course this means that Willian and Pedro miss out on starting spots. In my opinion the club should have sold Willian last summer when Barcelona came in with a ludicrous £60M offer, and then again in January when he was wanted by PSG. Much like Alonso I’d sell now despite the transfer ban. He has just one year left on his deal and is demanding a two year contract extension – while he’s a solid Premier League winger his form and output are just too inconsistent and the club should cash in. Pedro, on the other hand, I rate. He’s a very reliable performer and consistent goalscorer, brings heaps of experience at the very top level and is a top professional. As his age catches up with him we saw at times last season he is no longer at his best however there is no doubt the Spaniard a very good backup off the bench.
That’s my starters but there’s a few players who I’d also like to see in and around the eleven. Mason Mount is clearly ready for first team football and shouldn’t be loaned out anymore. There’s absolutely no reason why he can’t be a squad player and eventually make his way to becoming a starter. The Englishman has regularly displayed his technical ability in the Championship and his eye for goal combined with passing ability makes him an important asset. He managed to pick up the opening goal in our pre-season game against Bohemians and was very impressive in midfield, for me he’s our backup attacking midfielder ahead of the likes of Ross Barkley. Tiemouè Bakayoko is an interesting one, while he was inconsistent and at times disastrous in his first year at Chelsea the Frenchman was very good for AC Milan last season and offers a unique physicality and box to box style of play to our midfield, so he certainly deserves another chance in the squad as an alternative option to Kantè. I’d also keep Brazil winger Kenedy in the squad as our fourth winger (as mentioned previously, Willian should be sold). Trickery and flair is typical of the wide-man and he has actually impressed in a Chelsea shirt fairly regularly in the past, as well as for Newcastle. He can also fill in at left back if needed, as well as on the right of midfield which is handy versatility.
Well, that’s my starting eleven and squad with explanations as to why. I understand this will divide opinions so feel free to share yours with us by tweeting @TheChelseaEcho
Written by Dan Barker | @danbarkzr