A contribution piece by Alex Huyberechts

Since Frank Lampard has joined Chelsea Football Club as Head Coach, the First team’s formations have been quite versatile, changing between the 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, and 4-4-2 diamond formations. In addition, the squad has performed very well with the Unit High Press, something Maurizio Sarri has struggled to do last season.

In the last couple of games, it seems that Frank Lampard favours a 4-2-3-1 to have a double pivot, and up to this point it has brought out the best out of Ross Barkley and Mason Mount, two Attacking Playmakers for Chelsea.

However, Frank Lampard will face two major issues in midfield this season, as he will have to consider changing Chelsea’s formation when both N’Golo Kanté and Ruben Loftus-Cheek return from injury.

N’GOLO KANTÉ

(Photo – Bleacher Report)

N’Golo Kanté began his youth career for JS Suresnes and was deemed too small and selfless to join any big club. He then joined Boulogne’s youth side in 2010 and played almost every game in his first senior career season (2012/13). He then joined Ligue 2 side Caen in 2013 who finished 3rd that season, therefore being promoted to Ligue 1. In the 2014/15 season, he was so impressive for Caen that he recovered the most balls in one season out of any player in Europe, and so Leicester decided to sign him for around £5.5m.

His performance in the 2015/16 campaign for Leicester (topping the Premier League defensive stats and winning league title) earned him a £32m move to Chelsea for the 2016/17 campaign. Not only was he a bargain for a player of that quality, but Leicester were unable to replace Kanté once he left.

Under Antonio Conte, he won another Premier League title and his first FA Cup with Chelsea, before going to the 2018 World Cup and winning the trophy with France.

Fast forward to May 2019, and the 28-year-old Frenchman had a hamstring injury which forced him out of the final two Premier League matches of the 2018/19 season (Watford & Leicester). He managed to recover a couple of weeks after, only to be faced with another injury scare on Saturday 25th May – 4 days before the UEFA Europa League Final against Arsenal, at Baku. There was even some doubt as to whether the World Class midfielder would feature, especially when he only took part in the warm-up training session the day before the Final. Fortunately, he started in the Final and Chelsea won 4-1 – so Chelsea lifted the Europa League trophy.

Almost 8 weeks later and N’Golo Kanté has yet to feature for Chelsea in pre-season. He was supposed to be part of Chelsea’s Japan pre-season tour (and could have featured against Kawasaki), but the Frenchman was sent back to Cobham to undergo rehab, as he suffered a similar injury to the one before the Europa League Final in May.

After the Barcelona pre-season game in which Chelsea won 2-1, Frank Lampard said: “[N’Golo Kanté]’s improving and hopefully by the time we get back and start training towards the weekend he will be in a position to pretty much join in with us.” He even said that the club’s medical staff feel the Frenchman should be able to play and that having a long-term break could benefit him given the number of games he played last season.

When N’Golo Kanté does return from injury, Frank will have to consider where exactly to play him, and whether he should adapt his formation.

Unlike what some Chelsea fans and a lot of pundits say, throughout his career, N’Golo Kanté has never been able to perform as a holding midfielder, whether it was in Antonio Conte’s 4-3-3 formation at the start of the 2016/17 campaign, or in Antonio Conte’s 3-5-2/3-5-1-1 formation during the 2017/18 campaign. 

In fact, until the start of the 2018/19 campaign he was mostly a central midfielder, especially in Caen’s 4-1-4-1 formation under Patrice Garande (2013/14 and 2014/15), Leicester’s 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation under Claudio Ranieri (2015/16), Chelsea’s 3-4-3 formation under Antonio Conte (2016/17 and 2017/18), and France’s 4-4-1-1 formation under Didier Deschamps (2018 World Cup); and he was deemed a machine when he played in those formations. 

In the 2018/19 campaign, when Maurizio Sarri decided to play N’Golo Kanté in a 4-3-3, at the RCM position as a Box-to-Box midfielder, Chelsea fans were disappointed with Sarri; and in time they started to get angry as results didn’t go their way. People were disappointed because they thought Kanté was the best holding midfielder in the world, while others believed he shouldn’t be a Box-to-Box Midfielder when he was clearly a Ball Winning Midfielder.

Yet were it not for Sarri’s tactical change of the Frenchman from a Ball Winning Midfielder to a Box-to-Box midfielder, he wouldn’t have scored against Manchester City just before half time in Chelsea 2-0 win, and he wouldn’t have done a triple nutmeg goal against Tottenham Hotspur in Chelsea’s 2-1 win in the 2nd leg of the Carabao Cup Semi-Final (leading to penalties and Chelsea winning that too)… who knows what the result would have been without those moments.

Therefore, Frank Lampard could have a tough time deciding where to play N’Golo Kanté. The Chelsea legend will not be able to play the Frenchman in a 4-2-3-1 formation with two CDMs, a formation that he has been playing with in the past couple of games. Instead, he’ll have to choose between 

  • a 4-2-3-1 formation with two CMs (commonly known as a 4-3-3 Attack for FIFA gamers) and play Kanté in one of the CM positions
  • a 4-4-1-1 formation and play Kanté in one of the CM positions
  • or a 4-1-2-3 formation (commonly known as a 4-3-3 Holding for FIFA gamers) and play in the RCM position (similar to Maurizio Sarri’s formation last season)

But N’Golo Kanté isn’t the only midfielder who’s currently suffering from an injury: Ruben Loftus-Cheek is too. So, in this next part, I will look into whether Frank Lampard can still use these three formation options.

RUBEN LOFTUS-CHEEK

(Photo – Metro)

Ruben Loftus Cheek was a Chelsea youth academy product who started making appearances for the club back in 2014. He made some appearances for Chelsea until leaving on loan for Crystal Palace in the 2017/18 season. When he returned to Chelsea, he was included in the first-team squad and played around 2000 minutes in the 2018/19 campaign, with 15 goal contributions.

Back in May 2019, the 23-year-old Englishman had an achilles injury in Chelsea’s No to Antisemitism against New England Revolution in the USA, a couple of weeks before the UEFA Europa League Final against Arsenal. After a medical examination, it’s expected that the midfielder may not return to full fitness until at least January 2020.

This is a massive blow for the youngster, especially when Frank Lampard was unveiled as the new Chelsea Head Coach and gave a clean slate to every player, but it’s definitely a massive boost for Ross Barkley and Mason Mount who (for the time being) will only have to compete between each other for the starting spot.

And while he could be an important player for Frank Lampard when he recovers, I’m sure some of you might be wondering what sort of player Ruben Loftus-Cheek is, and how will he fit into Frank Lampard’s team, so let’s dive into it.

Ruben has similar traits to an all-round midfielder, something Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack had during their senior career at Chelsea. The youngster’s offensive attributes make him a very technical and physically strong player with strong passing and dribbling ability, but he still needs to improve on his crossing (even if it’s a trait more suited to wingers). His defensive attributes have improved thanks to Maurizio Sarri, who forced Ruben to “improve in the defensive phase” early on in the 2018/19 campaign.

So, when Ruben Loftus-Cheek returns from injury, will Frank Lampard have to consider changing his formation from what is currently looks to be a 4-2-3-1 (with two CDMs)?

We already know from the previous part that N’Golo Kanté can only perform at his best in a 4-2-3-1 formation with two CMs, in a 4-4-1-1 formation (at CM) or in a 4-1-2-3 formation (at RCM), but would these formations suit Ruben Loftus-Cheek? 

Let’s start off with the 4-2-3-1 formation and focus on the Advanced Playmaker role at CAM. In that position, that player will need to be good enough to support the forwards by running at the opponents with the ball and creating chances, good enough to receive the ball with his back to goal, maintain possession and resist aggressive challenges, and good enough to roam from his position in order to avoid being closed down easily.

Now onto the 4-1-2-3 formation, and let’s focus on the Advanced Playmaker role at LCM. In that position, that player has very similar attributes to its attacking midfielder counterpart, but additionally, he needs to be good enough to contribute defensively.

Finally, let’s end with the 4-4-1-1 formation and focus on the Shadow Striker role. In that position, that player needs to be good enough to be a withdrawn striker to get the second ball or to arrive late at the area, good enough to have lots of positional intelligence off the ball, good enough to score goals and be an attacking threat, and good enough to press the opponents like a forward. However, he won’t need to come back and defend as much as the attacking midfielder or central midfielder.

And guess what? Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s abilities show that he can play in either of those positions. 

CONCLUSION

I believe Frank Lampard’s 4-2-3-1 formation with two CDMs will end once N’Golo Kanté returns from injury, but he will have the option to choose from three new formations that won’t have an impact on Ruben Loftus-Cheek (since he’s an all-round midfielder who can play at as an Advanced Playmaker at LCM and CAM and as a Shadow Striker):

  • a 4-2-3-1 formation with two CMs (commonly known as a 4-3-3 Attack for FIFA gamers), with one of the CMs playing as a Ball Winning Midfielder, N’Golo Kanté playing as a Box-to-Box Midfielder in the other CM, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek playing as an Advanced Playmaker at CAM.
  • a 4-4-1-1 formation, with one of the CMs playing as a Ball Winning Midfielder, N’Golo Kanté playing as a Box-to-Box Midfielder in the other CM, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek playing as a Shadow Striker.
  • a 4-1-2-3 formation (commonly known as a 4-3-3 Holding for FIFA gamers) with the CDM playing as a Ball Winning Midfielder, N’Golo Kanté playing as a Box-to-Box Midfielder at RCM, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek playing as an Advanced Playmaker at LCM.

Now the interesting part here is that I left N’Golo Kanté as a Box-to-Box Midfielder instead of putting him back into the Ball Winning Midfielder role. The reason behind that is because Frank Lampard, in a 4-1-2-3 formation, plays a Ball Winning Midfielder at CDM, a Box-to-Box Midfielder at RCM, and an Advanced Playmaker at LCM. 

As stated previously, Kanté is not a holding midfielder, so he cannot play as a Ball Winning Midfielder for Chelsea. Therefore, like last season, it’s probably best if he continues playing as a Box-to-Box Midfielder, where he can train on improving his attacking output while bringing back his defensive output (from before the 2018/19 campaign).

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