As the evening approached in west London on Saturday night many Chelsea fans will have been making their way out of Stamford Bridge in the most buoyant of moods having just witnessed their team dismantle Steve Bruce’s Sunderland with an emphatic display.
Many believed that the month of January would make or break Chelsea’s season. With star men such as Didier Drogba and Michael Essien absent from the squad, it was assumed that the Blues would be lacking in firepower however, the Stamford Bridge faithful will have left Saturdays game with one thought on their mind; Didier who?
Carlo Ancelotti’s side were relentless in their destruction of the Black Cats and even the most passionate of Chelsea fans will have felt a little for Steve Bruce’s side, who had no answer to any of the questions that the Blues’ asked them. Chelsea ran riot, putting seven past the helpless Marton Fulop and if it had not been for the Hungarian then in truth it could have been several more. So what was the cause of this Chelsea display given that Ancelotti was missing two of his first choice strikers?
The Italian surprised everybody in choosing to revert back to Chelsea’s old 4-3-3 system and the game was as one sided as the result suggested. Despite his recent praise of Daniel Sturridge and insistence that the youngsters have what it takes to pull Chelsea through the January period, Ancelotti deployed Nicholas Anelka as a lone striker, with wingers Florent Malouda and Joe Cole on either side of the Frenchman.
Both Malouda and Cole have found it hard to cement a place under the former A.C. Milan boss and would have been relishing the opportunity to impress after the pair started in their preferred positions for the first time this season. The often Jekyll and Hyde Malouda showed why Chelsea splashed £13.5 million on him back in 2007 as the midfielder produced a flamboyant display, getting his name on the score-sheet with a right footed low drive. Fan favourite Cole was also an ever existent creative outlet and Nicholas Anelka thrived in front of goal because of the pair. The disappointing (by his high standards) Frank Lampard also appeared to rediscover his shooting boots and looked back at home in his deeper position.
Saturday’s game is evidence that the question cannot be avoided; should Chelsea ditch the diamond and revert back to 4-3-3?
Regardless of the result this weekend there is no real reason to criticise the diamond. Chelsea currently sit atop the Premier League table and have a 100% record over the other members of the ‘big four’ this season, something that has been a vast improvement on the previous campaign. In my opinion, although the 4-3-3 was destructive against Steve Bruce’s side, Chelsea should not necessarily shape their side around it, however, there is no harm in switching between the two and there is a lot to be gained from players such as Cole and Malouda in wide roles. The diamond formation has proved its worth in the tighter games this season, with Chelsea utilising their strong and physical midfield to overpower opponents. Ancelotti should continue with his famed strategy against the tougher sides where his team can suffocate the opposition and allow the partnership of Drogba and Anelka to flourish.
Yet I personally would like to see a switch back to the old 4-3-3 system in games where Chelsea are heavy favourites to win, such as this weekend’s home fixture with Sunderland. You only have to ask Avram Grant to find out how important goal difference can be in this league and emphatic wins such as Saturdays could prove invaluable to the Chelsea cause come May. The speed and technique of the wider players can cut lesser sides open and Drogba and Anelka would have a field day against more volatile defences.
A further positive would see the more regular addition of Malouda and Cole, both of whom are appear to be currently considering their future with the west London club. The wingers are invaluable commodities (especially Cole) and cannot be expected to warm the bench whilst the more physical players run the show. Saturday’s win was a breath of fresh air and Ancelotti deserves credit for his tactical prowess.
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