This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
There is plenty of anticipation at Chelsea ahead of the new season as the club look forward to life under new manager Frank Lampard and the early signs in pre-season suggest a key change in formation will see the Blues score more goals.
Chelsea were, for the most part, defensively solid in the Premier League last season. Only runaway duo Liverpool and Manchester City conceded less than the Blues’ total of 39, and that number would have been smaller had they not suffered two uncharacteristic humiliations against Bournemouth (0-4) and Manchester City (0-6). This, however, was in contrast with their offensive performances.
In the past campaign, the Stamford Bridge outfit were outscored by all of the top six, striking just 63 times across the 38 games. This was despite making the second-most passes in the whole division. At times, Chelsea looked stagnant, especially against the sides who make up the elite at the very top. They recorded just three victories against the other teams who qualified for Europe, which included Wolves, against whom they lost once and drew once.
Far too much of the creative workload was shouldered by Eden Hazard, who was directly involved in 49.21% of all of the Blues’ goals throughout the year, whilst Jorginho, who recorded the most passes in the league, failed to contribute a single assist.
During the off-season, Sarri has been replaced by Lampard. The former midfielder has made one major change to his predecessor’s preferred formation, which was 4-3-3 with one defensive midfielder and two others playing slightly more advanced but still in the centre of the park. Since the 41-year-old’s arrival, the Blues have set up in either a 4-2-3-1 or a diamond 4-4-2. Both line-ups have included an attacking midfielder, a position which has been shared between Mason Mount and Ross Barkley.
The change has seen an increased attacking threat, which has been led by the two Englishmen. Twenty-year-old Mount has scored three times so far during the club’s preparation matches, whilst Barkley has netted four and provided three assists.
The warm-up process has therefore been far more rewarding in an attacking sense compared to Sarri’s first few games in the hot seat. Under the former Napoli manager, Chelsea only managed to score three goals before their first game of the Premier League season. In comparison, Lampard’s side have scored 18.
There is now a bigger threat in attack, and even Jorginho seems to be having a larger impact on the games, doing what he couldn’t last season and providing against Barcelona from a far more advanced position than he generally found himself last time around. That’s no coincidence; the presence of a number 10 will help Chelsea’s number five no-end. Now, he will have a middle man to work with instead of trying to provide the creative spark despite so much space separating himself and the forward line.
Whilst it is only pre-season, it is still interesting to note the change in style, the modification of the midfield and the positive effect it has had on Chelsea’s attacking threat. The new position shared by Barkley and Mount has been fundamental to that. The first real test will, of course, be this weekend, as they kick off their league campaign at Old Trafford against Manchester United. The indications so far, however, are that they will be far more exhilarating and dangerous than they were under Sarri.