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Chelsea FC: Should Jose Mourinho Return the 4-3-3 Formation to Stamford Bridge?

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - FEBRUARY 26:  Jose Mourinho manager of Chelsea looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Galatasaray AS and Chelsea at Ali Sami Yen Arena on February 26, 2014 in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Daniel TilukFeatured ColumnistJuly 17, 2014

Five years ago, Chelsea were on the precipice of arguably their greatest domestic campaign. The 2009-10 season saw 103 goals scored en route to a third Premier League crown and the sixth FA Cup added to Stamford Bridge's trophy case.

Manager Carlo Ancelotti finding Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard at the peak of their powers—both physical and cerebral—surely helped (as each scored 29 and 22 EPL goals, respectively), but the Blues possessing an offensive identify under the Italian was the main factor in their success.

The Blues have since won the 2012 FA Cup, but 2009-10 was their last period of domestic dominance. 

At the end of their reign, you often thought: "Do the 'old guard' even need a manager?"
At the end of their reign, you often thought: "Do the 'old guard' even need a manager?"Ian Walton/Getty Images

Post Ancelotti's sacking to the return of Jose Mourinho, Chelsea felt distinctly blueprint-less—almost as if the "old guard" were managing themselves.

Returning after a seven-year absence, the Portuguese attempted to give Roman Abramovich the attacking, free-flowing style he prefers, but Chelsea were a leaky faucet. Realising this, Mourinho decided to sure up his defence. After conceding 19 goals in the first 19 games of the 2013-14 EPL season, Chelsea allowed only eight goals in the second half.

Mourinho helped increase the Blues' 2012-13 point total by seven, but the west London side scored less goals and finished third for the second consecutive season.

#CFC in the EPL 09/10: 86 Pts—103 G (C) 10/11: 71 Pts—69 G (2nd) 11/12: 64 Pts—65 G (6th) 12/13: 75 Pts—75 G (3rd) 13/14: 82 Pts—71 G (3rd)

— Chelsea Talk (@_ChelseaTalk) July 13, 2014

In an attempt to reestablish their English preeminence, Chelsea should hearken back to a staple founded under Mourinho in his first stint (2004-07) at Stamford Bridge—culminating in their 2009-10 double campaign: that being the 4-3-3.

Lost due to managerial upheaval and the squad's construction or lack thereof (namely the age of Lampard and arrival of attacking-midfield talent), Chelsea's 4-3-3 was deactivated and the ubiquitous 4-2-3-1 was installed.

Taking the Blues' recent departures and acquisitions into account, a change in tactics would seem paramount for Mourinho to maximise the talent at his disposal.

Cesc Fabregas is not a pivot player; the Spanish international serving in a holding-midfield role puts Mourinho's football ethics in grave peril. Fabregas would be handicapped in the 4-2-3-1, often having to keep an eye on the opposition's roaming midfielders and tracking back.

Oscar has the ability to play deeper in midfield. It would allow Jose Mourinho more options. Managers love options.
Oscar has the ability to play deeper in midfield. It would allow Jose Mourinho more options. Managers love options.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Oscar—who has proven to be rather versatile—does not have to play in the "No. 10" position to be effective; however, watching the Brazilian international on the wing is like seeing a whale on a beach.

In order to play Fabregas and Oscar together—in optimal positions—Mourinho could remove the CAM and play two retreated midfielders. Consequently, the space vacated by the "No. 10" would give Chelsea's wingers and strikers more space to operate without clogging space above the 18-yard box—a source of constant frustration over the past three seasons.

The best XI Mourinho can field: 4-3-3 (4-1-2-3). The only question is Petr Čech or Thibaut Courtois? #CFC #Chelsea pic.twitter.com/VmwegxQ00W

— Chelsea Talk (@_ChelseaTalk) July 16, 2014

Something the Blues have in spades are world-class wingers. A return to the 4-3-3 should make Eden Hazard, Willian, Andre Schurrle & Co. the resounding focal point of Stamford Bridge's attack.

When playing against lesser competition, teams tend to drop back and defend. Going through the midst of nine bodies—then beating a goalkeeper—proves difficult (see last season). When building from the back in a 4-3-3, Chelsea's midfield would find three main attacking options, two wingers and a striker. As playing through flanks proves more effective against parked buses, losing the "No. 10" gives Chelsea no option but the best one.

Another benefit could be regaining a prolific striker.

Diego Costa has been acquired to improve Chelsea's goal tally. For £32 million, the experiment should be interesting
Diego Costa has been acquired to improve Chelsea's goal tally. For £32 million, the experiment should be interestingGonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Stamford Bridge has been in dire need of a line leader since Drogba's 2012 exit. Mourinho—the man behind Drogba's west London arrival—has elected powerhouse forward Diego Costa as the heir apparent to Chelsea's Ivorian legend.

Removing the central attacking midfielder, with wingers wide, leaves the 18-yard box as the striker's domain. In the 4-2-3-1, the collection of players camped around the "D" is staggering.

Wingers cutting inside, the "No. 10" holding and the "No. 9" prowling—added with holding midfielders venturing forward—creates a virtual traffic jam.

Players need simplicity and space. Losing the extra man above the 18 makes finding the "No. 9" an easier task. His job is then to finish or link play with runners from midfield.

Costa provides a big frame to seek out, his hold-up play was crucial in Atletico Madrid's La Liga-winning 2013-14 season, and the Spaniard's 27 goals from 35 league appearances are evidence of his clinical goalscoring prowess.

Mourinho's first Chelsea period saw Lampard and John Terry already on the roster, but Claudio Ranieri left the Portuguese another gift—this one costing about £16 million: Claude Makelele.

The "Makelele Role" should be brought back to SW6, with Nemanja Matic serving as the first-choice thespian.
The "Makelele Role" should be brought back to SW6, with Nemanja Matic serving as the first-choice thespian.Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

The French international was the glue of Chelsea's 2004-05 and 2005-06 championships. His presence in front of Mourinho's back four allowed box-to-box engines—Lampard and Michael Essien—the ability to maraud from midfield. An anchor in the 4-3-3, his position was dubbed the "Makelele Role."

Were the 2014-15 rendition of Chelsea Football Club to adopt the 4-3-3, Nemanja Matic would be the prime candidate to reprise the Frenchman's role. Possessing an accommodating left boot, terrific field awareness and a nose for danger—Matic's game is perfectly suited to being Chelsea's regista.

Suggesting in one formation lies the keys to long-term success is ridiculous. Managers need the flexibility to change their system game-to-game, moment-to-moment, but each team needs an overriding set of principles which determine their play.

Chelsea, while being defensively stout, have failed to build an offensive ethic since Ancelotti was fired in May 2011. With Mourinho now at the helm of Stamford Bridge, the time is now to lay a foundation for prolonged offensive continuity.

Making mercurial wingers pipelines, while giving midfielders and strikers space to operate, seems an ideal place to begin. Coincidentally, the 4-3-3—which Mourinho can implement rather simply—gives each of these tenets their best chance at success.

 

 

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