What a start to the season: four straight victories and some silverware already for Chelsea under Carlo Ancelotti. What has been talked about most under this new regime is his change of Chelsea's formation from their usual 4-3-3 to either the Diamond or Christmas Tree that he found much success with in Serie A with AC Milan.
So far Chelsea has used the Diamond for three wins and the Christmas Tree for one.
Both formations lack natural width and compensate from either attacking fullbacks or pinpoint passing and marauding players. Both formations also prefer to have possession of the ball in order to ground opponents down with multiple shots on goal or to create openings from the midfield for the big, physical strikers to finish on isolation drives.
The of the 10 goals scored this season, all have been predicated on the power of the central midfield feeding the strikers. Furthermore, only the goal by Anelka after the feed by Drogba has been on a real break away that was started with an Essien long ball.
Gone are the days of simple, blistering counter attacks and rear third possession that made Chelsea the poster boys for "anti-football." The Chelsea of today have put more passing, slashing, and control to complement their enormous physical prowess.
While all the running and setting up makes formations seem almost irrelevant at times, the zones of responsibility that each formation holds is what makes it so important and where the contrast between Ancelotti's two favored formations come into play.
The Diamond wants to keep the ball in the middle and final third of the pitch for possession with one striker typically moving slightly back or out to give the tip of the diamond more options and allowing the base of the diamond some breathing room.
Both Anelka and Drogba have played the part in the past two games, but nominally it will be Drogba sitting in the front with his strike partner dropping closer to the midfield like Kalou.
The Christmas Tree is more defensive in nature. It wants more possession to stem from the first third and middle third with a single striker out, and five midfielders. While all five are expected to play box-to-box, two are mainly defensive and hold the center, one is a true box-to-box player and links to the two more offensive midfielders that share playmaking responsibilities and feed the lone striker.
Since Chelsea is a fit and fast team, they have managed to use their fullbacks to provide natural width against these first four sides and have managed to unlock very stubborn defenses (note the lack of break away goals) because of it.
However, when they face stronger offensive sides with pacy wingers (like Tottenham in a few weeks), the fullbacks will be more pinned and the width will either have to be virtual (via passing) or from drifting players.
Now the problem with the diamond is if players drift too much it exposes them to attacks, like with Hull, and Tottenham are a much stronger offensive side and will be able to exploit this.
The Christmas Tree is more defensive in nature and I think more able to launch counter attacks because that defense is stouter and the links are increased in the midfield.
So I pose the question: Which formation would you prefer to see Chelsea use as its standard? The more balanced Diamond that is both hard and cutting, or the curious Christmas Tree that is solid but can light up at a moment's notice?