Too Many Cooks Or The Perfect Recipe? Scolari's Midfield Conundrum at Chelsea
Chelsea's performance in their 1-1 draw against Manchester United on Sunday was characterized by their lack of creativity in attack. Whilst creating chances, they missed that touch of inspiration that their summer signing Deco has brought to the team since his arrival from Barcelona.
The diminutive playmaker has been central to the transformation of Chelsea from efficient battering rams to the artistic entertainers who so thrilled against Portsmouth, Manchester City and Bordeaux. The question for Scolari is, with the inclusion of Deco, where do first team stalwarts Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack and Michael Essien fit in?
There can be no doubt that the Portuguese will be central to Scolari's team. His comfort on the ball and eye for a pass made him the hub of Scolari's Portuguese national team and his technical abilities are unique in the Chelsea dressing room. He will surely be one of the first names on the team sheet.
However, with Scolari's track record of playing an open 4-3-3 formation, a system he has employed in every Chelsea game so far, there appears to be a glut of attacking midfield talent at his disposal and a shortage of vacancies. Lampard and Ballack proved a potent midfield partnership last season and Mikel John Obi has filled Makalele's shoes in the anchor midfield role. It is almost a blessing that Scolari doesn't have to find a place for the outstanding Michael Essien, a knee injury ruling the Ghanaian out for most of the season.
It is essential Scolari sticks with a holding midfield player given the attacking instincts of his other midfield players and the surging runs he has encouraged his full backs to make. This would seem to mean that Scolari will have to chose either Lampard or Ballack to play alongside Deco in a midfield three as he has done in recent games against Manchester city and Bordeaux. This may well be the case. With Chelsea looking to challenge on all four fronts again, the sheer number of games and injuries might force Scolari's hand and make his team selection easier.
There is however another option for Scolari. In the opening game of the season, Deco operated in a more advanced role than he is accustomed to. Rather than placing him at the cutting edge of the midfield three, he gave Lampard and Ballack the two midfield berths alongside Obi and pushed Deco further forward, almost as a supporting striker alongside Joe Cole. It worked well, Deco pulling the strings of the Chelsea attack with Lampard and Ballack joining in the quick passing game through the middle.
If Scolari can fine tune this system, getting the best out of his midfield powerhouses whilst maintaining the width of the team through his full backs and his additional attacking midfielder, it could be a great year in the offing for Chelsea fans. Alternatively, if the teams shape is compromised in order to accommodate all his 'big' names and Messrs Lampard, Ballack and Deco keep bumping into each other in their search for space, it could mean that the axe will fall on a certain precocious German.
Scolari is blessed, even without Robihnio, with an embarrassment of riches. He has been charged with securing success with the style that was missing under Mourinhio and Grant. If he can solve this midfield conundrum, it will surely be a giant step towards matching his style with silverware.
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