After the initial free-flowing, goal scoring exploits of Hazard – Mata – Oscar trio, Chelsea have struggled defensively whenever all three have been on the pitch together.
Opposition teams have resorted to bullying tactics to nullify the trio’s threat. The trio are also not famous for their defensive contributions. As a result, Benitez has refrained from playing all three at the same and has instead opted to start Moses on the right wing. Moses provides more width as well.
Following tactics are an attempt at accommodating the trio of Hazard – Mata – Oscar in the starting eleven. It is not the conventional 4-2-3-1. It is a modified set up.
Ever since Benitez has taken over, Hazard has been given an additional responsibility of helping out the defence, when Chelsea are out of possession. It has worked well. However, the extra work load has left Hazard physically tired. He is only 21 and still getting used to the tempo of the premier league.
In order to keep Hazard more fresh throughout the 90 minutes, the following set up gives Hazard a ‘free-role’. That is, Hazard doesn’t need to track ,all the way, back to Chelsea’s box when out of possession. He only needs to join the defence if it is highly required of him.
Eden Hazard has a free role behind the striker. He can roam around the pitch, horizontally, behind the striker. Hazard will have the freedom to attack from either the left flank or the right flank. Hazard can work as a second striker if needed.
A long ball could be played to the striker. The striker doesn’t need to win the aerial duel. The opposition defender will head the ball down and Hazard can attack that ball, when playing behind the striker. His ability on the ball should help him get past the defenders or could draw a foul.
In this set up, Hazard provides width on one of the flanks. Width on the opposite flank has to be provided by a full back. If Hazard is on the left flank, then the right back will have to attack. If Hazard is stationed on the right flank, then the left back will have to go forward. However, only one of the two full backs will have the permission to attack, at a time. Other one will have to position himself in a defensive position.
The #10 role behind the striker can be taken up by either Mata or Oscar. If one takes over the #10 role, the other will have to cover the other one’s vacated slot.
The double pivot consists of a Box-Box Midfielder [B2B] and a Defensive Midfielder [DM]. Lack of a Deep Lying Playmaker [DLP] has been a huge weakness for Chelsea while playing the 4-2-3-1. The B2B MF will have to work hard and will have to track back every time Chelsea lose the ball.
Oscar, still only 20 and getting used to the premier league, will have to do the same. He will have to track the midfield runners and shouldn’t be caught ball watching.
In the above setup, the left back is in an attacking position while the right back is positioned in a more defensive area. If the opposition tries to exploit the space created by the attacking left back, then the left center back will have to cover that area. The defensive midfielder will have to cover the left center back area. Simultaneously, the right center back and the right back could track back to form the back four. In effect, there could be four players to cover an opposition break. These four should be able to block the attack long enough for the midfielders to track back and help out.
In this sequence, Hazard is stationed on the left flank. As a result, width on the right flank will be provided by the right back. Hence, the left back will be positioned in a defensive minded zone.
If the opposition tries to exploit the space left by the attacking right back, the right center back will have to cover the right channel, with the defensive midfielder, the left center back and the left back falling back to form a back four.
When Chelsea are out of position, there are a couple of ways to organize the team.
The first set up, on the left, is rather loosely packed. The three midfielders in front of the back four are stationed to cover spaces in between the defenders. They will have to track opposition midfield runners.
Hazard is stationed high up the pitch, but behind the striker to act as a point of starting the counter attack. Mata is positioned in such a way that, he can join the defence if needed or act as an outlet to start the attack via the right channel. Or Mata, can play the ball to the striker or Hazard and start a counter attack.
The second set up, on the right, is a compact organization. If the opposition tries to stretch the back four by attacking from the flanks, then the attack minded midfielders, Mata – Oscar, will have to help out their respective full backs.
In counter attack:- Hazard is fast, good on the ball, has good dribbling skills. With the ball at his feet, he can run at defenders. If he manages to get past them, he can go for goal or pass to the striker. The pace of Hazard should be able to drag at least one center back out of position and leave the striker to deal with the other center back. Mata, if stationed in front of the midfield, should be able to join the attack as well.
As is the case with any formation , this one also has it’s negatives. There will be one less player joining the attack. However, the quality of Hazard – Mata – Oscar should be able to make up for one less player in attack.
Also, One of the two flanks will be without an attacker. While one of the flanks is weakened, in attack, the extra body will provide more cover for the defence.
The full backs will have to work tirelessly going up and down. But, only one of them needs to attack at a time. That should help them preserve their energy.
Although, Mata and Oscar are both #10s by trade, they provide different styles. Rotating the #10 duty, during the match, should keep the opposition guessing.
For this setup to work, the players will have to develop a real strong understanding between them, as is the case in general. The full backs will have to know, who is to attack and when. They will need to watch for Hazard’s movements. If both the full backs attack at the same time, the defence could be left exposed to an opposition counter attack.
This tactical reshuffle is just a personal thought of a fan. As a result, it is bound to have a few ‘holes’. If you find one please let me know, so that we can ‘plug it’.