Rafael Benitez has a huge task this season with Chelsea, and he will feel it is vital that they get off to the best possible start against Manchester City today for a number of reasons. From a team perspective, if they lose they will be 7 points off the top and be stuck back in 4th place after West Brom’s 4-2 win over Sunderland. From a personal perspective, Benitez needs to get onside with the Chelsea fans as soon as he can given the huge opposition there has been towards his appointment from many Blues supporters.
The line-up he uses in this match will probably be reflective on what 11 he plans to use this season, aside from any January signings or dips of form. Whether or not he uses David Luiz in defense will probably be the main decision Benitez will have to make, given he said he plans to not change the system for this game given he has only had three training sessions with the players. Cesar Azpilicueta is really the only viable alternative to Luiz, and I would go with the Spanish full-back over the Brazilian centre-back for this one, however I suspect Luiz will play. Azpilicueta provides more of a threat down the right-hand side than Branislav Ivanovic, and also seems composed when defending as appose to Luiz, who has been positionally awful this season and combined it with poor decision making. Cesar’s inclusion would allow Ivanovic to slot into the middle, and he is arguably Chelsea’s second best centre-back behind the injured John Terry. The Serb didn’t have one of his best games against Juve playing on the right, but in the middle he has always played well. Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole should make up the rest of the back line, as Cahill will most likely be picked over Luiz if Azpilicueta plays.
In the middle two, it is more predictable that Benitez will use Ramires and John Obi Mikel, the pair preferred by sacked manager Roberto di Matteo. Ramires is a certainty to play, and if it’s not in the middle it will be on the right. But with Frank Lampard injured the only other option on the face of it is Oriol Romeu, who although shows promise, simply isn’t really that good, especially playing alongside Mikel where the defensive midfield is too flat. Which probably means that Benitez will retain Mikel and Ramires at the base of the midfield.
The front four pick themselves for this game for Benitez in an attacking sense, but will Rafa feel that Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard will work hard enough defensively? Fernando Torres is a certain starter for this game given Benitez’s connection with the Spanish striker and Roman Abramovich’s desire to see him played. Oscar does work the hardest off the ball out of those three, and Hazard works the least. But given the lack of time to change anything, I believe that we are pretty much going to see a RDM team played by Rafael Benitez today v City. Which of course leads to the inevitable question of why Di Matteo was sacked anyway.
Probable Lineup: Cech; Ivanovic, Luiz, Cahill, Cole; Mikel, Ramires; Oscar, Mata, Hazard; Torres.
But if I was Benitez I would be wanting to make some gradual changes to this team over time as he settles in. Although on the face of it, the 4-2-3-1 formation looks the best one to suit Oscar, Mata and Hazard, I don’t think it really is. Having the three narrow, creative players in this formation leaves them no room to work in. On many occasions you see them all in the same five square metre patch aimlessly passing the ball to one another, and the next player can do as little with the ball as the previous one. Fernando Torres does not help but he’s probably had enough flack that everyone has come to assume writers mean this without it having to be said.
I would like to see Chelsea evolve to a more traditional diamond shape, which may seem like a tried and failed shape but I see a number of positives in it for Chelsea. Well in theory anyway; everyone knows what seems like a winning move on paper more often than not doesn’t result in 3 points.
Cech is always going to be in goal. I keep my rationale from before for selecting the same back-four without David Luiz, and having Azpilicueta and Cole in the diamond system is essential because they would provide the much needed width the formation often lacks. When fit, I would play John Terry over Gary Cahill. However I do see David Luiz as having a part to play in this. At the base of midfield, I think he could excel in using all of his best assets.
The main thing that lead me to this thought was actually as the result of people saying that Rafa Benitez would not be able to get Torres to fire because of the different style of passing that Liverpool and Chelsea posses. Many pundit’s have highlighted Liverpool’s long passing style as being much more effective for Torres than Chelsea’s short passing. I instantly thought of one thing when they said this. Last season in particular, David Luiz made a number of passes for Torres who was running off the shoulder in behind, and the Brazilian defender made these from deep. Maybe this is a solution to slightly if not drastically helping Torres and also getting the risky Luiz out of defense and placing him somewhere where he could really be effective. And then of course you have all of Luiz’s positive attributes in an attacking sense coming out more and his best asset as a defender is able to cut passes out, something he could do from holding defense without the risk of doing it further back.
On the right of the diamond I would put Ramires, a mix of his current position and where he played last season on the FA Cup and Champions League winning run. This would give defensive cover down the right, put Rami in a suitable position to make his lung busting box-to-box runs he makes to help Chelsea on the counter and tracking back. On the left I would put Oscar, the best defensively out of the attacking three currently deployed, he often nips in on opponents to win the ball which he could do better from this slightly deeper position. Also it is more like the position he played for Brazil at the Olympics where he was arguably their best player. He can distribute the ball, make runs at the defense, give an option to reset the attack and make runs up the left if needs be. At the top of the diamond is Juan Mata, an obvious choice needing little explanation.
The diamond system employs two strikers, the most direct of which would be Fernando Torres. This system would be better suited to him because of him having to do less having another forward, and he can play right off the shoulder without having to mix his movement up as much. Eden Hazard played as a false-nine against Juventus which actually worked well, even though Chelsea lost. He could play as the other forward as a second striker, making runs in behind and drifting out wide to get the ball, as well as pushing up on the counter.
The key to this system however is the elongation of MAZACAR. This would provide more space for them all to work rather than them being congested as they currently are allowing for much more chances to be created. Having Oscar slightly deeper and Hazard more advanced is the best way from my perspective to do this, and this system also benefits David Luiz, Ramires and Fernando Torres.
Matt’s Chelsea 11 (Diamond): Cech; Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole; David Luiz, Ramires, Oscar, Mata; Hazard, Torres
What do you think? Would this system work for Chelsea or is it a delusional theory? Have your say in the comments section below or hit up Matt on Twitter
- Premier League Matchday 23: Top-Four Race Matches to Watch & Predictions
- Premier League Matchday 22 Preview: Best Three Games To Watch
- Ralf Rangnick delivers update on Edinson Cavani’s future at Manchester United
- Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger opens pre-contract talks with big European clubs
- Romelu Lukaku dropped from Chelsea squad in 2-2 draw against Liverpool
- Manchester United in contention with Liverpool for Leeds’ centre-back
- Chelsea star Romelu Lukaku set for showdown talks with Thomas Tuchel
- Five players who are desperate to move in the 2022 January transfer window
- Fiorentina cannot keep hold of Dusan Vlahovic anymore
- Manchester United striker to request January exit