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The Roar



Is three a crowd for Pochettino's fledgling Chelsea?

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Roar Guru
16 hours ago

It feels a bit pointless to write a tactical piece on Chelsea right now.

It’s like writing about a car crashing straight into a wall and pointing out that the driver should have been in a different gear when they hit such wall. Chelsea’s problems are far, far wider than simple tactics but that will be for another piece.

I’ve been to both Chelsea’s first two home games this season against Liverpool and Luton, and watched the Forest debacle on TV. The three games have offered very different experiences, but one constant has been Mauricio Pochettino’s predilection for three at the back.

On several levels, this makes sense. By adding an extra defensive player, Poch is being conservative and slowly building up confidence in a squad that is very young and disjointed at this juncture. There is little experience in this young side and this system suits the vastly experienced Thiago Silva, who has been a singular calming influence over the past 12 months.

Silva simply lacks the pace nowadays to play in a back four in a pressing team.

Chelsea – even with Malo Gusto deputising for the injured Reece James – possess excellent wing backs and again, three at the back should maximise those talents.

Chelsea also have had a plethora of injuries in attacking positions so even with Benoît Badiashile and Wesley Fofana on the injured list, it again makes sense to maximise the players where Chelsea do have options. Chelsea also started the season without Moises Caicedo.


The flip side to this is it, of course, removes a player in a more advanced position and is creating an imbalance for Chelsea in advanced areas.

One common factor in the first four matches is that Chelsea look very open when they lose the ball. Poch’s teams have always had a reputation for pressing, but again, a back three removes a player from the press higher up the pitch which in turn leaves the back three more exposed.

Much was made last season that Enzo Fernandez was playing too deep and Caicedo was seen as the antidote to this issue, a genuine No.6 releasing the Argentine playmaker to do damage higher up the pitch.

Against both Luton and Forest, Enzo did indeed play farther forward but in both games – especially in the first half yesterday – he struggled to get enough possession in the right areas.

The back three essentially negates the possibility of a genuine midfield trio which should be optimum for Enzo in a 4-3-3 with Caicedo holding and Connor Gallagher doing the box-to-box duties, leaving Enzo to make the play at will. Romeo Lavia, when fit, would offer the ‘double pivot’ alongside Caicedo when Chelsea face the big boys.

The 3-4-3 that Poch has settled on for the moment means that Gallagher must play in more of a holding role – which doesn’t suit him – and puts Enzo and Sterling in a narrower high position behind the No.9, Nicolas Jackson.

Sterling is far more effective when coming from a wider start position and Enzo is now being pushed too far forward where he is not seeing enough of the ball. Again, a 4-3-3 would give Sterling that more natural wider starting position. Given Chelsea now have Noni Madueke, Mykhailo Mudryk and Cole Palmer all available, it makes far more sense to give more space and width to the front three.


I have to say that watching Silva in the flesh at his age is quite a seminal experience, to still be that good just makes you wonder exactly how good he must have been in his Milan days.

(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Chelsea do need a dose of continuity and experience but basing the entire system on fitting in a player who will be 39 later this month isn’t even a medium-term solution.

Against Luton, all Chelsea’s good work came down the right where Sterling naturally drifted. Chillwell is essentially playing as an auxiliary left winger to provide some width on that side but nothing effective is happening and it was the same again against Forest.

Poch made a myriad of attacking changes but nothing again came down the left, the system is choking the width of the team even with Chelsea’s supposed marauding wingbacks. Chelsea’s attacking play has been rendered plodding and ponderous with yesterday feeling very, very season ‘2022-23 under Potter: lots of possession, zero end product.

Chelsea’s possession stats against both Forest and Luton would suggest that the back three is spending a lot of time contributing little but then being left open to the counter for the reasons outlined earlier.

For all the money that Chelsea have spent, they have a very young and inexperienced team in many positions with players that simply haven’t had time to build on-pitch relationships – cue the mix up between Caicedo and Gallagher for the Forest goal.


This season was always going to be a rebuild after the disaster that was last time around.

Pochettino is the right man to develop these players and take Chelsea forward. He clearly needs time and and he needs the likes of James and Nkunku back from injury as both are huge misses for the manager.

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You could write a volume of encyclopaedias about what Chelsea have and are still doing wrong at board level but things have to start improving on the pitch. Four points from four games is not the start that Poch needed nor wanted especially given it was a fairly reasonable run of fixtures and October looks horrible.

For all that Chelsea are getting wrong, Poch is paid to get the tactics right.

A move to 4-3-3 might just help unleash the undoubted talent this young and expensively assembled squad has.