Chelsea need to compensate for missing Frank Lampard
Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea seems complete to the naked eye but something was lacking even throughout last season’s winning campaign and this is something that is an area where the Blues find themselves in quite a fix.
The missing piece. The last addition to a well oiled machine. A box to box goal scoring midfielder – another Frank Lampard.
One major dilemma for Chelsea is in central midfield. Against Arsenal at Wembley Mourinho opted to play Fabregas in the number 10 role with Ramires sitting deep behind him alongside Nemanja Matic - a tactic used sparingly last season, but one that Mourinho chooses when he is wary of the opposition’s creativity in midfield.
It is a tactic which lessens Chelsea’s control over the game and herein lies the problem. Fabregas can play satisfactorily when pushed up to number 10 but it’s not his strongest position, he is far more effective and dangerous when played in central midfield where he can influence the game to a greater extent.
However, he is suspect defensively and his lack of defensive nous is something that creates more pockets of space for the opposition and which leaves Nemanja Matic covering up more ground and having to work more strenuously in closing down his opponents.
When Fabregas plays number 10 – he doesn't get to dictate play, he doesn't see as much of the ball, he doesn't have the dribbling ability of a number 10 and he’s not the quickest – he’s a square peg in a round hole at number 10.
The stats don’t lie - when Fabregas was deployed as a number 10 and false nine for Barcelona he produced 14 assists making 1.6 key passes per game and averaged 60.7 passes a game, comparing that to his first season at Chelsea, the Spaniard produced 23 assists made 2.8 key passes per game and averaged 80.6 passes a game. There’s no doubt that number 10 is not his best position and it is in fact in central midfield.
Going back even further to his Arsenal days Fabregas’ best season was in 2009/10 (which also coincidently was when Arsenal played a 4-3-3 formation) with Fabregas playing in central midfield as part of the midfield three with Denilson/Song sitting. To no surprise he finished the season with 19 goals and 15 assists making 3.5 key passes per game, far better than the next season where Arsenal played a 4-1-3-2 and Fabregas was made to play number 10, subsequently causing his numbers to drop to 6 goals and 13 assists and 2.9 key passes.
This is the conundrum - Fabregas and his preferred position. He must play as an out and out central midfielder to exert optimum influence. However, his tackling is suspect.
According to WhoScored data, Fabregas attempted 196 tackles in the Premier League and Champions League being successful only with 103 with a success rate of 52% while Oscar has a tackle success rate of 59% and Nemanja Matic averages 63%. This is the issue, Fabregas can’t tackle as well as his team-mates.
Chelsea’s current midfield scenario
What usually happens is this. In bigger games, Mourinho anticipates the danger before the match and plays Ramires and Matic in the 2 slots of the 4-2-3-1 and shifts Fabregas to number 10. The game progresses and Chelsea are not able to dominate the ball.
Half time arrives and Mourinho brings on Oscar for Ramires, Fabregas shifts to occupy the slot Ramires was in and Chelsea start to dominate the ball and create more chances but it usually is too late and with the team attacking and Fabregas not being the best defensively, leaves the midfield more vulnerable to opposition attacks and Chelsea either concede or somehow manage to get bailed by some heroic saves or defending. It’s a recurring theme and something that must be addressed.
For this we have to look at the Chelsea formation – 4-2-3-1. Breaking it down to only the midfield triangle. The text book formation employs 2 defensive midfielders and one creative midfielder or out and out number 10. By playing Fabregas in the slot of a defensive midfielder or number 10 Chelsea upset the balance of player roles in the text book formation.
However, one midfield variant of the 4-2-3-1 is employing a deep lying playmaker instead of a defensive midfielder. Chelsea use this variant and it works well against smaller and mid table league opposition and Chelsea usually dominate the ball and win comfortably.
However, when Chelsea play the same system of a 4-2-3-1 against bigger opposition they find themselves wanting defensively and cannot dominate the ball. They usually concede more possession and their attacks are less frequent.
By playing Fabregas in that position, Chelsea become vulnerable to attacks when he ventures forward and find that area targeted by their opposition.
The Prime Example
Rewinding back to March, Chelsea were playing PSG in the Champions league round of 16 tie at Stamford Bridge and the Parisians started strongly with Marco Veratti pulling the strings, PSG were giving Chelsea a tough time and very little of the ball. Mourinho's men had just 35 percent of possession in the opening 15 minutes and dominated the game until Zlatan Ibrahimovic got sent off in the 31st minute for a lunge on Oscar while contesting a 50-50.
Chelsea were expected to take the game to their opponents and over-power a 10 man PSG side, however as the game wore on the blues found it difficult to dominate possession and got overrun in midfield by the trio of Thiago Motta, Marco Veratti and Blaise Matuidi who bossed the game despite being a man down and sprayed passes around Fabregas for fun while the midfielder haplessly played catch up.
A stark reminder of how the midfield battle wasn’t much of a battle was Fabregas gasping for air while trying to chase down Veratti and Matuidi on the right flank after losing the ball. PSG went on the create more chances and despite going ahead twice the blues managed to lose the tie.
Chelsea should have won that game especially given their numerical advantage and they should have had majority of possession yet they lost out in the center of the pitch with the final possession stats reading PSG 51% and Chelsea 49% once again highlighting the lack of another body to impose himself on the ball.