Will Graham Potter's Chelsea see the mainstreaming of the logical evolution of football tactics?
The move of Graham Potter to Chelsea sees a manger who likes to start games in a 3-4-3 formation but isn’t shy if switching to a 4-3-3 in game, replacing a manager who likes to start games in a 3-4-3 bit isn’t shy.....yeah, you get the picture.
However the arrival of Potter at Chelsea and the opportunity for him to work with a whole squad of top class players - and the ability to supplement his squad over time from the very best players in the world - may lead to a mainstreaming of a tactical line up that offers the progressive coach, which he undoubtedly is, on-pitch options without recourse to the subs bench.
Much of the Potter analysis has mentioned his penchant for using a 'box' midfield, with two sixes and two eight/tens to create a natural overload in midfield, leading to dominance in the middle of the pitch and, consequently, control of the game.
Let’s call this formation what it really is: 3-6-1.
Football tactics website Spielverlagerung.de called this formation "a logical step" way back in 2015, and it looks to me that this is closer to a description of what Potter is trying to do than 3-4-3.
Let’s put that into the context of the Chelsea squad he is inheriting.
Let's assume a back three of Fofana, Thiago Silva and Koulibaly. Cucurella is the obvious alternate here for the Senegalese international.
In front of them is the 'box', and it's here that Potter has, paradoxically, plenty of choice and limited options.
The choice comes from the number of top class midfielders he has to choose from, however many of these are unsuited to a 'six' role, or where they do play there the coach is knowingly risking either tactical discipline or defensive solidity. The 'box' may help.
A deeper pair of Zakaria and Jorginho provides a balance that will provide both defensive presence and controlled passing.
Granted: Zakaria has yet to kick a ball for Chelsea so his putative selection is a bit of an act of faith. It may be, in this formation, a decent alternative may be Trev Chalobah, who spent a season in midfield in Ligue 1 in 2020/21.
Ahead of this pair is where the selection headache really begins for Potter. Choosing two from Kante, Kovacic, Mount, Loftus-Cheek, Gallagher, Sterling, Pulisic and Ziyech is a tricky call. You can throw Havertz into this mix too. Whatever he does, he's leaving good players out of the side.
But thus it ever was at Chelsea. Kante and Kovacic can, naturally, play deeper and Sterling and Havertz can play as the most advanced player so should find plenty of game time.
If Kante is fit, he should play. Alongside him should my preference would be Mason Mount. He's probably the most tactically astute attacking midfielder in the squad, though Sterling's accumulated experience with the demands Pep asks of his players maybe challenges that assumption somewhat.
Of all the selections the right side is the easiest. Reece James is surely Chelsea's long term club captain in waiting and a shoe-in in any formation under any manager.
On the left, I'll go with Chilwell - but Cucurella is a classy alternate who should keep the starting spot on the left competitive.
That just leaves up front. For me, the 3-6-1 asks for a forward happy to stretch the play and attack space in behind or, against a low block, occupy the centre backs with movement. Of Chelsea's forwards that sounds most like Broja, comfortable for Aubameyang and not at all suited to Havertz, who likes to come towards the ball (which is ironic considering his Champions League winning goal).
The six man midfield can be deployed in a number of ways; it's probably best to consider how many players behind the ball in possession the manger wants. Three is a given - the back three. It seems sensible, for even game states, for a total of five to be behind the ball, with the two central midfielders providing depth 'out ball' passing options, positioned to defend against transitions.
When a goal down, one more could be committed forward; closing out a game could see even both wingbacks positioned more conservatively.
All of this can be done without a recourse to the substitutes bench.
Overall, I would not be surprised to see Graham Potter utilise the squad now at this command in this way. It provides a platform for the many talented midfielders in the squad, without sacrificing Thiago Silva in the middle of a back three.
In many ways this would be a minor tactical tweak to how Tuchel set the side up. Players would be in similar roles, albeit with different emphasis. The bigger change may well be a shift of attitude; to a desire to see players take more risks in the final third - if Potter can do that he'll unlock the talent in the squad, and that will make them a match for anyone.
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