We all know just how unreliable Chelsea’s defence has been this season. The Blues have been about as leaky as they ever have been in the Roman Abramovich era.
Frank Lampard’s men have barely impressed on that side of the pitch since the restart, with catastrophic showings against West Ham and Sheffield United still fresh in the memory, and the boss knew that Manchester United – probably the Premier League’s most in-form side – could cause him real problems in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final clash.
In a desperate attempt to find some more stability, the boss turned to the 3-4-3 formation which Antonio Conte made famous at Stamford Bridge, and it could hardly have gone better.
Chelsea cruised to a 3-1 victory against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, neutralising their attack and terrorising their defence to book their place in the final against Arsenal.
Let’s begin with the full-backs. In recent weeks, Lampard has used César Azpilicueta on either side, opposite one of Marcos Alonso or Reece James, but there’s a few problems with that. Azpilicueta doesn’t really have the final-third impact which you’d want from him, and Alonso’s defending is almost non-existent.
A 4-3-3 doesn’t get the best out of either, but this 3-4-3 certainly does.
Alonso was deployed in his preferred wing-back role and was tasked with more attacking than defending, whereas Azpilicueta shifted into a central role and was allowed to focus on his work at the back.
Azpilicueta joined up with Kurt Zouma and Antonio Rüdiger in the centre, and all three looked happier to have two helpers around. There was a composure about Chelsea’s defending which he haven’t seen for what feels like an eternity.
It created more good opportunities and gifted United with far less (even though United often looked like they didn’t fancy scoring anyway), and if that was the outcome against one of the Premier League’s most dynamic forward lines, Lampard simply has to stick with it for the remaining two games of the season.
Thanks to Leicester’s loss to Tottenham (shout out to José Mourinho), Chelsea need just one win from their final two games to guarantee a spot in the top four, and given Liverpool and Wolves are waiting to play Chelsea, the Blues need to be at their best.
With three at the back, Chelsea are at their best.
Both Liverpool and Wolves have the potential to tear Chelsea apart. They’re two of the most exciting attacking teams in the country. Lampard’s side will need all the defensive cover they can get, but that’s what this formation is all about.
The boss has faced plenty of criticism for his tactical mistakes, but this was a masterclass from Lampard. He got it absolutely perfect, and he simply has to stick with this for the remainder of the season. Getting in the top four is about as important as it ever has been.
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