Chelsea – Predicting the unpredictable
We came into this preseason knowing very little about Chelsea – questions about who would start, who would be at the club, what formation we’d play and what tactics would be used. Now? Well, not much has changed in truth, but at least we can make a good guess at how we will start Gameweek 1.
Having watched Chelsea through all our preseason games, it quickly became clear that a 4231 would be the preferred formation, with the numerous reports of that being the formation that the team trained in. This formation would make sense, considering Lampard has had practice with it at Derby and it’s well suited for the current crop of players we have available.
The other formation that has been deployed a few times this preseason is a 442 diamond, though it seems considerably less likely that it would be used. Seemingly, this formation is used when there are very few wide men available but plenty of central midfielders. Whilst it would allow the deployment of two forwards, it would mean not making the most of Pulisic and benching the other wingers. Furthermore, contrary to public belief, Kante is better utilised alongside a ball playing midfielder, instead of behind the midfield as a sole CDM.
Easy choice here – Kepa. Caballero will once again be second choice, with Cumming having just signed a new contract to stay on as the 3rd choice.
Will he be worth buying? At first – no. I can’t stress how poor Chelsea have looked defensively at times this preseason, be it at set pieces or from open play. Frailties were exposed again and again, with Kawasaki Frontale exposing out weakness in the air, as did Reading, with Salzburg and Borussia Monchengladbach finding gaps between defenders in open play. We conceded 8 goals in the last 3 preseason games versus teams that are hardly strenuous, and scarily it could have been more. Goalkeepers and defence, for now, are a no from me.
The first of about 5 positions up for grabs still is Left back. As I mentioned in my previous article, whilst Alonso has been very popular with FPL managers, Emerson is looking the better LB for Chelsea. In preseason, last season has repeated itself with Alonso looking vulnerable defensively and leaving his fellow defenders exposed after pushing too high whilst attacking. He did pick up 2 assists this preseason, though it should be noted that they came from one misplaced pass and one simple pass square, neither of which you look at expecting to be a regular source for assists.
Emerson meanwhile has looked capable, solid and displayed an increased attacking ability to past seasons, picking up a goal against St Pats – though the keeper should have done a lot better. At the kinder price of 5.5m to Alonso’s 6.5m, he seems a tempting route into the backline, though I still urge caution. Alonso will likely still be given minutes and probably in the games where his defensive ability will not be as required – a big problem for potential Emerson owners as these are the games they’d look to for clean sheets.
With Rudiger just now stepping up his recovery, it’s very unlikely that he will feature in Gameweek 1 given his lack of preseason.
That leaves 3 (4 if you include Tomori) centre backs competing for 2 spots. Coming in the preseason, it looked fairly set that Luiz would nail down the LCB spot, due to his experience, strength and aerial prowess that had been unmatched in the squad. However, after a few dodgy performances and the pair of Zouma and Christensen starting the final preseason games, you’d be forgiven for having cold feet on him. Personally, I believe he still will be first choice with Christensen and Zouma competing for the last one, with that final preseason game being a little level playing field audition for the other two.
Both have shown their strengths but more so their weaknesses. All summer I’ve been fancying Christensen for that last spot, but after the suspect defensive performances towards the end of preseason I’m now leaning Zouma to take that spot, despite how shaky the Zouma x Luiz partnership looked versus Reading. Is that recency bias taking control of my thinking? Perhaps. The fact of the matter is though, no centre back played more minutes this preseason than Zouma. Granted, he had one more half than the others, but even without it he tops the list. That’s got to count for something…. right?
Despite a totally misguided spot of excitement from the FPL community, Zappacosta remains far behind Azpilicueta in the pecking order by all stretches of the imagination. Just as he always has, Azpilicueta has looked the more capable defender and the more influencing attacker.
Furthermore, it now looks like Chelsea are considering a sale of Zappacosta if they can get Reece James back to fitness following his surgery, which again I mentioned in my first article. James could offer more going forward than Azpilicueta, so fans are excited to see him get some game time – and it looks like they might not have to wait long.
The Independent reported “James, who is still recovering from ankle ligament damage, has been given guarantees by Frank Lampard and Jody Morris that he will receive significant first-team minutes but is yet to commit to any new deal.” Whilst this will likely be limited to cup appearances to begin with, we might see Reece James begin to encroach on Azpilicueta’s league time towards the end of the season.
It looks like Kante will be back for the United game, so best of luck to any midfielder trying to keep him out of the team. For context, Kante only played 23 minutes this summer due to an injury he picked up prior to the Europa league final – yet he still played in the final. That man is a monster.
That leaves Jorginho and Kovacic to fight it out for the remaining spot. Drinkwater doesn’t look up to scratch, though he’ll work as a squad rotation player, and I’ve now given up talking about Bakayoko – it gets boring trying to find new ways to say he gave possession away on a weekly basis.
It seems that the FPL community have turned a bit of a blind eye to the competition between Jorginho and Kovacic for the last midfield spot. I do believe Jorginho will get it, but it’s not as cut and dry as many of those seem to think as they bought up Jorginho whilst the hope for penalties was alive. Kovacic has had the more impactful preseason for me, showing excellent influence in the games versus Barcelona and against Reading. Jorginho has been a lot quieter, but that is akin to his playstyle and he’s done solidly well for the most part, which means he should get the spot on past reputation alone. Furthermore, Kovacic’s first half performance versus Borussia Monchengladbach won’t have done him any favours after Lampard watched him stand idly by as Plea strolled past him and scored BMG’s first of the night.
It’s a shame we didn’t get to try a Kante x Kovacic double pivot over the summer, since I think it may well have worked, but I think for now Jorginho and Kante will gave have the spots.
In the last article I talked about how it was likely that Willian and Hudson-Odoi would be competing for the LW spot and Pulisic and Pedro for the RW spot. In reality, it’s not that simple in all likelihood, at least not until we get into the serious mid-season part. With Willian having returned late from Copa America due to a knee injury, he’s missed much of the summer preparation – though it’s reported that he’ll be back in time for United. If he’s not ready, Pedro will be able to play on the Right and Pulisic moved to the left, or Mount can play at LW as well.
I believe that United still might be a bit too soon for Willian, despite reports suggesting otherwise, and I think he’ll be limited to a bench role for that game. Therefore, I expect Pulisic to fill in at LW with Pedro on the right, but it may be as soon as Gameweek 2 where we see Willian back. Hudson-Odoi will return September time which, after a gradual and careful introduction, may put Willian’s spot under threat.
I do quite like Willian as an FPL option in truth. There’s a good chance he’ll take penalties, plus he boasted a good threat and creation stats in Hazard’s brief absences last season. As 7m punts go, he might not be the worst.
Central Attacking Midfield
The two biggest performances this preseason have come from Mason Mount and Ross Barkley – they’ve come on leaps and bounds under Lampard this season. Throughout the preseason we have speculated about which one would be getting that starting spot behind the forward, with predicted line-ups swinging between the two.
However, despite fantastic performances from the pair of them and a period of time where it looked like Lampard would lean Mount, Barkley got his breakthrough start versus Red Bull Salzberg, where he promptly went on to tear the game up. With a goal, 2 assists and a MOTM performance, Barkley is now firmly in the driver’s seat to start versus United. No Chelsea player has scored more goals or picked up more assists than Barkley this preseason, and his play has developed to the point where he looks a completely new player.
Furthermore, despite the presence of Jorginho, Luiz and Abraham, Barkley took the penalty won by Pulisic in the game in Austria, immediately raising his stock among FPL managers. Then again, versus BMG, he took another with all but Abraham on the pitch (who took one whilst Barkley wasn’t on earlier). Sadly, it seems that Willian might take penalties back when he returns, though right now that is nothing more than an educated guess. With a very kind 6m price tag though, I suspect many managers will be interested in him.
The looming issue is the threat of rotation from Mount waiting in the wings. It is in truth a very credible threat, which when combined with Chelsea’s tricky opening two games might be enough to put of potential FPL manager suitors for the time being. Perhaps, when Chelsea’s fixtures improve around Gameweek 3 or for a longer period of time at Gameweek 7, he will return to our thinking as a budget priced midfielder with the capability to make a mockery of that price tag.
Christian Pulisic is a young man with a lot of pressure on his shoulders, following the departure of Hazard. There’s no doubt in my mind that this man should and will be in the team bar occasional rests, no matter what formation is used, considering his ability, potential and fee payed for his services. Pedro will be competition, but his most likely chance to play will be from Willian returning late from international duty.
Pulisic had been working hard but struggling to make it click this preseason, until the Red Bull Salzberg game. Despite creating a number of good chances and looking dangerous whilst going forward, it took him until his 4th preseason game to finally get some returns – and in some style too. 2 goals stemming from dangerous runs in behind defenders, plus an assist from winning a penalty from a similar situation, Pulisic’s pace will pose a threat to PL defenders. However, it looks as if it may take Pulisic a bit of time to adjust to the physicality of the league, as it’s already been looking like one of his weaker areas this preseason.
Once Chelsea’s fixtures improve, he could be a great option – I fully expect him to go on and become Chelsea’s top scorer for this season. Whilst I don’t view him at a level of the big premiums (yet), he has the potential to become a stalwart in our teams. If Willian was back, and Pulisic looked like he could return to the right versus United, I may well have bought him. However, on the left and facing against Wan-Bissaka (Instead of Shaw on the other side), I’m far less enthusiastic to buy.
The one spot that has attracted the most attention in the Chelsea team this summer – until Barkley’s massive performance against Salzberg – has been the forward spot. My advice hasn’t changed much since from my first article, in part due to the lack of information we have gathered!
Abraham remains the first choice in my eyes – no forward has played more minutes, despite him missing one of the seven through tonsillitis. He’s only picked up two goals and one assist in that time, identical to the other two forwards, but it’s his play off the ball that has caught the eye. Aggressive pressing against both Reading and Barcelona forced errors from opposing defenders, with Abraham continuing to play unselfishly in the Salzberg game, which helped create the 4th goal. Now whilst this isn’t good for FPL managers, it’s the exact type of play that Lampard wants to see from his forward, meaning I think he’s done enough to win that spot.
His weakness, it seems, is his finishing. Whilst some will put it down to luck and fantastic goalkeeping that stopped him from walking away with a hattrick versus Borussia Monchengladbach, I can’t help but feel it needed him to be more clinical. Two golden chances – one a reactionary chance stemming from a parried shot and one from getting played in behind – of that quality must be capitalised on in the Premier League, something that Higuain and Morata struggled with at Chelsea. Blessed (or burdened) with the number 9 shirt this year, I desperately hope this will be his big breakthrough year, but like many Chelsea players, I’d much prefer to wait and see than punt on him just yet.
Giroud will not comply to the unselfish pressing role – he’s a finisher. He may not offer the energetic pressing that Abraham does, but he is a dangerous header of the ball and brings with him a good source of experience that is lacking in the Chelsea attack, which Lampard may turn to in harder games. Batshuayi meanwhile has picked up 2 goals and an assist this preseason with limited minutes, demonstrating in separate games both his hunger and his ability to finish. It may well be the case though that he falls behind both Abraham and Giroud in the pecking order – he did not make the bench in the final preseason game (unsure why at the time of writing) plus the two other forwards offer something unique to Chelsea’s style of play, whilst he arguably cannot.
Predicting this Chelsea team has been a horrific task this summer, but I think we’re finally starting to get a picture. I’ve added a graphic showing my predicted line-up for gameweek 1, but it really is nothing more than an educated guess. Quite frankly, nobody has much idea how we will line-up for that one game, let alone the rest of the season, so it will be interesting to see how this all falls out.
Sadly, I’m reluctant to push the case for any Chelsea player to be included in your FPL teams right now. At the back, defending looks optional, rendering most of the assets immediately risky. In midfield, only Pulisic looks certain to get good minutes plus offer attacking returns, with the number 10 role still up in the air. The forwards may well rotate highly, as Lampard did at Derby, which when coupled with Abraham’s lack of clinical finishing has put me off until Chelsea have some games where they can smother the opposition.
Down the line however, we might start looking at the likes of Emerson, Hudson-Odoi, RLC, Abraham etc and wondering how we ever had a team without them.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a table showing all the minutes each Chelsea player played in preseason, plus the top scorer and top assister tables – hopefully that will be of some use to you.
Best of luck in Gameweek 1!