It is no secret that teams in the English Premier League are becoming more competitive every single passing day, with the number of clubs jostling for the Top-4 spot constantly on the rise. Additionally, the last 2-3 years have seen almost all clubs, big or small, beefing up their squads every season. But no club has done this more consistently or better, arguably, than Chelsea FC.
Starting with Eden Hazard, Chelsea have religiously kept on adding strength to their side with the acquisitions of Gary Cahill, Oscar, Willian, Andre Schurrle, Nemanja Matic, Mohamed Salah, Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas, Loic Remy and Felipe Luis. Not to mention some seriously talented and potential-laden youngsters like Marko van Ginkel, Tomas Kalas, Kurt Zouma, Christian Atsu, Nathan Ake, Lucas Piazon and Thorgan Hazard, among others. But the question that has often been asked in the past couple of years is this: Does this continuous influx of brilliant footballers and promising youngsters make Chelsea the strongest outfit in England? Let’s find out.
Chelsea usually play a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 formation, with wide players. Let us see how the team shapes up in both formations.
Chelsea have been looking for a goal-scoring striker to lead their line ever since the 50million pound investment on Fernando Torres flopped spectacularly. And in Diego Costa, they have found that elusive goal-scorer. With an explosive start to his Chelsea career, looks like Chelsea’s search is over now. Not to mention the fact that they have also signed Loic Remy and Didier Drogba as their second and third strikers, with Schurrle being more than capable of playing as a CF, should there be enough injuries.
There are 3 players that play behind the striker, either in the form of 2 wingers and 1 central attacking midfielder (CAM) or as 3 attacking midfielders playing LAM, CAM and RAM. Immensely talented and a potential match-turner that he is, Eden Hazard is a sure starter in the XI and usually takes the LW/LAM role. Not being a traditional winger, he drifts in centrally often and acts a second playmaker too. Oscar, whenever fit, starts as the CAM and is easily one of Chelsea’s best advanced playmakers. Having been in the same team with Hazard since 2012, they work well together. The right flank is usually taken by Willian or Schurrle, though with his brilliant form, the latter has been preferred more often to start over Willian. Schurrle not only provides pace and creativity on the sides, but also doubles up as a second striker when things are flowing smoothly. His acquisition was a very intelligent move by Chelsea, almost a masterstroke. Willian, on the other hand, provides defensive cover as well down the right wing, in addition to discharging his duties as a winger/attacker. In Mohamed Salah they have a player who can cover for the first choice players on either wing.
Buying Matic, followed by Fabregas has been a great move by Chelsea. Even though they are deployed in a double-pivot in this formation, they both have their well defined duties. Matic is the more defensive of the two and sits back to shield the back-4, while distributing the ball forward. Fabregas is more attack-minded and is instrumental in setting up scores of attacks for Chelsea with his wide range of passes and through balls. He has started the season on a high, doling out several assists. This pair complements each other very well and have Ramires and Mikel as effective replacements for either one of them, in case of injury.
The back 4 is more or less sorted, with Terry-Cahill being the first choice CB partnership. In the rare event that one of these two get injured or suspended, there are 3 young centre-backs to take up the defensive mantle – Nathan Ake, Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen. Zouma is regarded by many as the most talented among the three. Experienced right-back (RB) Branislav Ivanovic has also previously played in the centre of defense during injury problems. Otherwise, he is more or less permanent at RB. Chelsea have bought Luis Felipe from Atletico Madrid this summer, as the much needed LB. Cesar Azpilicueta, who had been playing LB so far, can now be used on either side of the defense, depending on requirement.
In this formation, we have a lone striker with 2 wing forwards or wide forwards. These are essentially contemporary wingers playing higher up the pitch, who lay more emphasis on cutting in and shooting rather than crossing, assisting or playmaking. Although it was Drogba who started as the lone striker when Chelsea used this formation in a Champions League game against Schalke, one can be more than certain that Costa will be the first choice for most of the games. Hazard and Willian/Schurrle with their pace and attacking prowess, become automatic choices for the wide forward positions. Though Willian has a better claim here, as his defensive workrate would be an asset in this formation.
Having a flat 3-man midfield behind the 3 forwards means getting rid of the CAM, meaning Oscar makes the bench if this formation is employed. To replace him, in comes Ramires. With Matic in the centre of the park as CM, it is Fabregas and Ramires who play the LCM and RCM roles in this setup. Ramires brings with him his pace and box-to-box abilities, which suit this role. While Fabregas gets to reprise the same role that he played in majority of his games for FC Barcelona. Matic becomes the fulcrum about which Fabregas and Ramires build up play. Oscar and Mikel are able backups here, with Oscar capable of playing on the sides of a 3-man midfield and Mikel capable of playing Matic’s role.
The back 4 remains the same in this setup too, unless there are injuries or suspensions.
Thus we’ve seen how Chelsea FC have more than one player for each position on the teamsheet. Add to this their bench strength and versatility of several players enabling them to play two distinct formations with apparent ease, depending on the requirement of the particular day’s game. From the players they have, the start they have got and the promise this team offers, I feel very strongly here that Chelsea probably have the strongest lineup among all the Premier League clubs, as far utility and functionality goes. And by far, Manchester City is the only team at the moment which can match Chelsea, if at all.
I expect Chelsea or City to win the top honours this season, with both finishing as England’s top 2 clubs.