Tactical Analysis: Should Rafa Benitez switch Chelsea to a 4-3-3?

Having failed to win a game in their last four Premier League games, some may say that Chelsea are experiencing a mini-crisis. Having been purring up until their controversial defeat to United, everything looked rosy, but now there is talk of dressing room unrest and people are doubting the viability of Roberto di Matteo’s 4-2-3-1 formation. With this in mind it may be worth exploring a plan B, such as a move to a 4-3-3. A new manager may wish to come in and alter this, but do Chelsea have the personnel for a 4-3-3?

The problems with the 4-2-3-1

There are obvious flaws with the current 4-2-3-1. Notably a lack of natural width. The ‘three amigos’ look to come into very central positions which can cause over-crowding. Against West Brom for example Chelsea enjoyed a lot of possession without much penetration. With the over-crowding and without a mobile striker making clever runs, things can become over-complicated. This lack of width works both ways. In a defensive capacity when the ‘three amigos’ attack centrally the full-backs are massively exposed if Chelsea lose the ball, often leading to a two against one in the full-back area. Chelsea conceded from wide areas against West Brom at the weekend. Hazard also does not defend particularly well when he does cover at left back.

A further problem is in central midfield. The transitions from attack to defence are not always quick enough or smooth enough. Chelsea can be really open in this area with Mikel and Ramires often left two against three, whilst the ‘three amigos’ are some way in-front. If Ramires forays forward then Mikel can be left in a one against three situation and with his lack of pace this can be a really vulnerable area for Chelsea. This is a contributory factor to Chelsea conceding so many goals. With regards to them attacking the transitions are always poor unless Mata is in the side, as he often comes deep to pick up the ball and link play.

A look at the 4-3-3

A worry for Chelsea at the moment is how badly they look to be without a plan B. With their current personnel they are quite limited, although a 4-3-3 is probably the best plan B they have. The major shift would be a three man central midfield which could involve either recalling Lampard or dropping Oscar back into centre midfield. Oscar has done well playing a bit deeper at times, he did it against Manchester United in the Capital One Cup and he has also done important tactical jobs marking Pirlo and Arteta effectively so far this season. Despite his light frame he is no pushover and has the engine to get up and down the pitch alongside Ramires, whilst Mikel sits deep.

Out wide Neither Mata nor Hazard would be that keen on playing as wingers. Both stars want to drift inside and as such the problems of defending at full-back might remain. However Chelsea could play Mata deeper instead of Oscar and play Moses and Hazard wide. Moses would be comfortable doing this and can stretch the pitch with his pace and dynamism, he is also able and willing to get back and defend when required.

Another problem with this is that Chelsea don’t have a striker who is capable of playing in an isolated role, which can happen in a 4-3-3. Torres is not very mobile anymore and Sturridge is still untested. Chelsea could thus use Hazard as a false 9 and play Moses and Mata in wider areas. Mata of course played wide left under AVB last season to quite a good effect. This may make the alternative more of a 4-3-2-1 with three centre mids and Mata and Hazard behind Torres.


A 4-3-3 is not the perfect solution. Chelsea don’t have the personnel for it. The club acquired a huge deal of play makers in the summer, with their only natural wingers being Marin (linked with a move away already) and Moses. Hazard and Mata both want central roles, which would mean if they featured wide they would drift inside, in turn creating the same problems that persist in the 4-2-3-1. It is still an option worth exploring, but right now it will not solve all of Chelsea’s options. What Chelsea need is a re-balancing of their playing-staff which will happen in January and the Summer. Rafa Benitez is quite a conservative coach however and may opt for a more solid approach perhaps by dropping Oscar back into centre midfield.

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3 comments for “Tactical Analysis: Should Rafa Benitez switch Chelsea to a 4-3-3?

  1. November 22, 2012 at 15:25

    With the squad you currently have, the Barca-style 4-3-3 that uses a false 9 is your best bet.
    Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole
    Ramires, Mikel, Oscar
    Moses, Hazard, Mata

    Main difficulty with this setup is that Barca’s take on this works b/c their defense is possessing the ball. If you don’t have absurdly high possession numbers and you don’t have a natural number 9 to hold up play, this style can get you killed because the other team will see a good amount of the ball and when you get it, your only means of attack is neat, short passing. The long ball game is not an option. If you are as good as Barca, this works brilliantly. But is Chelsea that good?

    • Arun G.
      November 23, 2012 at 11:03

      Rafa will rely on Torres, which is certain. But rather than going for 4-3-3, the man power to which is currently lacking in this Chelsea squad (Lampard injured), Rafa could opt for a variation of 4-2-3-1. I believe, Ramirez positioning wide on the pitch and the wingers playing a little deep might be his choice.
      Ivanovic, Cahill, Luiz, Cole
      Ramirez(not central),Mikel,
      Mata Hazard

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