Stamford Bridge looks certain to be a more exciting place next season following the summer signings of Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech, who have already arrived at Chelsea to begin training with their new squad.
Both players bring great pedigree to west London and each boast significant experience in the UEFA Champions League. Ziyech helped push Ajax to last season’s semi-finals and has had more assists than any other player in the competition this term (five). Werner’s four goals powered RB Leipzig into the tournament’s quarter-finals for the first time prior to his departure.
As if that duo didn’t deliver delirium already, Chelsea are understood to have already held talks with Bayer Leverkusen’s attacking talisman, Kai Havertz, a deal the Guardian reported could cost the club another $100 million (€90 million). It was believed Chelsea’s hopes in the transfer race depended upon whether they qualified for next season’s Champions League—a bid secured on the final day of the Premier League season.
These two–or three–star signings give Frank Lampard an embarrassment of riches to build on a fairly positive initial showing in his first year at his old club. Academy products, including Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, and Reece James, have been inserted alongside a burgeoning Christian Pulisic as well as veteran squad members such as Olivier Giroud and N'Golo Kanté.
But Chelsea know that to threaten the reign of Liverpool and Manchester City whilst also competing for European glory requires an embarrassment of riches to even have an outside shot. From there, you need to get your tactics perfected, your chemistry humming. And that's where Lampard will have to make hardest decisions, rotating a squad oozing with talent at the right time, against the right opponents, and in the right deployment.
Here are a few lineups the Chelsea manager is sure to employ in the season to come.
Chelsea line up in a 4-2-3-1
Havertz as the number 10, Werner as the number 9
The 21-year-old German ticks similar boxes to Werner and Ziyech, with Havertz proving he can fulfill multiple roles in attack, having shown himself adept on the right flank, as an advanced midfielder or up front (either on his own or with a partner).
Having that flexibility among his options not only boosts Frank Lampard's range in regards to formation options, but also allows greater options changing personnel to wrong-foot his opposition:
Lampard has said the “absolute priority” is ensuring his new players are ready for the 2020-21 campaign following their arrivals, with plans for a shorter lay-off this summer following the coronavirus suspension.
Both Ziyech, 27, and Werner, 24, possess substantial long term value with the Blues, but it’s clear the pair have been brought in to make an almost immediate difference at the Bridge. The team's late season form illustrated the peaks this team is capable of, as the Blues topped 2019 champions Manchester City in late June. But a 3-2 defeat to West Ham United, 3-0 capitulation to Sheffield United, and an erratic 5-3 loss to champions Liverpool also served as stark reminders of the improvements that could be made.
Chelsea’s initiative looks particularly impressive considering the two transfers not only fill specific holes that were soon to emerge in Lampard’s side, but are outright upgrades in their own right. The Blues will bid farewell to wingers Willian and Pedro at the end of the current season, with the latter set to join AS Roma (via the Guardian’s Jacob Steinberg) as a free agent.
Olivier Giroud agreed to extend his contract in west London until 2021—a wise piece of business amid the uncertainty caused by COVID-19—at which point it looks certain the soon-to-be 34-year-old will free up a slot up top. The decision appeared to pay off, with the Frenchman netting seven times after the restart, including six in the EPL—good for fourth in the league.
Chelsea line up in a 4-2-1-2-1
Abraham as the number 9, Ziyech as the 10, no Havertz
It seems too cutthroat to assume Chelsea product Tammy Abraham will be automatically cast aside to promote Werner as the sole frontman, especially after he’s waited so long to get the chance at his parent club. Rumours of stalled contract talks between the 22-year-old and the club may yet play a part, but one assumes that Lampard will be eager to hold onto such a young homegrown talent.
There’s also the not-so-simple matter of integrating two new attackers into the setup during a shorter run-up to the new season, which should grant the 22-year-old some breathing room, albeit not a lot. We'll refer to it as a 4-2-1-2-1, but it may as well be a 4-2-1-3, with the way Werner and Pulisic contribute to the attack.
Pulisic in particular displayed terrific form after the restart and should be a priority in the XI, meaning our first impressions of Werner and Ziyech as Chelsea players could be in less natural roles on the left flank and in attacking midfield, respectively:
However, it was always going to be the case that 2019-20 was something of a gimme campaign for Abraham following last year’s transfer ban, and the feel-good vibe created by the appointment of legend Lampard can’t paper over the fact owner Roman Abramovich still demands results–nay, trophies–above all else.
Abraham has produced 16 goals and five assists in 39 games across all competitions this term, equal to 0.41 goals per game, or 0.54 direct goal involvements per outing.
Chelsea line up in a 4-3-3
Werner as the number 9 plus three defensive midfield anchors
Abraham's figures can’t compare with Werner’s return of 34 goals and 13 assists from 45 appearances in all contests, translating to 0.76 goals per game–more than one direct involvement every time he’s played.
Should the Germany international adapt quickly to Premier League demands and Lampard stick to his single-striker system, there’s every chance we’ll see Werner swiftly take over the reins. It’s worth noting, however, that the player has long played off a striking partner during his time at Leipzig, where he totted up 95 goals in 159 appearances.
A 4-3-3 system promises to optimise the talents of Ziyech, who could easily prove the more valuable signing despite the sense of lowered competition for his signature when the deal was agreed back in February. The Morocco international has performed well wherever he’s required in midfield for Erik ten Hag’s Ajax, but there’s no doubting his left foot is put to best use from the right side:
Callum Hudson-Odoi may be one of the higher-paid players at the club on a reported £120-000 per week (via Guardian), but the 19-year-old stands to benefit from the fight for minutes on the left, with Pulisic frightening defences of late.
Lampard’s biggest dilemma remains on who should make up his three-man midfield in a wing-emphasised formation:
Chelsea line up in a 3-4-3
Attacking wingbacks, inverted wingers, Werner at the 9
Inverted wings like Ziyech, Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi give Lampard new cause to focus all the more on wide areas as the epicentre of his attack. But one way of optimising those sectors is to start from the back and minimise any focus through the middle.
By streamlining the competition in midfield and placing an extra man in defence, the manager could bring Reece James into his plans and create greater options for the overlap without sacrificing shape in defence:
It’s become increasingly clear Pulisic is beginning to hit the kind of form Chelsea hoped to see following last year’s move from Borussia Dortmund. Ziyech may not boast the same level of speed as a player like Willian, but the star’s intelligence tracks off the charts in any setting. Left-backs will rightly tremble at the thought of having to tame a flank consisting of the Moroccan, much less one that incorporates Havertz.
Combining those brains with the outright pace of Werner is almost certain to work with destructive effect. Even the opposition’s awareness of Werner and the necessity to track his runs will result in space opening up for those around him, which could yet open the possibility of Abraham or Giroud playing as part of a two up front.
Chelsea are already ahead of the competition in sealing the signatures of two transformative stars before the current campaign has even come to an end. Work will soon be underway in integrating those players to engineer a sea of change at Stamford Bridge, where Werner and Ziyech (and possibly Havertz) will play their part in turning the Blues into one of Europe’s must-watch attacks.