The advantages of asymmetrical formations have been documented in detail by the game’s foremost tactical thinkers in recent years, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t teams out there still deploying perfectly symmetrical systems.
Step forward Carlo Ancelotti. The below screenshot from ESPN Soccernet shows the average positions of the Chelsea players during their 3-0 Premier League victory over Birmingham City on Wednesday and reveals that they took to the field at Stamford Bridge in an almost flawlessly symmetrical shape:
Average position data is obviously flawed by the fact that it provides only a vague idea of a side’s on-pitch tactics and gives no real insight into player movement or the exchanging of positions, but the diagram nonetheless highlights the clearly defined roles in Ancelotti’s 4-3-2-1.
With John Terry (26) and Ricardo Carvalho (6) at centre-back, the full-backs – Branislav Ivanović (2) and Ashley Cole (3) – are pushed well forward on both flanks. Having successfully converted Andrea Pirlo from a trequartista into a deep-lying midfield organiser (or regista) during his time at Milan, Ancelotti is now attempting a similar trick with Deco (20). Michael Ballack (13) and Frank Lampard (8) complete the midfield trio, with two attacking midfielders – Joe Cole (10) and Florent Malouda (15) – providing support to lone striker Nicolas Anelka (39). Number 18, Yuri Zhirkov, was a late replacement for Joe Cole.
Some pundits had wondered how the side could possibly cope without the goal threat of in-form Didier Drogba, with Chelsea’s striking reserves judged insufficiently deep to accommodate for his absence.
Ancelotti, however, has always been happy to play with only one up front and he used the opportunity provided by Drogba’s engagements in Angola to deploy the artistic talents of Malouda and Joe Cole ahead of a three-man midfield for the first time this season. In the two games in which Chelsea have used the system, they have scored 10 goals.
Adjusting your tactics to compensate for the loss of an important player is the mark of a top manager and the calling card of a winning team. As Lampard himself observed: “We didn’t say we’d struggle this month, everyone else did.”