Carlo Ancelotti introduced his signature diamond formation to Chelsea at the beginning of last season but by the end of the season he seemed to have lost faith in it. Offensively, the formation didn’t seem to suit Lampard and Malouda but it did allow Anelka and Drogba to play well with each other. Chelsea have still not found a player who excels playing at the tip of the diamond but Benayoun may be the solution this season. Ancelotti switched to the Christmas tree when Drogba and Kalou went to the African Cup of Nations and pretty much stuck to this formation for all the big games. The diamond has defensive problems as well and these were shown in their first pre-season friendly of 2010 against Crystal Palace.
DEFENSIVE PROBLEMS ON THE FLANKS
The main defensive problem with the Ancelotti’s diamond is that it gives the opposition fullbacks too much space because of its narrow shape.This was noticed by Gordon Strachan as far back as 2007 when he was playing against Milan. None of Chelsea’s players are in a good position to track the runs of the opposing fullback when playing the diamond. Even against a weak team like Crystal Palace, their fullbacks were able to deliver dangerous crosses into the box in the first half. In the first 10 minutes, Crystal Palace were able to create two-on-one situations on the flanks because the runs of the fullback had not been tracked. Against better teams this could be a recipe for disaster, suggesting that Chelsea will not be using the diamond in most of their games this season, especially away from home. Chelsea have excellent fullbacks but it may be too much to ask them to deal with an a opposing winger and fullback on their own.
A POSSIBLE SOLUTION – USING SHUTTLERS
When the diamond worked well at AC Milan, Ancelotti used Gattuso and Ambrosini as shuttlers to protect his fullbacks. When not in possession they would move wider and track the runs of the opposing fullback to prevent two on one situations. Ramires plays a similar role for Brazil and Benfica. This player is effectively covering two positions at once so needs to be quick, tireless, be a good tackler and in Chelsea’s case, have the offensive abilities to play in central midfield. Such players are rare but one of them happens to be Michael Essein. He has all the qualities needed to play as a shuttler on the right side of midfield but is currently being used just as a central midfielder. This helps Chelsea dominate the center of the pitch but leaves the team vulnerable to crosses from deep.
Every formation has its weaknesses so its possible that Ancelotti is willing to tolerate these crosses from deep in the confidence that his center-backs will dominate all aerial balls. This is a risky strategy and he may find himself having to resort to 4-3-3 on a regular basis.