The Premiership’s two free-flowing clubs are set to collide with Arsenal looking to come out on top against Chelsea’s diamond midfield.
They say diamonds are a central midfielders best friend. Or at least the saying should be, as in an increasingly bureaucratic game it’s the greatest indication the coach is ready to play to your strengths. Carlo Ancelotti may not have made much changes to the personnel but he has introduced a new system looking to get the best out of his sides central strength.
While Chelsea’s diamond system was born out of goal of getting the best of the players at their disposal, the origin of the formation or its variants, is less explicit. However due to their obsession with the enganche (playmaker), the set-up is more prevalent in Argentina and in a bid to cater such a player, it seems the diamond ensured a self-conscious symmetry in which to build their play around. And indeed it is at the tip of this diamond where Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Feguson feels this current Chelsea team lacks.
“Chelsea use the same system that Ancelotti operated in Milan,’ said Sir Alex. ‘The difference is he had Kaka there. Kaka made a hell of a difference to how well the system worked, and Chelsea are still looking for someone in a forward role to balance their team better. They tried Lampard there, they tried Deco. They have even tried Florent Malouda and now they’ve brought Joe Cole back in. It’s not the finished article at the moment, though they have the experience to cope with it.”
Although, Ferguson’s United side ultimately fell to defeat earlier this month, they successfully stifled the threat of Deco behind the two forwards. The midfield pairing of Carrick and Fletcher were quick to close down the Portueguese midfielder denying any room to manoeuvre. Indeed the consequences of Holland in ’74 continues to ripple through South American football – the pressure the Dutch put on the ball, depriving the enganche any time and space to choose his options – mean some feel the position can have a dangerous effect on those who use it. “The word Enganche is dangerous,” says former Argentina midfielder Diego Simeone. “But, I like enganche, although with some variations. More like the playing style of Zidane, call it a prototype of enganche? That evolved into the enganche roles today of Kaká, Totti, Pirlo, Ronaldinho and Robinho. I believe enganche today must come from another sector, there must be wider variety of options.”
But done well and the role could be of great damage. Much like the system, much depends on the movement of the players which was part of the reason why Deco was nullified. Only when Anelka dropped deeper, towards the end of the first half from his forward position and double up did Deco move more around the pitch to cause greater unpredictability and drag the opposition out of position. In fact, movement is a necessity in the system. The biggest flaw, the lack of width must be manufactured either by players taking up vacant space or the full backs bombing forward.
Ancelotti has played Malouda to the left of the diamond and that could create width although it may become predictable if starting inside then going out. But that has not been a problem for Chelsea, who have been particularly devastating with their movement and along with the marauding full-backs, posed grave problems to their opposition. “They were a bit predictable when they were 4-3-3 but Chelsea’s new diamond formation is very difficult to play against,” said Sunderland manager Steve Bruce. “It’s hard for opponents to work out who to pick up when. The system makes life very difficult for opposing full-backs as, a lot of the time, they’re not sure exactly what to do. Chelsea are the real deal.”
The carrileros (shuttlers or to use a more exact definition, lanes) arguably have the most important of roles as a double function, both providing an option to the left or right and also defending the zones they operate. “The system is good because we have more possession and have the ball all the time,” said Deco. “We have four in midfield and we can play better than when we had the three. When we defend it’s more difficult because we have to go both sides. All the time we have one more player in [central] midfield than the other team.”
And so on to the big game, with Arsenal looking to make up ground on their rivals. The Gunners big test will be whether they can cope with the movement of Chelsea because while they have produce great approach play, have inevitably left gaps open to exploit and at times have looked suspect in dealing with sustained pressure. Because of this, Arsene Wenger is likely to start Denilson, who should offer more balance and protection alongside Song. On the right of Chelsea’s diamond, Ballack likes to tuck in and allow Bosingwa and Anelka to profit from the space afforded so with Denilson slightly elongated to the left, will look to counter that threat.
Wenger’s biggest tactical choices will be who to start at left back and who to play right-wing. Silvestre offers height advantage against Traore (jump and aggression in air) while his cautiousness should be an able shield for such late threat Chelsea provide. On the right-wing, Samir Nasri had a strong game against Standard Liege and his cutting inside freed up space for right back Emmanuel Eboue to bomb forward although it is likely Sagna is set to be recalled. Theo Walcott is also an option as his directness could pin back the opposing full backs, similarly on the left with Arshavin.
The Gunners have conceded possession more recently in big games which could be to their advantage also; whilst it theoretically means more to defend it could also allow the team to play more direct and be a threat on the counter. Nevertheless, the combinations with Eduardo will be key. If the Croatian drops and roams around the pitch, it will mean Arsenal can match Chelsea in the middle and can pin back the full backs due to the higher presence of the wingers. Expect Arshavin to assume the central role in some moments of the match and his low centre of gravity and dynamism could prove a strong weapon on the break.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Silvestre; Song, Denilson, Fabregas(c); Arshavin, Nasri, Eduardo. Subs: Fabianski, Eboue, Traore, Senderos, Ramsey, Walcott, Rosicky, Vela.
Chelsea (4-4-2 diamond): Cech; Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry, A. Cole; Essien, Ballack, Malouda, Deco; Drogba, Anelka. Subs: Hilario, Belleti, Alex, Mikel, Kalou, J. Cole, Zhirkov, Lampard.