The Football Notebook
Chelsea - The Best Attack of the next Decade?
It’s already been said so many times that it has almost become a cliche, but Chelsea’s transfer window has been nothing short of astounding.
The recruitment balances short-term necessities with long-term foresight and brings in a group of players that will almost certainly ensure that the Blues transcend to the top of European football.
But today we focus on their more attacking-based signings, and whether this Chelsea attack could become the best in the world.
The 22-year-old is affectionately known as ‘Captain America’ in the States and has won over many fans and pundits alike over the course of the 19/20 season.
He is quick, has incredible dribbling , and a directness that takes defenders by surprise. Last season he managed double figures in both goals and assists in all competitions despite being limited to only 34 appearances due to injury. However, he was crucial in the drive for Chelsea reaching the coveted top 4 spots, memorably scoring the opener in a 2-1 win against Manchester City with a brilliant solo goal.
The lightning-quick German was sensational last campaign and looks a perfect fit for Lampard’s new-look side.
He scored 28 goals and provided 8 assists for his teammates in the Bundesliga last year, and was simply incredible. He built on his previous campaign, noticeably becoming far more involved in build-up and not just a one-trick pony; adding numerous skills to his trademark run in behind the defence. He may not have lit up the Premier League in his first few weeks, but an excellent double against and assist Southampton points to much future success.
Arguably the pick of the bunch, King Kai is the key to this attack. He is a walking contradiction; tall, yet agile, able to delicately play a ball in-behind or smash one into the top corner from 25 yards out, and has the style of a skilful number 10 yet one that has a surprisingly solid work rate.
Just like Werner, he may not have transformed Chelsea in his first few weeks, but 4 goals and a couple assists here and there have shown the potential for greatness.
Somehow the oldest of this bunch(excluding Giroud, who is obviously not in any long term plans at the age of 34) at 27, Ziyech arrived at Chelsea for the bargain price of just £33.6M. He has a peach of a left foot, able to whip in crosses from the right to devastating effect or potentially cut in and smash one in from miles away, and has the positional intelligence and grit that should help him thrive in the Prem. He will provide something different to the rest of the options in the Chelsea squad, and looks to be the glue that will hold the team together for years.
Many thought that Abraham would leave the club with opportunities being limited by the new arrivals; however, he has decided to stay and fight for his place.
A tall, commanding striker with a decent amount of pace to burn but most importantly an old-school deadliness in the box, he could genuinely become one of the PL’s best strikers, definitely providing competition to Timo Werner up front. Having said that, there are certainly numerous ways to include him in the side without compromising other positions.
CHO seems to have already failed to live up to expectations; however, he did have that horrible Achilles injury and has shown signs of promise in his game. Goals have started to appear, his assist tally is still going strong, and his decision-making has improved. Of course, consistency is yet to appear, with every great performance followed by a poor one but give him time and he could still become a world-class winger for the West London club.
Mason Mount’s best position is probably not in attack and would be around the 8 or 10 roles. But in 2019/20 he was fielded further up the pitch numerous times, specifically on the left-wing, and performed admirably. One such instance was the clutch game against Wolves on the last day of last season, where a win was needed to guarantee Champions League qualification. He scored a great free-kick and turned provider for Giroud to kill the game off. Mount is both a maniacal and intelligent presser of the ball, an eye for a finish or a killer pass, and mature roundedness to his game that is unusual of someone his age, the England number 10 will supplement this already stupendous attack with an extra fizzle that will help separate Chelsea from the rest.
This is the forward line which will probably be most prominent for at least the next 4-5 years.
Pulisic will look to make runs in behind, cut in, and cause mayhem in 1v1s on the wings. But one of his biggest strengths is actually his ability to draw players in when he is on the ball, often attracting 3-4 players when driving on the left flank. What this does is open up lots of space in the centre and on the right.
Havertz will be the link between midfield and attack, finding positions in the half-spaces to receive on the half-turn and drive forward. Like Pulisic, the German has the uncanny skill of dragging multiple players to him and thus opening up spaces elsewhere.
Ziyech probably has the most unique skill set of the bunch and will be tasked with cutting in from the right in deep positions to whip a ball in behind or switch the ball to the opposite wing. He also has the ability to cut in and shoot, so is a double-edged sword in that manner, making him unpredictable on the ball.
Werner will look to alternate with both Havertz and Pulisic, dropping deep and swapping positions with either player to create spaces and link play, before using his rapid pace to get in behind and score.
The keys to this system would be the fluidity and ability to overload areas of the pitch.
Werner can play up front and on the left, Pulisic is comfortable on either flank, Ziyech can play anywhere behind the striker, and Havertz is effective in basically any position up front. What this will allow them to do is create an endless stream of rotations, which will facilitate the creation of numerous gaps. The intelligence of each of the 4 players is very high and would mean that the now open spaces would generally be exploited well.
We can compare this to Liverpool’s front three of Salah, Mane, and Firmino. They use rotations and contrasting runs to create gaps which the explosive wingers then use to create chances and score goals.
But what will actually make them the best?
Well many things. One of these would be the sheer individual quality. Should the game not be going the Blues’ way, or they are being tactically outclassed, the front 4 have so much ability that there would be a good chance at least one of those players would drag them to a result through a moment of individual brilliance; not unlike a certain Eden Hazard for much of the last decade.
Another would be their contrasting yet complementary strengths. Ziyech is an excellent passer of the ball; Pulisic and Werner have pace to burn to get in behind and receive one of those passes. Pulisic is adept at creating space for others; Havertz is brilliant at recognizing that space and capitalising on it. The three behind the striker are all great at making chances; Werner is one of the best in the world at finishing them.
An additional positive is depth. A big issue in many top sides today is that should one of their starting players get injured, the quality of their side drops dramatically. This is not going to be an issue for Chelsea. Behind that starting 4 of Werner, Pulisic, Havertz, and Ziyech they have a potentially top quality PL striker in Tammy Abraham, a precocious winger in Hudson-Odoi, and an extremely versatile and brilliant young player in Mason Mount.
This depth ties into another factor; fluidity and versatility. This counts both in each game and in the tactical boardroom. In-game all these players can play in numerous positions and as such have the opportunity to switch at will. This also means that there are an incredibly high number of ways in which this Chelsea attack can line up, giving the manager the chance to tweak his gameplan to suit the opposition and remain unpredictable.
Something else which kind of bends the rules is that the London clubs’ defence and midfield will also almost certainly be world-class, with the likes of Billy Gilmour, Mount(yes, again), Lewis Baker, Ben Chilwell, Reece James, Fikayo Tomori, Mateo Kovacic and more providing the foundation for the attack to thrive for a long, long time.
And last but most certainly not least, is the ages in that attack. Ziyech at 27 probably has about 5 years left at the top. Werner at 24 could have up to 10. Abraham, Pulisic, Mount, and Hudson-Odoi all could still be in their prime around 2030. So they most certainly will all improve, and this attack has the potential to last the entirety of the 2020s.
Back to the original question.
Does Chelsea have an attack which will be the best in the world for the next 10 years?
To be honest, probably.
No other team has such a brilliant combination of talented young players and world-beaters in their prime, with many clubs’ attacks either approaching the end of their prime or not having enough top-quality young forwards.
The closest would most likely be Bayern, with Sane and Gnabry at 24 and 25 respectively, and a few wonderkids like Joshua Zirkzee and Jamal Musiala. Yet it feels like they will lack a truly elite striker after Lewandowski inevitably declines, probably within 2-3 years. And for now, the depth up front is a little lacking; there is no doubt however that Bayern’s excellent recruitment team will find a way to fix this.
Chelsea has a glut of varied players who will each bring a unique style to the team, almost all of whom have a ways to improve despite already being top performers. There is basically not a single weakness in this West London club’s attack; depth, versatility, individual quality, the age profile, the complementary strengths, they have it all.
So the rest of the world beware, lest you get blown away by this sensational Chelsea attack for years to come.