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Sunday, July 25, 2021

3 things to look for in Chelsea at Bournemouth: 3-4-3 or 4-4-2?

 Chelsea prematurely returned to London after its friendly in Ireland against Drogheda was cancelled. The Blues made the decision to cut the...

 Chelsea prematurely returned to London after its friendly in Ireland against Drogheda was cancelled. The Blues made the decision to cut the trip short after a possible positive COVID-19 test within the camp. 

it’s nice to have the lads back at home, the decision to scrap their second preseason match could prove costly in the grand scheme of things. Thomas Tuchel’s side now prepares for its first game of the new campaign that is available to viewers on Tuesday—this clash against a worthy opponent.

Vitality Stadium will play host to the Blues versus Bournemouth. Tuchel’s group of rag-tag returning players will get their feet wet and look to improve ahead of the more serious matches to come.

 Following the final whistle at the home of the Championship’s Cherries, Chelsea will turn its attention to bouts against Arsenal and Tottenham on August 1 and August 4 respectively. The Mind Series will act as a precursor to the Blues’ Super Cup clash against Villarreal on August 11. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, there is still a bit of time between now and the contests that count for something.

Here are three things to look for in Chelsea’s preseason trip to Bournemouth:

1. Fitness levels

Saturday’s results across Europe showed us that fitness levels aren’t a big talking point during the preseason. Manchester United’s 4-2 loss to QPR and Leicester City’s 0-0 draw (3-1 loss on penalties) against Burton Albion acted as important reminders that wins and losses simply do not matter at this point in time,

 regardless of all the banter surrounding the full-time scores. Of course, it’s fun to poke fun at members of those fan bases about their beloved team losing to a tinpot club. But it’s all null and void come August 14—13, if you’re an Arsenal or Brentford fan—when the Premier League season kicks off. The point of all of this being, fitness is the real evaluation of success in the preseason.

Chelsea’s fitness levels will likely be lacking on Tuesday, which is understandable for those just joining the team. Nine new faces appeared at Cobham on Saturday. This group, comprised of players who failed to make the semifinals of the Euros and a few loanees, will join the larger squad in the coming days. 

 The returning bunch was made up by Tiemoue Bakayoko, Michy Batshuayi, Kai Havertz, N’Golo Kante, Kenedy, Mateo Kovacic, Antonio Rudiger, Timo Werner and Kurt Zouma. Tino Anjorin will also return to Cobham on Sunday. It’d be a surprise to see these individuals get much of a run out against Bournemouth. If Tuchel does decides to field them, expect a bit of rust, natural to any player who has taken a few weeks off.

2. Formation

There have been questions surrounding Tuchel’s set-up since day one when he arrived for a late night training session at Cobham. The German earned a reputation in his pre-Chelsea days for his adept tactical switches and ability to adapt to his opponents. Nevertheless,

 he seldom strayed from the 3-4-3 he installed in late January throughout last year’s campaign. It worked to perfection as Tuchel’s Blues went on to lift the Champions League trophy, those questions have not gone away though.

Tuchel’s reported test of a 4-4-2 in the Peterborough game won’t help him dodge these questions either. The possibility exists that the head coach simply set his side up in this formation due to the personnel at his disposal. Ike Ugbo and Armando Broja took the field next to one another in the game’s latter stages as dual No. 9s,

 a shift that worked to perfection as Chelsea netted four goals in the second 45-minute period. It’s something that’s been discussed as a possibility for the Blues going forward if they fail to sign Erling Haaland this summer.

Werner showed at Leipzig that he is undoubtedly more comfortable in a formation that allows for two strikers up top. He could potentially be paired with Havertz, who acts as a Thomas Muller type who can slot in anywhere across the front line and find space with ease. This is the reason the formation is going to be such an interesting aspect of the Blues’ first official contest open to the public this season.

Tuchel rarely toyed with the tactics last year because he didn’t have much time to teach the team. Now, he has a relatively full preseason under his belt and an entire campaign with significantly less pressure than his first. More time and more matches will equate to more opportunities for the gaffer to play around with different ideas. There is, of course, the possibility he doesn’t change a thing. 

Tuchel’s 3-4-3 proved successful as his side went on to conquer Europe and came within a few inches of the FA Cup title. The cliche “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” seems perfect for this scenario, but there is a reason Tuchel gets paid the big bucks

3. Stand-out performance

In addition to regaining match fitness following the summer holiday, preseason also gives managers the opportunity to assess all of the options available at the club. The Blues’ first team has only partly been present to start the preseason as a majority of players take time off to recover after Euro 2020. This means Tuchel gets an extended period of time to take a look at options from the loan army, the academy and the fringes of the senior squad.

There have been a few reported stand-out performers thus far in training: Hudson-Odoi, Dujon Sterling and Armando Broja. While it’s important to reward those who have put in the work, impressive performances in practice mean little when it comes time for meaningful games. Therefore, the aforementioned trio—as well as the entirety of the team—will be under the microscope against Bournemouth.

Sterling is the individual with the most to gain as he’s been away from football for quite awhile. The Antonio Conte favorite has made his presence known to Tuchel and is now in the running to make the senior squad at right wingback. 

 If he doesn’t continue this formidable form, Sterling will likely find himself on loan or back in the academy. Meanwhile, Hudson-Odoi is on a mission. He was one of the favorites early on in the German’s tenure, being interesting deployed as a wingback. Hudson-Odoi slowly saw his minutes dwindle and was almost a non-factor in the matchday side by the time the season concluded.

 He’s out to prove a point now that he’s fully recovered from his unfortunate injuries over the last few years. A statement showing from Broja could also accelerate his journey into the senior team. The young striker is looking to capitalize on Chelsea’s lack of depth up top and could claim his place on the depth chart early on.

This is not to say that trio has the most to gain. There are plenty of outcasts in camp that could steal Tuchel’s attention with a good outing on England’s south coast. The contest will be streaming live on Tuesday from the 5th Stand app and the club’s official website at 7:45 p.m. (UK time).

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