4-2-3-1 formation itself is a very specialized formation. The formation can’t adapt to players rather the players need to adapt to it. In contrast, a formation like 4-4-2 is more general and every kind of player can find a place in it.
As I said before, what kind of players can slot into the pivot is a matter of much debate amongst the fans. Ramires is an excellent 4-3-3 player but looks out of place on the wing in a 4-2-3-1. He looks much more comfortable in the pivot but still it is not a perfect position for him.
The traditional pivot as we know consists of two defensive midfielders. The thing to note here is although one of these need to have more of an attacking threat, but still he needs to be a defensive midfielder first.
So let’s first analyze what kind of players are needed?
Deep Lying Playmaker/Midfield Destroyer
Tackling ability: Should be a good tackler, but need not be a tackle machine. Ideally what is needed from this player is discipline & positioning. Tackling in the sense that he need to mop up for others.
Passing: Should be able to pass QUICKLY and eye for picking up attacking 3 with a through pass/long ball so that they need not drop too deep. Using both feet a plus. Must be able to play one touch passes. Able to start counters.
Vision: Very important skill for the player. Needs to shut down passing lanes of opposition before they develop.
Discipline: Forays forward must be disciplined. Should sit in front CB and cover for LB/RB during the transitions when possession is lost.
Work Rate: Comparatively lesser.
Long Range Shot, Late runs into the box, Ability to hold the ball
Prime examples are Daniel De Rossi, Pirlo, Luka Modric.
What Chelsea have for this position: John Obi Mikel suits this position with his excellent reading of the game. His pace won’t be a problem for this role. Not the perfect player as he lacks the knack of picking the attacking 3 with a killer pass but one can say it’s not his job.
The player with Free role:
Tackling: Must be an absolute tackling machine. Must be adventurous at tackles at times. Should look to recover possession with aggressive pressing.
Work rate: Very high. Must be an absolute midfield engine who doesn’t tire. Should have speed for driving runs in the midfield.
Passing: Should be comfortable on the ball. He will need to contribute in attack buildups a lot more. Quick feet to beat opponents.
Attacking threat: Should be an attacking threat. Should be good finisher. Late runs into the box would be a plus.
Movement: A player who should have good movement to link up regularly with the attacking 3.
What Chelsea have: Ramires is the best Chelsea player to fill this criteria. His passing isn’t that good but he brings a lot to the game. A young Frank Lampard would be ideal for this role.
Mourinho doesn’t employ the traditional pivot with predefined roles. When Lampard & Ramires play they often take turns to go forward. When either one is too far up the pitch the other sits back.
Lampard-Ramires partnership suits Mourinho’s version of the pivot but a Mikel-Ramires partnership of the traditional pivot should trump that. The turnaround from 0-2 in the FA cup quarter-final against Manchester United is testimonial to that very fact when Mikel came on (with Hazard) & changed the game.
The inclusion on Mikel gives Ramires the full freedom to impose on the game and attack.
Mikel-Lampard partnership lacks the mobility unless we are defending backs-against-the-wall approach. It will simply get run over if pivot moves forward. If they remain back, the attacking band will get isolated.
Why Mourinho favors Lampard-Ramires pivot over Mikel-Ramires pivot?
Nobody can know what Mourinho thinks but my guess is the poor passing quality of Ramires & Mikel as a whole. If you are a regular to Chelsea games, you might have often observed the disconnect between the pivot and attacking band. The ball keeps moving between pivot, defence & goalkeeper.
Ramires’ passing is not that great. He is averse to sloppy passes. While Mikel always plays as a distributor choosing safe passes. It’s not his job to create. This often leads in difficulty to break defences. Players like Juan Mata or Oscar have to drop deep to pick the ball to start a move. Lampard on the other hand is much better in finding the attacking 3. So is David Luiz, who can do so from the defence.
David Luiz is world-class CB who divides opinion in midfield position. Some say that he is just decent at this position while others (many in media) would say this is his true position. Luiz can fit into either role in the traditional pivot but will be better suited to the defensive role. His passing ability is great and defensive aspect strong. If he can work on his discipline, he can be the first choice player at that position. He also lacks the knowledge when to tackle and when to sit back which only can come with experience at that position.
Mourinho has said he won’t play Luiz in midfield & I believe him. Against Liverpool it was an emergency.
Oscar is what many fans would love to see in the pivot. He is a tackler, runs a lot & can’t fail in attacking aspect. This might be a good theory but it will fail against physical sides. Oscar lacks the aerial ability & the physical strength for the mid-field position. Making preemptive tackles in free defensive role is one thing but having the responsibility to protect back 4 would be too much. Oscar can play in the pivot but he will be average. It will be a loss of talent of a guy like Oscar playing him there.
Chalobah & McEachran are excellent prospects as well. Mourinho sees Chalobah as a Centre-back as it appeared in preseason. McEachran can be Chelsea’s Xavi but he needs to work a lot on the defensive side of his game. I keep hoping each year he will improve physically but he looks the same regardless. Here’s hoping to he will be a late bloomer.
A player like Daniel De Rossi would have turned Blues into Champions overnight. We need to buy a quality midfielder as soon as possible for the long term. What quality midfielder would you like to see Chelsea buy for the long term? Gundogan anyone?
– BlueBoy. Writer is a graduate form IIT, Roorkee & a die-hard Chelsea fan. He will never give up on Torres. He recently started ablueheart.com to share his passion.