Imagining a Pep Gardiola-esque line-up for Chelsea

Champions League 2009/2010 Semifinale Ritorno Barcellona - 28.04.2010 Barcellona-Inter

First of all, I want to credit an article I read this week on Bleacher Report at this link which analysis what an England national team line-up will look like managed by non other than Pep Gardiola. The Tiki-taka master doesn’t settle for his teams to play a defensive, rigid system instead, he wants his teams to play ‘Total Football’. A concept he learnt from the Dutch who the likes of Cruyff especially invented it and executed to the highest level that it proved catalyst to how modern football’s top teams play now a days starting from Barcelona’s dominance in the 4 years being managed by Gardiola.

In this article, I will present to you what a Chelsea line-up might look like if we were being managed by Pep Gardiola. We know that the teams style has been almost totally opposite to what Gardiola looks to it as total football in the past whole decade when the team owned by Roman Abramovic rose to new heights under Jose Mourinho. Even since then, the Special One’s approach of how his teams play have dramatically changed from the one at Chelsea and Inter (where physically imposing players were used in a defensive counter-attacking style) to the one at Real Madrid and his current Chelsea (a fast paced, possession based  counter-attacking football which depends its success on transition from defense to attack). Now let’s begin by introducing the concept of Tiki-tika today or Total Football introduced by the Dutch and honed its craft under today’s master of it Pep Gardiola.

Introducing the Total Football (Tiki-Taka): 

What we call ‘Tiki-Taka’ today was introduced as a concept or style of football by the Dutch masters of the game back in the 80s in the form of ‘Total Football’. It is characterized by short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession. The innovator of this idea is thought to be Johan Cruyff, who attained much success while at Ajax and at Barcelona both as a player and manager. He was introduced to this style himself by Ajax coach Rinus Michels around the time Cruyff came to prominence. To summarize the origin of the system,

“It is a system where a player who moves out of his position is replaced by another from his team, thus allowing the team to retain their intended organizational structure. In this fluid system, no footballer is fixed in their intended outfield role; anyone can be successively an attacker, a midfielder and a defender.” -Wikipedia at this link

Since Johan Cruyff became a manager at both Ajax and Barcelona, he has tried to execute this fluid system in to a perfection but, we only saw the perfect execution of it in recent years by his student of the game, Pep Gardiola. The Catalan who won the Champions League and countless other trophies during his playing days as Barca captain learned his trade while being coached by Cruyff. He then went on to being the trend setter of modern day football when it comes style of football. The rise of Barcelona into domination was heralded by Pep’s appointment in 2008. And that inspired a whole host of clubs in the world to adapt the same style of possession based game played by small, technically excellent players in the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro…etc. And most of all it changed the international landscape of world football as Spain become the most successful and no. 1 nation of the world since their dominant victory in Euro 2008. They still sit atop the FIFA World rankings and such is the impact created by the Tiki-taka at the Catalan giants in the tut ledge of the master Pep Gardiola.

Pep’s best Barca line-up: A starting 11 that ripped Man Utd apart in the UCL final 2011 at Wembley.

Now, we take a comprehensive look of the style of play by adapting it to the squad we have at the moment and creating an imaginative, Pep Gardiola-esque line-up at Stamford Bridge. This is not to say we should not admire the style favored by Jose at the moment and fast paced, possession based counter attacking football which highly depends on transition from attack to defense as the Special One claimed in interviews previously. Can this line-up managed and guided by Pep’s brilliance dominant England and succeed in Europe? that’s for readers to judge at the end.

Translating the Tiki-taka into our Chelsea squad: 

Now a days we have technically gifted wizards like Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian, Schurrle and some a few others to speak. So, it won’t make it to hard for Pep to make this Chelsea side into Tiki-taka masters like in Barca (even not as much) and to the Bayern side he is managing at the moment (high level of success with strong depth). Mentioned in brackets were reasons why his two sides are better than the Chelsea line-up you will see now but, not that much of different. But, after adding in some top players to fill in the places of the jigsaw, Gardiola will surely get a dominant Chelsea side out of this squad in the Tiki-taka mold.

Let’s start with keeper first and immediate No. 1 would be Petr Cech even though there is a possibility that Pep would pick the agile and young Belgian, Thibaut Cortois for the role. But, seeing the impressive displays of the Great Czech wall against his Barcelona sides and against Bayern in super cup this year, he will surely pick the current No. 1 Cech with Courtois giving a strong competition.

When it comes to defensive set-up, Pep is more keen on putting in high-attacking full backs and two center backs who are technically sound and good at possession. So, the easiest set up to that identity will be a back 4 of Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, David Luiz & Ashley Cole. Starting from RB, the Spaniard full back is much more involved in attacking situations by advancing further up better than Ivanovic. Even though I personally would prefer Brana, it’s easy to see Azpi getting the nod under Pep’s eyes. The combination of Cahill and the much admired defender inside Pep’s eyes, David Luiz will shield our goal and at the same time be instrumental in building from the back in a Tiki-taka formation. And when it comes to LB, Ashley Cole would be the easy solution until Bertrand takes up his place. The real star of this Back-line is David Luiz as the Brazilian was heavily rumored to be wanted by Pep’s Barcelona previously and even his new team Bayern this past summer.

In midfield (a place really instrumental in Tiki-taka system), we will have 3 midfielders similar to the one Pep had at Barcelona’s free-flowing 4-3-3 shown in Picture above. In the anchor role of Busquets at Barca, we will have John Obi Mikel who combines the defensive and technical, passing aspect needed for that position in the middle of the park. Ramires is ditched in favor of the Nigerian in a way Pep Gardiola won’t excuse some of his rash tackles and poor first touches most of often.  When it comes to the role of Iniesta and Xavi, we will play Oscar in place of Iniesta left-side connecting well with the front 3 and going forward a bit more than Lampard who would play the role of Xavi by orchestrating the midfield through adept passing skills and being the link for the quick transition of Defense to attack. The exclusion of Ramires might confuse a few, but in Tiki-taka you can’t perform unsuccessful through balls and lose the ball while dribbling to get past players. He won’t do bad if we play him in role of Mikel, but the Nigerian’s passing accuracy and technical awareness gives him the nod by far better.

Finally in attack, we will have a ‘False 9’ role as perfected by the Great Lionel Messi at Barcelona and have two attacking midfield/wingers out wide. In center, I elect Willian ahead of others as he is excellent in passing and also scoring as displayed by his double on us at Stamford Bridge and his first goal for the club against Norwich. He will be perfect to stay deep inside and lose his markers which acts also as the No. 10 role behind a striker but, there isn’t any upfront. So, the Brazilian will connect well with the advancing Oscar from Midfield and the two wide players in form of Eden Hazard (left) and the magician Juan Mata (right). This front three is blessed with technical flair and pace as the three wizards create some danger for opposing defense as we saw at Barcelona through Villa, Messi and Pedro upfront.

4-3-3 Tiki-taka CFC line-up PROJECTED under Pep Gardiola!
4-3-3 Tiki-taka CFC line-up PROJECTED under Pep Gardiola!

Here is how the Tiki-taka style under the stewardship of the Catalan manager would have looked like if he had been our manager as Roman Abramovic had wished for. This side is well bound to dominate possession from preceding of matches and play the stylish, possession game with a fast paced attack. But, I personally wouldn’t want Cahill and Luiz exchange possessions with Cech or between each other and bore the fans like Spain did in Confederations cup this past summer (their tiki-taka execution was boring IMO to watch most of the time). My goal was only to demonstrate how it would have looked like with our current players under Gardiola. Personally, I’m not an ardent admirer of this system and my preferred line-up is always a counter-attacking 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 under Jose Mourinho with a quick turn of defense into attack on a turn of a dime.

I hope you enjoyed my article and feel free to comment and let me know of what you think about my formation based on Tiki-taka concept. Follow me on twitter (@FahmiCFC) for more news, stats and opinions about the Blues and KTBFFH!!!

  1. Neri Abayomi says


    Courtois is ahead of Cech bcos he is younger and cn retrain to be a sweeper keeper quite easily.

    Ivanovic and Luiz r d best ball playing CB pairing. Luiz is obviously d best ball playing CB in d team and Ivanovic’s RB role as ensured he is more adept with d ball @ his feet.

    Cesar can give us Alves esque kind of performance all day, Cole would be d balance, staying back when Cesar is bombing forward.

    Mikel, Oscar and Kevin De Bruyne would easily forming d midfielder trident. Mikel is good with recycling possession and breaking down opposition attacks, and he is better in this role in comparism to Ramires.
    Oscar is our Xavi and he cn be better, his eye for goal, good range of passing, fast pace ball movement, composure on the ball would ensure he performs this role flawlessly.
    KDB’s tireless running, dribbling runs, killer passes reminds me of an Iniesta with a better goal sense.
    They can all defend.

    Unlike Barcelona’s False 9, I wud go for an unorthodox style of having all 3 forwards interchanging continuously during a game.
    Mata has a deceptively good finish, a killer pass and the ability to bring all his team mates into a game. Schurrle is great cutting in from the left and with better shooting can prove a devastating forward. Hazard is Hazard, capable of brilliance @ any moment.

    Worthy Mentions; Ramires (for KDB role), Terry, Cahill, Wallace(For Cesar role) Bertrand(for cole), MvG (For Oscar role), Romeu (for Mikel role), Willian(For Mata role).

  2. Jeff says

    my reply is more of a bias one cos i hold the view that Pep inherited a successful team @ barcelona and doing same @ bayern so do not hold him in high regards but its all still debatable

  3. zyte says

    i think the players you lined up shows that chelsea has the flair to compete,but i think pep will choose torres ahead of willian.tank you.

  4. Anabelle says

    I’m disappointed with the article. I CAN’T STAND GUARDIOLA!!!! And tiki-taka is boring football, whose style have been debunked by Jose Mourinho and Jupp Heinckes.

    Why does everyone need to be like Guardiola? Even Barcelona is changing.

    He quit Barcelona 3 days after his team lost to Chelsea. The real reason was because he knew Barcelona was losing it, and like a rat jumping the ship, he dumped them.

    As soon as Bayern loses the Champions League this season, he’ll quit. Again.

  5. Mason Cole says

    van Ginkel over Mikel I think…

  6. Vaakmeisster says

    Lampard? Chelsea legend Frank Lampard cannot play this role in my opinion, if we really want to play tiki taka. Better to play Mata there then Schurle outwide. Lampard can play through balls but his short passing is disappointing. He will do better in the false 9 role than the xavi role

    1. arthur says


  7. arthur says

    this is great, this worths giving a try. But do mou read all di?, or Emenalo?

  8. Christopher says

    great upload. hope it was your own work 🙂

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