Chelsea added Juventus’ Dennis Zakaria on a loan with a purchase option, resolving a pressing issue in the transfer market.
Thomas Tuchel has achieved his goal. This summer, Chelsea will welcome a new midfielder to the team, who many people didn’t anticipate, but whose value might be crucial.
Before the transfer deadline, Thomas Tuchel still needed to bolster two important positions: central midfield and a striker, a position filled by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Both deals appeared to be off on Wednesday, August 31, with just hours remaining in the window due to late movements made to capture Edson Alvarez from Ajax or Ibrahim Sangare from PSV.
Stories of panic shopping started to circulate, the failure of Saul Niguez’s loan came back into focus, and the fear that Tuchel may be left without defensive midfield backup as well as a bevvy of risky and unreliable choices felt very real. It everything altered in a couple of minutes.
Before supporters could really consider it, Denis Zakaria, who had been the next target, had his physical in Italy and was officially welcomed into the team. The Swiss international gives Tuchel not just an extra body but also the possibility to offer a foursome regular minutes on the field, even if he has lost part of his original young star reputation at Borussia Monchengladbach.
A physically intimidating defensive midfielder who can protect the back line and distribute the ball to alternatives further forward, even if they are restricted on the ball, has appeared to be the key to Chelsea’s roster this summer. Since Nemanja Matic left Chelsea, a player with this profile has been lacking, but now there is a fresh possibility.
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This not only gives Tuchel tactical freedom that he had not previously had, but it may also allow other important players to swap positions, which the German thinks will let them to reach their full potential.
Here is how the Blues may line up in midfield with their new acquisition in mind
An all-out defensive midfield not only eases the strain on a double-pivot, but it also allows Tuchel to utilise a different formation with many of Chelsea’s present possibilities for the centre midfield position.
The two forward positions in a 4-3-3 with a defensive midfielder all fit some of Chelsea’s greatest players since Conor Gallagher, Mason Mount, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and maybe Mateo Kovacic all perform best when playing as No. 8s.
It is the position where Mount was so effective under Frank Lampard, where Gallagher made his name at Crystal Palace, where he was free to wander inside the box, and where Kovacic can advance freely.
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N’Golo Kante has also flourished there with his strong pushing, and Loftus-Cheek also enjoyed his finest goalscoring stretch under Maurizio Sarri as a more forward player rather than in a No.6 role. Jorginho is the only current midfielder who it doesn’t work for since he either requires a partner to pivot with or assistance while playing the deeper position alone.
Raheem Sterling would have a natural flank role alongside Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech, who both perform better as wide attackers than inside No. 10s, in addition to this freedom. Additionally, it would imply that Carney Chukwuemeka had greater assistance in midfield when given the chance.
Tuchel has already experimented with employing a 4-2-2-2 in addition to the 4-3-3, sometimes converting it into a five-man defence. With Kovacic, Kante, and Jorginho all being viable candidates to partner him in the double-pivot role at the base of that, Zakaria’s signing also makes it possible for this to occur.
With Mount, Loftus-Cheek, and Gallagher all given advanced places to push and launch forward actions, attacking freedom is once again allowed.
Chelsea might revert to an old configuration that worked effectively for them under Carlo Ancelotti with just a small adjustment from the 4-2-2-2.
While in command, the Italian had a wide range of choices in the middle, including Frank Lampard, Michael Essien, Michael Ballack, and Joe Cole. He employed a brilliant diamond formation to combine all of the Blues’ players into one system.
With a minor adjustment to the 4-2-2-2, Chelsea could still switch to a system quite close to that under Tuchel. In-game versatility makes the 4-1-2-1-2, a less common base shape for teams, a possible favourite of Tuchel’s. In a similar fashion to the 4-3-3, he would be able to employ Zakaria at the base of the midfield with two other central midfielders, but there would be a No. 10 behind two attackers instead of wingers. Similar to a 4-3-1-2, this might also be considered as one at that moment.
There are choices for this movement because Raheem Sterling and Kai Havertz have both served as impromptu attackers this season, while Armando Broja and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang still have time to make an impression.
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Even with a three man defence, Chelsea could utilise a 3-5-2 with Zakaria serving as an anchor in front of the defence, much like Tuchel has previously attempted this season and last. As Zakaria could also drop into centre-back, a position he has occasionally played before, this would give the wing-backs greater flexibility.
This would also free up the group of No. 8s from having to perform an excessive amount of defensive work while still being used in a midfield overload.
Wesley Fofana’s pace in defence also helps with the switch to a back four, although Tuchel wouldn’t be out of the usual to be creative with choices inside a three man defence, which is now more common. That is the main reason for signing a defensive midfielder.