Comment: Who Should Start for Chelsea? The Blues' Attacking Wealth Analysed as Tuchel Faces Selection Headache

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Chelsea have had a superb start to the season. After the Super Cup success in August, the Blues have begun their Premier League campaign with three wins and a draw, scoring nine and conceding only one – a questionable penalty. Since Thomas Tuchel’s appointment as manager, the club have conceded the least goals in the league (14), and have the most clean sheets in all competitions in the ‘top five’ leagues (23, Man City are second with 16).

(Photo by PA Images/Sipa USA)

In the German’s 3-4-3 system, the front three has been chopped and changed regularly so far this season. Across the opening six games, Tuchel has selected five different attacking trios – Kai Havertz, Mason Mount and Romelu Lukaku playing in four, Hakim Ziyech in three, Timo Werner twice, and Christian Pulisic once.

Across last season, the attacking three was rotated even more frequently – with Frank Lampard experimenting different combinations, and Tammy Abraham playing a role.

With the failed pursuit of Achraft Hakimi and the sale of Tino Livramento, Callum Hudson-Odoi’s short-term future appears to be providing depth in the wing-back role. The youngster started in that position in the Super Cup, and in Reece James’ absence against Aston Villa.

Each player brings their own individual strengths, but Tuchel will hope for some rhythm across the attacking line to truly bring the collective strength out of the team.

With this in mind, what is Chelsea’s best front three?

Hakim Ziyech

Ziyech had a fine pre-season and Super Cup, scoring four, and was unlucky to pick up a knock in the win in Belfast, after scoring a great goal and playing four accurate crosses.. He returned for the Villa game but was unable to fully impact the game against Villa’s back three – misplacing 13 of 40 passes, losing possession 23 times, and failing with five attempted crosses.

(Photo by PA Images/Sipa USA)

Ziyech also started the Champions League opener against Zenit, and had another lacklustre showing. In 63 minutes, he played 22 passes, winning three of eight ground duels, before he was replaced by Kai Havertz.

Ziyech has shown glimpses of quality since his arrival last summer, scoring crucial goals against Man City, but is not a man in form right now, and will look to build some rhythm with plenty of games coming thick and fast.

Verdict: Out

Kai Havertz

Havertz etched his name into Chelsea folklore with the Champions League winning goal in May in Porto – and has the managers backing with the joint most starts across the front three so far this campaign.

(Photo by PA Images/Sipa USA)

Whilst unable to provide a goal or assist against Arsenal, the German linked up well with Mason Mount and Marcos Alonso, playing 39 of 44 attempted passes, and creating space between the lines, before he was replaced by compatriot Timo Werner with one minute left.

Havertz also had a solid game at Anfield before he was replaced at half-time, a consequence of the red card – scoring a fine header in the 22nd minute. His performance against Villa, like Ziyech, was quiet in terms of attacking output – but he placed 20 of 22 passes, influential in linking play between the attackers.

(Photo by PA Images/Sipa USA)

Another 30 minutes against Zenit was largely anonymous – Havertz will now hope to add more goals and assists to his game, whilst retaining a pass completion rate of over 85%. He appears a good fit for Tuchel’s front three – providing an aerial threat, as well as neat interplay with the likes of Lukaku and Mount.

Verdict: In

Romelu Lukaku

This should be a no-brainer. Lukaku has hit the ground running on his Chelsea return – scoring four in as many games. His instinctive attacking instincts are what Chelsea have been sorely missing – scoring both his chances against Aston Villa, and providing Chelsea a narrow win over Zenit. In fact, his four goals have come from just six shots on target.

(Photo by Xinhua/Sipa USA)

Games like this would have inevitably been much tougher for the Blues without the presence of a natural number nine. Lukaku has seven goals in six club and country appearances so far, and elevates Chelsea to a level of seriously challenging for multiple trophies this season.

Verdict: In

Mason Mount

Chelsea’s Player of the Year played a huge number of minutes last season (4,242) – missing just five of an available 59 games. Whilst his contribution of 18 goals and assists is impressive, Mount has admitted he wants to score more: “I’d love to add more goals to my game, like Frank did when he played for Chelsea”.

Mount has had a relatively good start to the season. In the Palace win, he played 44 of 46 attempted passes and provided energy in midfield, but his performance away at Arsenal was a real step up. Mount provided an assist for Reece James, created three big chances, and played four key passes.

(Photo by PA Images/Sipa USA)

His performances against Liverpool and Zenit were more muted, although he played over 85% of his passes in both. Perhaps what is more important is his connections with Lukaku and Havertz in attack, the three appear to compliment each other – in the same way Nicolo Barella linked up with Lukaku to league-winning effect at Inter.

Mount is able to provide constant pressing in attack with a high volume of creativity and chance creation – his 4.42 passes into the final third per 90 last season ranked in the top 4% for attackers in Europe’s ‘top five’ leagues, whilst his key passes per 90 (2.47) is in the top 7%. This service is perfect for Lukaku.

Verdict: In

Timo Werner

Werner’s minutes have been limited so far this season. He played 65 minutes in the Super Cup before Lukaku’s arrival, and consequently played the full 90 in the 3-0 win over Palace. Across these games, Werner only recorded one shot on target – whilst averaging a 74% pass completion rate.

(Photo by PA Images/Sipa USA)

Since this, Werner has been deployed as a ‘super-sub’, running at and between defenders later on in a game. This was evident in his role in Chelsea’s third, and Lukaku’s second, goal against Villa.

With Chelsea’s participating in the FIFA Club World Cup in December, there are potentially over 60 games to compete in – allowing the likes of Werner, as well as Saul and Trevoh Chalobah, plenty of minutes in different tournaments.

Furthermore, Ziyech and Pulisic are particularly injury prone – allowing Werner a greater opportunity to play an important role in the squad this season.

Verdict: Out

Christian Pulisic

(Photo by Acero/Alter Photos/Sipa USA)

Pulisic continued his excellent form against Palace in the league opener – the American has now scored five goals in as many games, and wins, against the South London club. Pulisic also played 77 minutes in the Super Cup, and was unlucky not to score with a good chance.

However, he missed the Arsenal and Liverpool games with COVID-19, before an ankle injury picked up with the USA. Tuchel confirmed he hopes Pulisic is back to full fitness early next week.

Pulisic missed a large number of games last season with a variety of injuries – starting 26 of an available 59. The winger’s qualities are obvious to Chelsea fans – his six goals and assists in the final nine games of the 2019/2020 were crucial in securing a top-four finish.

Pulisic will hope to build up fitness soon, and add more goals and assists to his tally of 32 with Chelsea so far.


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