Chelsea’s New Midfield Formation: Arsenal, Manchester City Comparisons

Two transfer windows and €300 million later, Chelsea have finally transformed their midfield after years of under-investment in this department. The new-look trio consisting of Enzo Fernandez, Moises Caicedo, and Romeo Lavia has an average age of 21, with the players committing a minimum of 7 to 8 years at West London.

If all things go as planned, this midfield three should dominate the large portion of the next decade in Chelsea colours.

But what will be the players’ individual and combined functions at Stamford Bridge for the foreseeable future? With the recent Chelsea problems, there is definitely need for improvement.

We take a closer look.

Individual Attributes: Fernandez, Caicedo, Lavia

The midfield triplet assembled by Paul Winstanley and Lawrence Stewart ranges in individual qualities and traits due to the differing roles they will be tasked to perform.

When scanning through the data, clear distinctions can be made between Moises Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez in their varying skillsets, with the former excelling in the defensive aspect of the game while the latter flourishing in the offensive part.


(The Chelsea midfield trio’s percentile ranking in different metrics compared to positional peers in the Men’s Big 5 Leagues, UCL, and UEL over the last 365 days based on the minutes played)

However, it is difficult to conclude how Romeo Lavia will be deployed at Chelsea when looking at the numbers.

Lavia’s substandard percentile ranking in most possession-based metrics is because his former team, Southampton, embraced a low possession style in the previous relegation-ending Premier League season.

That is also why the Belgian midfielder posted above-average tackles and interception figures, as his team spent the majority of the game without the ball.

Nevertheless, the eye test suggests that at the tender of nineteen, Lavia is a sound defensive midfielder capable of protecting the back line while progressing the ball through carries.

Lavia’s lack of experience cannot qualify him to lead Chelsea as the sole no.6 yet but instead perform as a box-to-box midfielder.

The graph below analyzes the ball retention ability of Premier League midfielders during the 2022-23 campaign by comparing the number of times a player lost possession as a percentage of their total touches.

We can observe the closer proximity of Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo’s position to the y-axis, which indicates their proficiency in possession retention compared to Romeo Lavia, who is further away.


(The y-axis represents the total touches taken while the x-axis shows the number of times a player lost possession as a percentage of their total touches)

In conclusion, the midfield structure must redeem the best qualities of all the players by combining Caicedo and Lavia’s defensive astuteness with Fernandez’s on-the-ball prowess.

The following systems are different tactical approaches Mauricio Pochettino could explore to integrate the three midfielders into the team.

Potential Chelsea Tactical Formations

The Box Midfield

Arguably, the most popular tactical trend over the past year was the ‘box midfield’. It was an approach used by multiple managers that gradually became a key component in their complex tactical systems.

Pep Guardiola and his disciple, Mikel Arteta, led the way in the widespread adoption of this principle. The system allowed their teams to control possession in midfield by positioning four players in a box shape.

It allowed the players constituting that rectangular shape to have three passing options to choose from. This granted the team freedom to circulate the ball and maintain possession instead of unnecessarily forcing line-breaking passes leading to avoidable turnovers.

However, there are different methods that teams can adopt to form their box midfield.

In 2022-23, Mikel Arteta’s tactical formation saw him invert their fullback, Oleksandr Zinchenko, who roamed into the defensive midfield unit, with Thomas Partey accompanying him at the base.

Granit Xhaka and Martin Ødegaard were the two attacking midfielders that would play ahead to complete the Arsenal box midfield.


(Arsenal’s box midfield in 2022-23)


Although Manchester City started the season with the same concept with Rico Lewis inverting from right-back, by the end of the season, it was John Stones who would step up from center-back into the midfield with Rodri.


(Manchester City’s box midfield in 2022-23)

It is unlikely that Mauricio Pochettino would mirror the same approach as Arsenal since his fullback options are more comfortable playing down the wings. And no center-back at Chelsea can replicate John Stones’ qualities.

However, the Argentine manager could consider another process to form his box midfield.

In the first Premier League game of the current season against Nottingham Forest, Mikel Arteta decided to start Declan Rice and Thomas Partey for Arsenal, with the latter initially positioning as a right-back.

(Thomas Partey often started as a right-back against Nottingham Forest)

However, he joins Declan Rice in midfield during certain stages of the match to complete the box shape when Arsenal are in possession.

(But eventually completes the box midfield during certain phases)

Pochettino could deploy the same system with Caicedo and Lavia holding the defensive midfield spots while Fernandez and Nkunku (when fit) occupy the two attacking midfielder roles.

This formation would provide Chelsea with the necessary central coverage during transitions through Caicedo and Lavia screening the backline while allowing Fernandez and Nkunku to take up dangerous positions between the opposition lines.

Tifo IRL explains the box midfield and how it works.

(Potential starting-eleven for Chelsea using the box midfield)

The Hourglass Midfield

In the previous section, we looked at a tactical trend that Pochettino has not yet experimented with. But the following recommendation is an idea he has already dabbled in.

And that is the ‘Hourglass Midfield’.

The formation comprises two ball-playing center-backs laying the foundations with a single pivot ahead and a pair of attacking midfielders further forward.


(Chelsea’s ‘Hourglass Midfield’ against Liverpool)


This shape allows each player to have at least three passing lanes to choose from to maintain possession in the central spaces.

As seen above, if a team commits to a mid-block defensive structure to cover all the passing options, it opens space in the wide areas for the wing-backs when playing a back three and wingers when playing a back four.

Pochettino could easily integrate Caicedo by replacing Gallagher. But it would not be logical to force Lavia into the team when using this formation since he is neither a proficient attacking midfielder nor a press-resistant pivot.

Although an aggressive strategy could include Lavia as a right-sided center-back, filling in for Disasi.

He would be a more dangerous asset for ball progression than the French defender and allow Pochettino to switch to a box midfield seamlessly.


(Potential starting-eleven for Chelsea using the ‘hourglass midfield’)


The box midfield is the recommended strategy if Pochettino hopes to have the expensively assembled midfield trio on the pitch since their roles would be tailor-made to their strengths, which is not the case with the hourglass system since Lavia would have to play as a right center-back.

Nevertheless, it will be fascinating to identify Pochettino’s perspective and how he aims to get the best out of these young and talented midfielders in the coming weeks.

The Chelsea midfield revolution has concluded. Enzo Fernandez, Moises Caicedo, and Romeo Lavia will lead the midfield for the campaign, while Conor Gallagher and Carney Chukwuemeka attempt to establish themselves as regular starters.

Chelsea’s uncut gems, Andrey Santos, Cesare Casadei, and Lesley Ugochukwu, will continue their development on loans this season as they strive to break into the Chelsea team in the coming years.

(Chelsea has secured most midfielders on lengthy contracts)


With most of the players mentioned above tied up in lengthy contracts, Paul Winstanely and Lawrence Stewart seem to have mapped out the future of Chelsea’s midfield department for the next decade.

But will this bold and lavish bet pay off?

Only time will tell.

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