Chelsea head to Newcastle this weekend to play the Magpies after an international break that has taken its toll.
N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic and Andreas Christensen are among the first team players to have picked up knocks, as well as Reece James from second string. It’s unclear how bad any of these problems are, and any of those four could be fit for Saturday or ruled out entirely. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the fitness of several players, Sportsbet are still backing Chelsea as the heavy 2/7 odds-on favourites to win the game.
What is certain is that once again an international fortnight has thrown the team into disarray, and there are going to be question marks right up until the last minute. Frank Lampard may well have a full strength team to pick from, but he equally may be forced into major changes.
This is when the tactical flexibility the new manager has brought to the club comes in so useful. Since the start of preseason he’s played with a 433, a 4231, a 343 and even a kind of 41212 with two strikers leading the line.
We’ve already suffered the negatives of this inconsistency – our defensive structure, for example, has been shaky at best thanks to the constant shifting of shape and personnel. But now we will see one of the big advantages as the season reaches full tilt and players across the division start accumulating fatigue and injury problems.
If, say, both Kovacic and Kante are out, and Christensen fit, Lampard can use his 343 to add a centre back in place of a central midfielder. If Reece James is fit and Christensen out, James can play right wing back with Cesar Azpilicueta moving into the middle. Mason Mount has been used on the left wing and in the midfield 3, and will happily play wherever his boss tells him to.
Whoever is available, Lampard has a solution ready, and the team have had significant minutes using all these different shapes in the recent past. The coach has spoken at length about how he wants this team to be able to adapt in games and between them, and just a few months into his reign we’re already seeing his philosophy in action.
Of course losing players is going to hurt any side. But unlike under some managers who prefer an unwavering philosophy that is maintained no matter who is available, Lampard is showing himself to be an adaptable and pragmatic coach already. We can begin to reap the benefits of that this Saturday at St James’ Park.