- Mauricio Pochettino adjusted Chelsea’s approach in the win against Aston Villa
- What were the changes and can Chelsea learn from them to face Liverpool?
- Does winning the League Cup change the perception at Chelsea? It’s All Kicking Off podcast
What a difference three days and three goals can make. What a difference to the whole mood around a football club.
By Wednesday night they had inflicted just a third home defeat of the season on Aston Villa and looked a side revitalised with players flourishing in different roles.
Mauricio Pochettino hinted at playing a ‘different way’ after his side withered and wavered against Wolves and the signs pointed to a new three at the back approach.
To some surprise, he stuck with his 4-2-3-1 formation but tinkered in different ways. Nicolas Jackson switched to the left wing while Cole Palmer featured as a false nine, they played natural full-backs, and Enzo Fernandez looked like, well, the Enzo Fernandez that Chelsea have wanted all along.
Chelsea looked reborn on Wednesday night as they stormed to a 3-1 win over Aston Villa
Mauricio Pochettino’s tactical switches paid off and produced a stunning performance
It could be another false dawn, a trick of the light. But Chelsea actually showed signs of life on Wednesday night with this 3-1 win, enough almost to risk asking, ‘Are things coming together under Pochettino?’, just days after Thiago Silva’s wife appeared to call for his head.
Mail Sport dives into the changes that offer a ray of hope for the Blues. With the Liverpool game approaching, what lessons have they learned?
Jackson’s switch to the left wing worked
Chelsea’s mysterious 22-year-old looked a man renewed on the left wing as he bagged a goal and created moments effectively in the first 21 minutes at Villa Park.
With space to attack out wide, he caused trouble 10 minutes in for Diego Carlos, wrongfooting him with a stepover and finding Noni Madueke in the box, who set up Conor Gallagher for the first goal.
Not long after, he got himself on the scoresheet when he ghosted inside between Carlos and Matty Cash to head in Malo Gusto’s cross from the right.
There was the predatory instinct he has displayed all too fleetingly this season, but his central position came as a surprise in the context of the game and with Palmer going to the near post.
Considering he had only scored once in 11 games coming into this, it was a step in the right direction for a forward who has been much maligned after a £32million summer move from Villarreal.
Nicolas Jackson netted Chelsea’s second goal with a header and was key in creating the first
It hasn’t quite worked out for him leading the line. Nine goals in 25 appearances is a respectable haul but not the elite level that Chelsea demand.
If this move out wide is going to be permanent, he faces a battle with Raheem Sterling for the spot, and you get the sense Pochettino would go with the more tried and tested man on the left in the final.
What this does give Chelsea is extra options and more uncertainty in Jurgen Klopp’s mind. If Jackson has a natural knack on the left, and Liverpool don’t have much evidence to study him on, that could be a trump card.
Is Palmer at false nine the right use of his talents?
This was a quiet night for Palmer personally, but his adjusted role contributed to the team’s attacking dynamic.
The 21-year-old played as a false nine – leading the line but often dropping back to drag defenders out – and sometimes swapped with right winger Madueke to befuddle defenders.
Chelsea fans are used to seeing Palmer on the right or starring in a central attacking midfield role but this was something a bit different.
The Blues’ attack was far more fluid as they took the game to Villa, having 15 shots at a ground where they’re usually invincible.
Palmer got a couple of shots in but they were too soft to really trouble Emi Martinez.
Chelsea’s star of the season so far Cole Palmer did well as a false nine without being spectacular, sometimes swapping with Noni Madueke on the right flank to confuse defenders
Could a false nine be effective against Liverpool? It’s hard to judge, and Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate aren’t blundering fools who blindly follow any attacker that drops deep.
It could help Chelsea pounce on the lack of communication that sometimes hinders Liverpool, as seen against Arsenal over the weekend. And their lack of a natural No 6 to anchor the midfield could leave gaps for a false nine to exploit and find more space than if, say, a Fabinho was still present.
Whether or not Palmer is the right man for the role is an open question, especially considering his brilliance when deployed elsewhere. But it’s something for Pochettino to consider.
Enzo’s flashy display shows he can be trusted
All the glory will go to that free-kick, naturally.
Not only did he win it, being brought down by Youri Tielemens, but he executed it in perfect fashion, almost giving the defenders a trim as it sailed over their heads and curled beyond the reach of Martinez.
At one point, amid a squabble of players competing for the free-kick, it looked as if he might not get the chance, but how worthy he was.
The individual moment was hailed as ‘world class’ by Lee Dixon, but his overall performance was arguably one of is best in a Blues shirt.
Composed and inventive in the heart of midfield, he was at the fulcrum of their creative engine as his accomplice Moises Caicedo did more of the dirty work further back.
Enzo Fernandez stole the show against Aston Villa with a stunning free-kick for Chelsea’s third
He shone in the midfield and was part of the reason why Villa were largely overrun in that area.
Mail Sport handed him a 7.5 for his performance – not enough for man of the match over Gusto, but still a highly respectable showing.
Trusting Fernandez should be a priority going into the Carabao Cup final. Sometimes he can be a loose cannon or go missing, but his ceiling is arguably higher than any other player in the Chelsea squad – and all you need is one stellar 90 minutes to win a final.
He’s already won the biggest honours with Argentina and was critical in the World Cup final against France, having the most touches of any player on the pitch, completing the most passes and winning the most tackles. Give him freedom on the big occasions.
Playing with natural full-backs is a good solution
This was a real show of what Chelsea are capable of out wide, wasn’t it?
Assist king Gusto was our man of the match, scoring a rating of 8 after he set up Jackson’s goal with a wide run and a cross tailor-made for his head.
Pushing up high, he was a bush full of thorns in Villa’s hide, playing with real flair, testing Martinez with an effort and helping to pin back Alex Moreno with advanced runs.
On the left side, Chilwell contributed in a similar vein, providing much-needed balance.
Malo Gusto was a delight to watch and he provided a good assist for Jackson’s goal
Ben Chilwell gave Pochettino good balance on the left and kept Leon Bailey largely quiet
While not a world-beating performance, it was a promising display as he continues to recover from injury and stake a claim for a place in Gareth Southgate’s Euros squad.
Balance is going to be key to any match against Liverpool. Push too high and you expose yourself to being disemboweled… but take risks at the right moment and you can catch them off guard, especially the ever-marauding Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Liverpool’s more physical, nimble defence and tighter marking might not be as susceptible to the balls into the box that troubled Villa on Wednesday, but breaking swiftly and using the space out wide will be key against a stacked midfield.