Having persisted with a three-man defence in the opening weeks of the Premier League campaign, Mauricio Pochettino finally reverted to his bread-and-butter system in Chelsea's 0-0 draw at Bournemouth. While it was a lopsided 4-2-3-1 with Levi Colwill operating at left-back and Malo Gusto on the opposite flank, the setup has been his favourite in recent years. The surprise was that it has taken until now to revert to the system.
A change in formation didn't bring about the desired result - Chelsea still played out 0-0 draw on the south coast on Sunday - but the Blues looked a more cohensive unit. There was an element of misfortune in the stalemate too. Nicolas Jackson and Raheem Sterling each struck the woodwork either side of half time, and the west London side faced off against an inspired Neto at the Vitality Stadium. While a point is not to be scoffed at, that's back-to-back league games that Chelsea have now failed to score in.
There were positives, though. Gusto put in another assured performed in the absence of Reece James, while Robert Sanchez looked more composed between the sticks after a shaky opening few weeks to life in the capital. In the final third, Mykhailo Mudryk also showed glimpses of why the Blues spent big to secure his services at the turn of the year.
The 22-year-old has become a figure of fun at Chelsea. Football fans are quick to jump on any mistake Mudryk makes but on his first league start of the season, he gave as good a reason as any as to why he deserves to keep his place in the XI. A sub-par display in Ukraine's 1-1 draw with England earlier this month really thrust the youngster into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons as he made more unsuccessful first touches (3) and committed more fouls (1) than he did make key passes or complete dribbles (both 0). Unsurprisingly, Mudryk was dropped for the following game as Ukraine fell to a 2-1 loss to Italy.
🇺🇦 Mykhailo Mudryk vs England:— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) September 10, 2023
🏹 Shots - 0
🔐 Key passes - 0
🤤 Dribbles - 0
😡 Fouls - 1
😖 Unsuccessful first touches - 3
🎯 Passes - 8
🌡️ WS Rating - 5.90 pic.twitter.com/8759qrxa73
After joining for an initial £62m at the beginning of the year, the pressure was on Mudryk from the outset to hit the ground running. The decision to move further away from his home country of Ukraine almost a year after Russia's invasion has also impacted Mudryk's settling in period. Footballers may live a lavish lifestyle, but matters off the pitch can affect performances on it, and this has certainly been the case for the wideman.
Yet in a system that will play to Mudryk's strengths, it won't be long before he really begins to leave a lasting impact for Chelsea. Despite lasting just an hour at Bournemouth, only Sterling made more key passes (3) and completed more dribbles (3) than Mudryk (both 2) of all Chelsea players at the weekend. No player made more tackles (3) than the Ukraine international as he worked tirelessly both on and off the ball to help protect the Blues goal, and set his side on the frontfoot.
It wasn't the perfect performance by any stretch, but then he'll need a constant run of gametime to really gain a head of steam and build up consistency. Nevertheless, the showing was vastly improved on what supporters have witnessed following his arrival from Stamford Bridge at the turn of the year. Important now is that Pochettino places his faith in Mudryk and hands him a run of matches that will allow him to build up his form and, importantly, rebuild his fragile confidence.
Pochettino, though, also needs to stick with a gameplan and system that'll allow this expensively assembled Chelsea squad to flourish. Injuries to both Christopher Nkunku and Carney Chukwuemeka has minimised the Argentine's opportunities to play with a proper number 10 in his preferred 4-2-3-1 setup, but with the three-man defence failing to reap the rewards, it's key Pochettino remains steady with his picks, both in terms of formation and personnel.
Sunday's system benefits the abundance of wingers at Pochettino's disposal and with the Chelsea hierarchy keen to see a return on their hefty investment of wide forwards, the best way forward is to stick with a 4-2-3-1. Do so, and it won't be long before Mudryk starts to live up to the billing in west London.