Honeymoon period over for Lampard as Chelsea problems come to surface
A club facing a bleak future
At the end of last season, Chelsea were a club in disarray. Their manager gone, a two-window transfer ban looming and their superstar of the last decade, Eden Hazard, leaving for pastures new at Real Madrid. Chelsea fans cannot begin to imagine how things could possibly turn around.
Enter, Frank Lampard
Chelsea’s all-time top scorer and one of the biggest names of modern English football arrives at the helm, after taking Derby County to a playoff final in his debut year in management. Lampard is told that he won’t be judged too harshly in his first year at the club, given the circumstances. His main policy is to give the youth a chance, something that was very rarely done at the club during his time as a player. Players like Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori are brought back from loan spells and given a chance in the first team. Things are exciting for Chelsea fans at this point – a club legend in charge, a new outlook on youth talent with some highly-rated youngsters being given a chance. Could this season be better than expected?
Despite an indifferent start in terms of results, Chelsea looked to be playing some good football under Lampard. The youngsters were stepping up to the plate, with Mason Mount scoring and Abraham at the top the goal charts. Young Blues were rewarded with England call-ups, while players like Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic seemed to finally be winning over the Chelsea faithful. Plus, despite a lack of results in the big games, Lampard has his team competing for a place in the top four, something that many didn’t believe was possible after his appointment.
Things would soon change
Following a tightly contested loss to Manchester City, a poor defeat at home to West Ham and a narrow win over relegation candidates Aston Villa, it was reported on the 6th of December that Chelsea’s appeal to shorten their transfer ban had been successful, meaning that they could sign players in January. While some welcomed this news, others suggested that maybe Chelsea should have faith in their youth and wait until the summer.
The latter quickly changed their minds after a woeful 3-1 loss at Goodison Park the next day. As the year concluded, Chelsea became inconsistent. A well-earned 2-0 win away at Spurs was sandwiched in between two home losses to Bournemouth and Southampton. Rounding out the year with a 2-1 win away at Arsenal seemed to be a positive way to enter 2020, but the Chelsea fanbase were concerned with a number of things. These concerns were not helped when Kurt Zouma, speaking to French TV outlet Canal + after the Arsenal game, said, “For the big matches, the motivation is already there… for the other matches at home, maybe we are less motivated.”
This rang true after Chelsea started the new year with a 1-1 draw away to Brighton, with the home side equalising late on in the match. This has been something of a trend for Lampard’s side in 2020. Recently, they lost away to Newcastle after a 94th minute winner from Isaac Hayden and, most recently, 10-man Arsenal earned themselves a point after an 87th minute equaliser from Hector Bellerin.
So, where are Chelsea going wrong?
Their main problem is simply that a number of players in their squad just are not good enough. A number of questions have been asked of Kepa Arrizabalaga, with the “shot stopper” looking sloppy in his distribution and unreliable in every other aspect. Chelsea’s number one has only five clean sheets in 24 games, conceding 32 goals in the process – while his staggering price tag may lead to more criticism, the simple fact is that this is nowhere near good enough for a ‘keeper at one of the “Big Six” clubs in England.
Elsewhere, fringe players like Ross Barkley and Pedro have showed no signs as to why they deserve to play for the club, but the man that Chelsea fans will be most frustrated with at the time of writing is Michy Batshuayi. The striker had a golden chance to score the winner for Chelsea in their draw against Arsenal, but the Belgian striker fluffed his lines once again and put his effort wide. After the Belgian’s display against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup, there have been calls for a striker to be brought in to challenge Abraham, with Lampard himself saying that the club have been “too reliant” on the 22-year-old.
This highlights another problem that Chelsea have – they don’t have a creative outlet in the midfield. Lampard has been playing three in the middle, with five midfielders at his disposal. He hasn’t been able to nail down a perfect trio and game time has been shared between the five options. Despite having depth in the position, there isn’t one player from the five who could be considered as an out-and-out ‘number ten’. The closest examples would be in Mason Mount and Ross Barkley, but the latter hasn’t shown enough to warrant a starting spot, while Mount has lost his early season form and has been performing better as a box-to-box midfielder, using his energy and high work rate to win the ball back.
Chelsea already have three midfielders that can do the same thing. Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho and N’golo Kante all sit deeper and prefer to ship the ball further up the field, rather than create something themselves. Jorginho acts as the metronome of the team, setting the tempo and leading out from deep. Kovacic is excellent with the ball at his feet and can take the ball past players with ease but lacks that final ball that could produce a good chance. Kante is a terrier of a player, chasing opposing players down until they give up the ball, while having the stamina to outrun anyone else on the pitch.Despite all of their individual qualities, no one in the Chelsea midfield is capable of producing chances on a regular basis.
While Lampard is doing better in the league than initially expected, things are going south quickly and if the trend doesn’t change soon, a Chelsea legend could see his legacy damaged.