As Chelsea round out the remaining portion of the season, let’s take an in-depth look at what Chelsea can do to improve and maximize their performance based on what they currently have. Various injuries have riddled our side and put Lampard in a conundrum over the lineup. His main scorer, Tammy Abraham has been struggling with an ankle injury keeping him out of the lineup and squad. Chelsea had huge questions marks coming into the season with Eden Hazard leaving and being dealt with a transfer ban. The young and hungry youth academy fans were finally given a chance to see their favorites break through to the first team as no new players were coming in from the window. The only deal Chelsea were able to make was permanently purchasing Mateo Kovačić in a five year contract. The likes of Reece James, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham have been huge focal points for Chelsea this season, and the young core could be Chelsea’s spine for the next couple of years. Despite being in the top four, Chelsea have been inconsistent, especially defensively conceding goal after goal. They have 1.4 goals conceded per match, yet create the most attacking opportunities behind CIty and Liverpool (with 50 key chances missed). This is no doubt a transition period, but questions still arise for Lampard as the team continue to look shaky defensively. Is it a lack of composure or a lack of defensive quality? It’s a bit both.
Can we be better defensively?
The answer is yes – to an extent. First let’s explain several issues. The gaps in midfield is a major one to talk about, and is largely due to Chelsea’s unorganized press. Another is midfielders failing to come back on defense. This happens to every team, especially on the counter, but usually a holding midfielder will clean up- but we don’t have that. Why? Well, we’re trying to be an offensive team with many players pushed forward. Before N’golo Kanté’s injury he was often pushed up the field along with the front line to make darting runs behind the defensive line. This is fine, but the press has to be organized when they want to recover the ball in the opposition half. Sarri often tried to flood players forward and use Kante’s energy to press higher, working often, but not so much this year. Our weaknesses in midfield stem from certain formations, as certain ones allow the opposition to cut easily through our defense. Bayern Munich was the latest example of how offensively quality teams capitalize on bad defense. Formations have been varied this season in comparison to the last where we only used the 4-3-3, & 4-5-1 off the ball. Lampard has primarily stuck to a 4-2-3-1 formation, while often switching to a 4-3-3 and 3-4-3 depending on the opposition.
Chelsea have only kept six clean sheets all season and Kepa Arrizabalaga has been the scapegoat recently, and his spot being usurped by the 38-year old Argentine keeper, Willy Caballero. Kepa has recently made his return against Liverpool in the FA Cup 5th Round and looked strong between the sticks. He will have to continue to impress as there are several rumors circulating that Chelsea may possibly replace the young spanish keeper. N’golo Kanté has been riddled with injuries all season and hasn’t looked his best at times, but his presence is missed. All the heavy lifting has fallen upon Jorginho who plays the deep-lying playmaker, but is let down by his pace in counter attacks. Maurizio Sarri figured out that for N’golo Kanté to perform better defensively, he needed to stay alongside Jorginho, especially off the ball, and often kept his wingers aligned with the midfield. While Lampard has suffered a ton of injuries, that doesn’t completely excuse the defensive woes that Chelsea have produced. Earlier on, The double pivot midfield of Mateo Kovačic and Jorginho worked wonders for Chelsea, dominating midfield and controlling the tempo. But ever since the international break back in late November, Chelsea have not looked the same. Teams have tried to suck in Jorginho and Kovačić and create gaps behind them. What can Lampard do better? Well for one, he can try to better organize the pressing, as they often look scrambled when they lose possession.
The centre back positions are still a puzzle for Lampard, as many defenders have been poor throughout the season. Tomori and Zouma had a great partnership, but Rüdigers return from injury has disrupted that linkup and chemistry. Rüdiger’s strong vocal presence might be fooling people into thinking that he’s a great defender, but if you look carefully, every game Rüdiger has been caught out of position several times and has been at fault for a lot of goals. He’s displayed good attributes at times, but overall his game is far from complete. This doesn’t completely put all fault on him, but the lack of organization in the midfield has often exposed the centre backs to sticky situations- one of the reasons why Chelsea look poor. On the bright side, Reece James has displayed strong performances defensively as right back, and has cemented his spot as the first choice. The left back remains a dilemma that needs to be addressed this summer, but Alonso’s recent surge in form has put him ahead of Emerson, especially if we’re using a back three. Individual mistakes have negatively cost Chelsea plenty of times, and sometimes you can’t do much if you don’t have the necessary personnel, but in this case the defensive calibur that Chelsea lack is significant. A sound and composed centre-back and a left-back who can play better defense than what we have at the moment should be looked at this upcoming summer.
Can we better offensively?
There’s not much Frank Lampard can do to improve offensively but there are a couple things to note. One is that Chelsea love to cross. What does this mean? Well if we love to cross then players have to try to get on the end of them. Earlier on when Tammy Abraham was in the side, he was the only one making runs in the box. And if that’s the case then it will be hard to score goals. Tammy will easily be outnumbered by the opposing centre backs, so Chelsea wingers need to make runs into the box along with some midfielders. The fact that Giroud wasn’t playing despite being one of the best at heading in the game, was surprising and worrying. Reece James is a huge weapon for Chelsea averaging 2.1 crosses in the past 15 games, but his teammates have let him down by not finishing these chances he creates. It’s clear that the offensive quality is lacking and will need a major revamp this summer. Chelsea have to make sure they move on from the likes of Willian, Batshuayi and Pedro in order to take a step forward. Pedro and Willian are at a point where their age doesn’t allow them to be as dynamic and sharp as they once were. Their achievements and work rate have been top notch throughout these last few years, and we should salute them for it, but their performances have been inconsistent. If Chelsea wish to be a juggernaut in the Premier League once again they will have to improve in this area.
What to look forward to next year
With transitions comes setbacks and struggles, and right now we’re witnessing it. It’s good to see our current flaws so we can address and improve them. This ultimately falls on the board and manager to make sure that the team can progress into a better one. Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have both done it with their respective clubs, as they saw what they needed to upgrade and they got the backing from their higher-ups. Frank Lampard has already voiced his opinion on the squad and reiterated in January he wanted new players to help the squad- but no acquisitions came. Lampard was visibly frustrated and even admitted to it in the press conference. Manchester United, Tottenham, Sheffield United and Arsenal were all able to bolster their ranks with key players, and have been better since. Chelsea are getting hampered with fresh injuries each week, but have had several unexpected players step up in the meantime.
Several players have already been linked to Chelsea for this upcoming transfer window, as well as expected exits from current Chelsea players. This is a massive window for the Blues, because if they want to catch Manchester City and Liverpool, they have to prioritize development and advancement. Several rumors have speculated that Lampard has about 150 million to spend, along with several profits still to be made from expected exists. This will allow Chelsea to spend with a good wallet and improve their squad, but being cautious in how they go about their business. If our current flaws are addressed (left-back, striker, centre-back) then we could possibly see a much more powerful Chelsea next campaign. Possible targets include the likes of Jadon Sancho (who is also rumored to Man U), Alex Telles, Timo Werner, Dayot Upamecano, Jeremie Boga and Driens Mertens. If Marina Granovskaia and company manage to acquire any of these targets then the team will take a huge step forward. We have a good core to build around already in Reece James, Mateo Kovačić, Pulisic, Hudson-Odoi, Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount, but knowing that these youngsters are still growing needs to bed taken into account. Having the right balance is important for a top club. They need to have a well structured managerial staff, a strong squad filled with quality and depth, and having the trust from the board while also having the identity in the process.
A small step has already been taken for next season which is a good sign. Chelsea and Ajax reached an agreement for Hakim Ziyech for a fee of €40 million (potentially increasing to a maximum of €44 million, with variable factors). Ziyech is a tremendous talent that will most definitely help the team offensively. His skillful left foot will add an extra layer of creativity to this current squad. €44 million is a straight up bargain for Chelsea. Transfers such as Bakayoko, who costed more, seem like a huge stretch compared to this transfer, but Marina Granovskaia has to be applauded for getting the deal done.
Many downs have befallen the Blues this season, but it was to be expected. But some fans still haven’t grasped the current situation of where the club is at. Chelsea are in a transition period and this means setbacks and struggles. All top level clubs go through this in order to get better. It’s up to the manager and board to realize the issues and fix them via the transfer window and what happens on the pitch. There isn’t much he can do, but he can definitely tweak a couple things in midfield to be better defensively. Ultimately it all comes down to the players on the pitch. The manager and the fans will just have to hope that their side can be sharp in front of goal and in their own half for the remainder of the season.