The dust has begun to settle on a turbulent afternoon at The Hawthorns, in which Chelsea salvaged a point via a stoppage time Tammy Abraham equaliser. Pardon the cliche, but it was certainly a game of two halves. In just the fourth minute, Callum Robinson composed himself on the edge of the box after a misplaced Marcos Alonso header to slot past Willy Caballero, who kept his place after the game v Barnsley. Robinson, who scored against Chelsea at the Bridge last season for Sheffield United, doubled his tally and West Brom’s lead on the 25th minute after a Thiago Silva slip led to a one-on-one opportunity. It went from bad to worse for The Blues just two minutes later – Kyle Bartley ghosting into the box unmarked to convert past Caballero with a side footed effort. Chelsea appeared shell shocked and unable to formulate a response in the first half; Timo Werner coming close with a first time effort hitting the bar. Frank Lampard looked understandably livid at the display, and made two changes at half time with Callum Hudson-Odoi and Cesar Azpilicueta, taking the captains armband from Thiago Silva, replacing Matteo Kovacic and Marcos Alonso.
It took the Blues ten minutes in the second half to finally hit back – Mason Mount scoring his first goal of the season – a swerving shot from 25 yards which wrong footed Sam Johnstone. The momentum appeared to be in Chelsea’s favour – Hudson-Odoi causing carnage on the right wing with his pace and dribbling, and the home side unable to retain possession and cause any issues for Chelsea’s defence. Hudson-Odoi then combined smartly with Kai Havertz in the 70th minute to finish past Johnstone and close the deficit to just one goal. West Brom will be gutted to concede in the 92nd minute and split the points with Chelsea – Tammy Abraham converting after Johnstone could only parry a Mason Mount drive. However, in the wider picture, this will surely feel like two points dropped for Chelsea rather than one point gained. Despite missing several first team players from the starting XI, Chelsea fans expected nothing less than three points against a newly promoted side. In the same vein as drawing and losing to Sheffield United last season, this sadly feels like “new year, same old Chelsea”. Lampard gave a cautious response to the game which echoed this sentiment – “I have mixed emotions … I was happy to see the team fight until the last minute but I have to go back to the beginning and not be happy with the fact we’ve conceded three goals … there’s an element where it’s going to be a settle down process because we haven’t had much time to work and bed down new players”. In short, we should be pleased with the character and spirit of the comeback, also considering the absence of a few first team players, but the disappointment of “two points dropped” remains sore, after one of the worst first half displays in memory. This article will discuss three talking points from gameweek three in which West Brom and Chelsea both scored three.
1. Callum Hudson-Odoi deserves more minutes
One of the biggest talking points so far this season, amongst Chelsea supporters and rival fans and pundits, has been Callum Hudson-Odoi’s involvement. CHO played in 33 games in all competitions last season, including 22 in the Premier League, scoring three goals and assisting six. However, Callum’s campaign was marred with inconsistency, playing just 81 minutes post lockdown. After constant speculation linking the 19 year old with a move to Bayern Munich, he signed a five year deal with Chelsea last September, worth £120k a week. This season will be huge for Callum. Chelsea fans were disappointed to see CHO’s involvement in the opener v Brighton limited to just ten minutes – Lampard opting for Havertz and Mount out wide instead, with Ziyech and Pulisic unavailable. He was an unused substitute v Liverpool, and played 90 minutes in the 6-0 thrashing v Barnsley, registering a 7.3 rating according to SofaScore. However, CHO truly shone in the second half v West Brom, completely changing the game, and being central to the comeback. Lampard was clearly pleased: “Callum gave us everything I wanted. He gets his goal from giving us something different and that’s what he needs to do because that’s the impact he can have for us”.
In the 45 minutes v West Brom, CHO managed 50 touches – five of which were in the box. 28 of his passes came in the final third, including 5 in the box. Callum also completed two key passes, and a 100% dribble completion rate, as well as a well taken goal to claw Chelsea back into the game. With many fans airing confusion and frustration at the decision to play conventional midfielders like Mount and Havertz out wide, CHO has an opportunity to establish himself as an important winger in the squad before Pulisic and Ziyech’s return to fitness, especially considering the former’s injury record. CHO is a versatile option – playing 15 times off the left and 15 from the right last season, and I’m sure Chelsea fans will be eager to see the teenager involved more often hereafter – especially after the explosive impact he displayed at The Hawthorns.
2. It’s not all Kepa’s fault
After a week in which Willy Caballero started the Carabao Cup game v Barnsley, and new signing Edouard Mendy was finally announced after weeks of speculation and negotiation, it was unclear who would start between the sticks at The Hawthorns. Caballero made nine saves v Barnsley, the most of any Chelsea keeper since 2014/15, and retained his place. However, as Chelsea conceded three goals in 23 minutes, familiar scapegoat Kepa, watching from the subs bench, could not be blamed. The first goal originated from a stray Marcos Alonso header gifted into the path of Mattheus Perreira in a defensive transition.
The second goal resulted solely from a Gerrard-like slip from Thiago Silva. The third goal saw multiple Chelsea defenders switch off, including Alonso, as Bartley was allowed acres of space in the box. Lampard placed emphasis on the recurrence of “individual mistakes” – “clear mistakes so you can do as many meetings as you want, if you make those mistakes you give yourselves a mountain to climb.” However, Kepa, often vilified as the culprit for so many of these errors, cannot be blamed. Instead, Lampard must face the reality that Edouard Mendy may not provide an immediate fix, and the defensive issues goes further than the GK position. The left-back role is a problem position that quickly needs solving after a “disasterclass” from Alonso – with Ben Chilwell working his way back to fitness after 24 minutes against Barnsley. The centre-back pairing needs time to gel and settle, with fans, and seemingly Lampard too, unsure of the strongest duo at this current time. Until these issues are properly addressed, the “same old Chelsea” shouts will continue to be made, regardless of whether or not Kepa is involved.
3. Patience is a virtue
Whilst everyone associated with the club will be undoubtedly disappointed by leaving The Hawthorns with one point instead of three, perspective is key. The calendar of the Premier League has been altered in a way which has never been done before – with many managers, including Lampard, stressing the majority of players remain in “pre-season mode” regarding fitness. It was only on the 8th August that Chelsea officially concluded the 2019/20 season with the 4-1 defeat at Bayern Munich. The new signings that started v West Brom – Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Thiago Silva will need time to gel and acclimatize to a more physically demanding league, especially in circumstances where more games are concentrated into a shorter amount of time. Furthermore, four first team players were missing from the starting XI.
Edouard Mendy was not ready in time to make his debut, but will likely usurp Kepa and Caballero as first choice keeper for the 2020/21 season. Ben Chilwell will provide a much needed fresh option at left back after Alonso’s woeful performance. Hakim Ziyech will likely start on the right when he reaches full fitness, picking up a knock in the only pre-season match v Brighton. Christian Pulisic, arguably Chelsea’s best player post lockdown, will also come back into the starting XI when fully fit, seeking to add pace and runs in behind to Chelsea’s attack, combining with new boys Havertz and Werner. This is not to say the result v West Brom was not a sour disappointment. However, with a combination of all players lacking fitness, and important team members unavailable for selection, it is important to remember Lampard’s tenure is a work in progress so far; and the spirit and character shown in the second half is a promising sign.