It was another disappointing night for Chelsea as we crashed out of the Carabao Cup following a 5-4 penalty shootout defeat to Tottenham. Going into the match having played on Sunday and with another game shortly on the horizon, Spurs could be forgiven for not taking this one as seriously, as Jose Mourinho had insinuated beforehand. This made Chelsea firm favourites to progress, so the question must be asked, where did it go wrong?
The first half was complete domination by Chelsea, aside from one or two forays forward from Spurs. However, possession doesn’t win you games, as we ended the half just one goal ahead. Over a year into Frank Lampard’s reign, the excuses of the transfer ban are no longer relevant yet the main pressing issues still remain. By now, we’d expect a clear vision, a clear direction in which the team is heading, but it is difficult to see what those two things are right now.
Our start to the season has been slow, and the performance yesterday summed it up, we were flat, sloppy and uninspiring. It is no secret that Frank Lampard is a big admirer of Declan Rice and is desperate to bring him to the club. In yesterday’s game and the Brighton game in particular, and to some extent even the Barnsley game, no matter the personnel, there are always huge gaps in the midfield and it seems so easy to bypass our press. Whether it is Kante, Jorginho or Kovacic in there it’s always the same, suggesting it is more of a structural issue rather than the individuals themselves.
Whilst our overall defensive structure has seen a slight improvement, thanks to the arrival of coach Anthony Barry, the midfield is struggling. Regardless of whether you think Rice is the answer or not, that is another debate in itself, it is obvious we need a midfielder who will solely sit and protect the back four. It still remains to be seen if he becomes our eighth summer addition, however it seems very unlikely.
Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi were left to rue their missed second half opportunities. The former failed to pick out Timo Werner in a great position, and the latter took on a shot when it would have been more beneficial to provide a pass for Tammy Abraham, perhaps showing his desperation to impress. It is becoming very hard to justify why Lampard continues to persist with Mount, the youngster starting yet another game this season. We know he has the talent, but there is a real risk of him being overworked as he already looks fatigued just five games in. Going back to the missed chances, it is an issue we have had for a long time, not just under Lampard, we can never kill the game off or perform for large periods of time.
Another problem is the lack of chance creation, with us only mustering three shots on target. With the millions of pounds spent on improving the attack, this is an area where we shouldn’t be struggling. With arguably two of our most important attacking players, Ziyech and Pulisic, still yet to feature, it can be argued that results may well have been different had these two been on the pitch. That being said, the team we put out last night was more than capable of knocking out a second string Spurs side, meaning questions have to be asked of Lampard, especially in terms of team selection and tactics.
Frank Lampard is not immune from criticism. Criticising him does not mean you want him out. So early on in the season, it seems pointless to swing completely one way or the other but things need to improve quickly because the pressure on him will only increase.
Amidst all the negativity, there are positives to take though. It was a full Chelsea debut for goalkeeper Édouard Mendy, and it was a solid start for him, one he can potentially build on going in to the weekend’s game against Crystal Palace. Timo Werner also got himself onto the scoresheet for the first time with a clinical finish into the bottom right hand corner, a timely boost for the German who will take this confidence into the next game.
With an international break soon approaching, it gives Lampard an opportunity to work with a fully fit squad for the first time and hopefully we will begin to see performances of the high standard we would expect from the quality of players we possess.