The international break has arrived and with it, the opportunity to assess Chelsea’s first stint of games in Frank Lampard’s second season as head manager. Chelsea’s busy transfer window and shortage of sales have enlarged the squad vastly putting several names under pressure for this upcoming season. The new acquisitions are still finding their ground in the Premier League with Lampard struggling to find his strongest eleven. The delayed chemistry of our new marquee signings are another key component in why we haven’t seen much consistency in the last couple of weeks. The real question for us to ponder is how the Blues have faired performance-wise and whether their new attacking players are impacting the pitch. There are notable clues on how Lampard will set out his team in the future based on the squad he’s been putting out allowing us to learn key points from our first set of matches.
- Formation Clarity
The first talking point is the variety of formations that are played throughout matches. Frank Lampard’s versatile approach towards games last season made Chelsea difficult to predict offensively but in the process awarded the opposition ammunition to hurt them defensively. Huge gaps in midfield paved way for teams to hurt us in transition continuously all year underlining Lampard’s lack of experience as manager. To fix this, he implemented several short-term solutions such as reverting to a back three. This season, we have yet to see a back 3, starting all games with a back four indicating that Chelsea will mainly use a four-man defense this campaign.
A total of 6 matches has been played, 4 premier league games and 2 EFL Carabao Cup games with all of them possessing a double pivot midfield excluding the game against Liverpool where Chelsea used a 3 man midfield. Starting formations are not absolute with evidence showing that Lampard likes to tinker his tactics mid-game. The 4-2-3-1 formation does not only bring more cover defensively(midfield) but also licenses Havertz to play in his favored role, a free roaming number 10.
- Unnecessary Depth
Usually, a team will have a set of players set in stone at the beginning of the season but with Chelsea, this is not the case. One of the most glaring predicaments Chelsea has at the moment is their enlarged squad roster. The Blues possess an extraordinary vast 26 man-roster including the forgotten youngster, Nathan Baxter. Lampard would’ve wanted an increase of trimming to his already overwhelmed team and will have to manage this situation with adequate care. One of the benefits of having a strong bench is the ability to backup several positions in case of a spontaneous injury. The downside to this is that it could lead to several disgruntled players over their playing time. Consequently, Chelsea might have to close the door to a diverse set of players in January to stabilize the squad.
Frank Lampard has been asked by the media on how to deal with dissatisfied players over a lack of game time. He replied accordingly quoting that Chelsea requires the necessary depth to function in a busy Champions League season. While possessing an extended squad can be beneficial for many reasons such as being flexible throughout the year, it can also be inefficient for players who need minutes for their young respective careers.
- Chemistry for the future
Being in sync with one another requires time and patience. It also needs consistency to be unified as a team to produce results on and off the pitch. The Blues need a consistent system and selection of players to secure a proper playing style. The Premier League opener match against Brighton is a perfect example of how Frank Lampard’s team is still in its early stages. The Chelsea midfield struggled to control the match and failed to deal with Brighton’s brutal physicality. Additionally, our new attacking players, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner found it difficult to get heavily involved as the match progressed. The linkup play between the two German Internationals is an exciting factor for Chelsea’s long-term success and their few glimpses of chemistry will only grow over time.
In the last game against Crystal Palace, Chelsea was able to use 5 of their new 7 big name signings from the get-go giving us the opportunity to see how well they all play together. Ben Chilwell made an immediate impact on the left-hand side filling an absent void left by Chelsea legend, Ashley Cole. Ben Chilwell’s pace and distribution helped Chelsea be much more potent in attack. The well-anticipated debut of Hakim Ziyech adds another dimension of creativity to our lineup once he returns. It’s crucial to give our new signings more time to gel and get acclimated with one another. Nevertheless, Frank Lampard will have to make sure to get the best out of his new players but will not have it easy as he’s trying to maintain a balance of both youth and experience.
- Improved defensive structure
The repetitive use of the double-pivot midfield is an early sign of what things could be for the future of this young season. N’golo Kanté’s presence in midfield is an integral part of our squad and his partner will dictate how we play against certain teams. Jorginho demonstrated how his effectiveness from deep helps the Blues be more creative against defensive-minded teams. His strong performance against Crystal Palace justifies this claim. Mateo Kovačić is one of the most surprising players that has not been up to form signifying that it could be a while until we see the Croatian back to his best. Once 100% fit, Kovačić brings more fluidity than the Jorginho as his dribbling ability is more suitable against high-pressing teams. The two man midfield works well if both midfielders are disciplined enough to track back on counters so keeping N’golo Kanté fresh and fit will be vital.
Despite losing against Liverpool, Chelsea appeared to be more cohesive between the lines, decreasing the gaps in the middle of the pitch. The improvements in both the goalkeeping and center-back positions increase our defensive ranks even further with the introduction of Thiago Silva and Edouard Mendy. These improvements will also aid Lampard in finding a more steady backline.
- Individual Mistakes
A recurring theme that has passed on from last season is our inexcusable ability to make silly mistakes in key moments of the game. We witnessed this instantaneously against West Brom where two Marcos Alonso blunders cost Chelsea 2 goals early in the first half. A surprising error from the veteran defender, Thiago Silva made matters worse as his mistake led to a goal-scoring opportunity and placed the Blues under immediate pressure. These lapses of concentration is a glaring point of inexperience but also exhibits a lackadaisical demeanor that can not be tolerated when playing in a blue shirt. Kepa’s error against Liverpool highlighted how poor his form has been in the past year and will most likely play second fiddle to new the Chelsea goalkeeper, Édouard Mendy.
Ordinarily, an assessment of Chelsea’s first four games would be too unfair; but the additional firepower Chelsea obtained this past transfer window puts things in a different perspective. Regardless, it is still early days for Chelsea and further insight on the squad will come into the light as Lampard’s Blues play more games. A more solidified lineup will emerge throughout the season and will hope to produce added coordination between players and as fans, we can only hope this proves just.