Here we are once again. What was predicted by many to be a routine win for Chelsea given the massive recruitment drive ends in an eventful 3-3 draw. For many fans, this feels like a defeat as the team seemingly managed to draw disappointment from the jaws of a well deserved victory. Once again the team was cost by individual errors and were made to pay dearly as Danny Ings, Che Adams and Jannik Vestergaard were sharp in front of goal for the visitors. Following every disappointing result comes an inquiry and Chelsea fans have made their respective feelings very clear on Twitter. Personally, this result immediately brought to my mind a very strong and interesting question: Have Frank Lampard and his team learned from previous defensive mistakes? Join me as I attempt to come up with a response.
Chelsea under Frank Lampard have arguably been one of the most exciting teams to watch in the Premier League for the last 18 months. With a youth revolution and fearless attacking football and pressing the team barely offers a dull moment, with often relentless goal mouth action. However, this is goal mouth action is not restricted to only that of our opponents, but ours too. Chelsea under Frank Lampard in the premier league conceded a club record 54 goals a last season and have conceded 9 goals already this term, totaling 63 goals in 43 games, which comes to an average of 1.5 goals conceded per game. The once feared Chelsea defence is now leaking goals for fun and opposition strikers lick their lips at the prospect of getting a couple of goals.
The Chelsea defence has become a sort of a merry go round, with several partnerships being used by Frank Lampard due to a host of inconsistencies. Defensive selections and set ups could have a good run of games but then have a completely incoherent performance, forcing the hand of the manager and his staff to make changes. This rotation roulette looked to have come to its end against Crystal Palace where we saw arguably the most astute defensive performance of this Chelsea team, with Edouard Mendy in goal, Thiago Silva alongside Kurt Zouma at the heart of the defence, 50 million pound summer signing Ben Chilwell at left back and club captain Cesar Azpilicueta at right back. Not only did this defensive line prove effective by keeping the opposition attack at bay, but it also gave us some attacking output, with Ben Chilwell getting a goal and Kurt Zouma heading home from a Ben Chilwell cross. Unfortunately, the international break struck, leaving sizable holes to fill in goal and at centre back with Edouard Mendy injured in Senegal training and Thiago Silva missing through fatigue. Kepa Arizzabalaga and Andreas Christensen were recalled by Lampard into the starting XI, and the Chelsea defence certainly did not hit the heights of the previous game.
The first goal conceded came from a turn over high up the pitch. As Kai Havertz attempted to evade a couple of challenges to set off a counter attack, he lost possession and immediately a simple threaded pass caught out the backtracking Chelsea defence and presented Danny Ings the simple task of rounding the out of favor Kepa Arrizabalaga before slotting the ball into the empty net. Kai should have released the ball quicker, but the defence certainly could have done better with better anticipation and tracking of attacking runs. Christensen could have picked up the run of Danny Ings and gotten a bit tighter to him, however similar to some of his displays last season , most notably West Ham away, he switches off and fails to go with his man. Many insist that the Dane needs to play alongside a vocal leader to get the best out of him, however there will be many occasions where he would have to stand up for himself and his constant lapses in concentration suggest he may not be up to such a task.
Arguably the most comical of the three, the second goal featured a horribly short back pass by Kurt Zouma and a half hearted attempt by Kepa Arizzabalaga to win the resulting 50-50 between himself and Saint’s striker Che Adams. Although the Spaniard combined with Andreas Christensen to initially keep the ball out, Che Adams got his goal as he unleashed a thunderous attempt into the roof of the net from a chaotic rebound. For Kurt Zouma this was an uncharacteristic error given he has been very solid recently and been able to nail down a starting spot in the Chelsea defence.
With the French defender normally very good on the ball, that disastrous back pass came as a huge surprise and one can only hope this was simply a bad day at the office for him and not a sign of things to come. However, with Kepa we are once again seeing the effect of extremely low confidence on a goal keeper. He barely comes off his line with confidence and was caught in no man’s land after his failed attempt to win the ball ahead of the on rushing Che Adams. Kepa is at an extremely difficult point in his career and will only continue to make mistakes as his confidence gets lower and lower. He needs nothing short of a miracle to save his Chelsea career and can only hope he gets a few more outings to prove himself to a potential suitor.
Jannick Vestergaard’s last minute equalizer placed a greater emphasis on the general game management of the team. Being a goal up with few minutes to go the team were unable to keep hold of the ball as they continued to struggle with the Southampton press that tormented them throughout the half and gave away very useless fouls as a result. The team lacked the ability and composure to simply play it safe and keep the visitors far from goal and Lampard’s decision to bring on Tammy Abraham instead of Olivier Giroud who would’ve offered an outlet through the long ball with his world class hold up play, really did not help the situation.
Individual defensive errors can certainly be rooted out of a defenders game and given how young Chelsea’s current centre backs are (bar Thiago Silva and Antonio Rüdiger) there is some space and time to do this. The calming influence of the 36 year old Thiago Silva should also see an improvements in these young centre backs as there will be a lot to learn from training and playing alongside O Monstro. Kepa Arizzabalaga simply needs to be taken out of the firing line sooner rather than later as his confidence in his ability has dipped even more, making him prone to even more errors. Finally with Lampard, his decisions in terms of game management this season have not been the best, but there is a very strong argument that with more time on the training ground and with new assistant Anthony Barry significant improvements can be made to the teams situational defending. And also to his relief, he still has two key players in the form of his first choice goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and Thiago Silva to return and almost certainly solidify the defence through their commanding personalities and experience. We have every right to be concerned, but based on these factors I think there should be enough to significantly up Chelsea’s defensive game.