“You know, the best players, myself included, they play to their strengths so as to not expose their weaknesses. They control the ball, the ball doesn’t control them.”
Glen Foy to Santiago Munez in ‘Goal! The Dream Begins‘(2005)
It seems only yesterday that question marks surrounding Frank Lampard and this star-studded yet inexplosive Chelsea side were looming at large. After a stellar defensive display against a well-drilled Sevilla side, there are mixed feelings among Chelsea fans when the pros are weighed against the cons. Should they be content with the progress made by the defence including the goalkeeper? Maybe.
There is no shame in facing the fact that Chelsea didn’t really trouble Sevilla’s defence, even with an attack as formidable as Chelsea’s, it is perhaps a testament to how good Sevilla are and were last night. That is something Chelsea have to get used to, sooner rather than later. Though they weren’t particularly bad, there’ll be times when the opposition are better, and while this side is still in its embryonic stage, early signs need to be positive in terms of both both results and performances to warrant Lampard’s stay for long.
It may seem harsh, unjustified and bizarre so much is being made of Chelsea this early into the season; especially when it’s considered that the 19-20 season was a successful one for Chelsea with all that had happened off-the-pitch and with Chelsea losing the irreplaceable Eden Hazard to Real Madrid. There is no hiding behind the fact that Chelsea have addressed issues in all areas of the pitch and on paper, they have the strength-in-depth to go compete in all competitions. With Petr Cech coming into the mix as well, Chelsea aren’t short of leaders who can remind the youngsters of what it means to put on the shirt, the expectations from the supporters and the management on a daily basis. One can either succumb to the pressure or thrive off it. It is personally heart-breaking to see Kepa Arrizabalaga’s name mentioned every now and then on social media, with fans blasting him in an all-negative way. But that’s the harsh reality of football. If you let your guard down, it can happen in a flash; you can switch from being an asset to a liability.
We keep getting mixed signals from the Chelsea setup. There have been an increasing number of standout individual performances lately; Kai Havertz against Barnsley, Ben Chilwell against Crystal Palace, Timo Werner against Southampton etc. But have we seen enough collectively from the squad to place our money on Chelsea realistically pushing for the Premiership? Has Frank Lampard gotten the best out of the available pack yet? They don’t need an introduction, but is Frank guilty of playing established international players out of position on one occasion too many? The road will be uneven, that is inevitable, but you can take control of things or limit yourself merely to damage-control.
Chelsea need to go into every game and impose their personality on the game. On paper, bar Liverpool, Chelsea should ideally be the most feared side in England. That’s how ruthless they’ve been in the transfer market. It is understandable that with key players such as Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech just coming back from injury, Chelsea are yet to completely find their feet but time isn’t on Lampard’s side. They have to start winning consistently. It is only human if you have little to show for all the hard work you’ve put in behind the scenes. But that’s where GREAT teams stand out. A great team has individuals who will take responsibility and make their teammates rub off them so that they get results even when the team’s collective showing is far from their best. This will often be the case this season, with the schedule jam-packed, there’s little time to rest for the players and with increased competition for places, the level of individual performances is bound to be on the up. Can the same be said for collective performances? Let’s not go that far, eh?
Maybe we’re reading too much into it. Things are bound to go wrong when the games are coming thick and fast and with no pre-season essentially, fatigue will catch up soon. That is one platform on which Chelsea hold an upper hand on most of the teams in the league: STRENGTH-IN-DEPTH. They’ve got a strong bench to choose from and players can come in and out to avoid the risk of injury. But the lack of preparation going into the season cannot buy empathy from fans or the board, that is on the same level as the fact that when it storms or rains, it falls on all of us the same. But the character and motivation in a dressing room can only truly be judged in such times of adversity. The manager has to set the bar for this squad for the sky the limit for them. Not many of us appreciate hype-ups, but this Chelsea squad have the potential to be one of the best sides in Premier League history if they can tweak things up a bit.
Before the game comes the mental tussle, which can be make or break for the opposition. The great Manchester United and Liverpool sides had an aura about them, particularly at home, where teams lost half the battle walking alongside them in the tunnel. Chelsea don’t come off as scary in general. Though they have a cluster of individual world-class talent in almost every position, teams come to Stamford Bridge and set up believing they can get a result, which has been the case with Manchester United since Sir Alex Ferguson left. Stamford Bridge, and fans would disagree, maybe rightly so, is no longer the fortress it used to be during the times of Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard(as a player, of course). Would it matter so much now that fans aren’t allowed in stadiums in any capacity? Should it affect the players’ heads whether they’re playing home or away when there’s no crowd? Perhaps not…?
It can very well happen that Chelsea suddenly pick up form and storm to the title and have a decent run in the Champions League and perhaps pick up a cup on the way. With the ‘Top Six’ having strange onsets to the season, you can’t rule out Everton or Aston Villa from having a go either; that’s something Leicester City’s fairytale has taught us. Whether Frank Lampard will be the manager come the beginning of next season will purely be decided on merit. The ‘legend’ card can’t be played for long at a club like Chelsea, where you need ‘more positives’ than ‘less negatives’ to stick around. The defence are still a concern and should Thiago Silva pick up an injury along the way, it’d be as clear as day that opposition attacks will try and isolate the center-halves by running at them. Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen have received stick for showing poor judgement on a few occasions this season but playing alongside the decorated and assured Thiago Silva will do wonders for their confidence.
It’s all to play for at Stamford Bridge and who knows if Lampard can lead this young squad to Judgement Day? Remains to be seen