The grueling International break has given us the moment to analyze Chelsea’s current form and their first 8 Premier League matches this season. Frank Lampard was given a strong backing this past summer after last year’s transfer ban. Unfortunately, many of those new signings had to wait and as consequence, Chelsea had to get results with glaring weaknesses in their lineup. One of these weaknesses was the goalkeeping position. Out of all the window shopping, the keeper was their last focus in the transfer market but it was their most important one. The Blues had to start their first three opening games without Édouard Mendy as the deal was still in a stage of vital negotiations. They suffered the delayed outcome in the second fixture against the reigning PL champions, Liverpool after conceding two goals from two mistakes. One from the Danish defender, Andreas Christensen and another from goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga.
The introduction of Thiago Silva and Édouard Mendy were immense as it gave Chelsea the necessary solidity defensively. The match against Crystal Palace illustrated how different Lampard’s side looked with their new signings. Ben Chilwell was a huge catalyst against Crystal Palace as he instantly slotted into the left-back position helping Chelsea improve in both ends. 4 games later, the mighty Blues from the Bridge have gone unbeaten in their last 6 fixtures and are 3 points shy of 1st place. With two months into the young season, it is time to break down how well Chelsea have improved from last season and analyze their performances thus far.
The Opening Patch
Opening weekend came in a blur, as Lampard was able to weather a Brighton storm with resiliency and fortitude. Graham Potter’s side came at us with intensity and purpose troubling Chelsea all throughout the match. Lampard laid out his team in a 4-2-3-1 formation with N’golo Kanté and Jorginho in a pivot midfield and Loftus-Cheek ahead of them as a roaming 10. The newly acquired, Kai Havertz played out wide on the right with fellow compatriot Timo Werner in a lone striker role. The home side was predominantly the better team possession-wise as they created the most chances out of the two teams. Nevertheless, Chelsea were clinical in their limited chances and scored 3 past Mathew Ryan. Werner was Chelsea’s best player by a mile wreaking havoc all over Brighton’s backline and drawing a penalty for their first goal. The promising English midfielder, Ruben Loftus-Cheek had a night to forget losing 10 duels (most in the match and losing all of his dribbles (0/3 completed. Former Blue, Tariq Lamptey haunted Marcos Alonso all night and gave the Spanish fullback trouble down our flanks. Despite the struggle to control the match, Chelsea were able to win the game 3-1 thanks to goals from Reece James and Kurt Zouma.
A week later, Chelsea hosted the defending Premier League champions, Liverpool at the Bridge and failed to notch a shot on target in the first 45 minutes. Their inevitable doom came early as a horrendous mistake from Andreas Christensen shortened their team to 10 men right before half time. As a result, this pinned back Chelsea even further and allowed Liverpool to run amok in the second half. The draw against West Brom at the Hawthorn’s was a hit of reality for Frank Lampard as he once again realized the obvious flaws in his team. Two blunders from Marcos Alonso and a surprising error from Thiago Silva gave West Brom a 3-0 lead in 30 minutes capping off Frank Lampard’s worst start of his Chelsea career. Nonetheless, Lampard’s young team fought back from 3-0 down and were able to scrap a point thanks to a Tammy Abraham equalizer in stoppage time. The change of formation needs to be credited as it was one of the reasons why Chelsea were able to get a draw in the first place. Lampard switched a more fluid 4-3-3 to help break down West Brom’s back five. Mount and Havertz occupied the half spaces and played as attacking 8s to help create linkup opportunities with the front line.
The second run of games
After Chelsea returned from their first International break, they hosted the Saints at the Bridge. Chelsea were able to go up 2-0 with ease after Werner was able to bag a brace in the first 30 minutes. A clumsy mistake by Kai Havertz in our own half paved way for a quick Southampton counter as Danny Ings was able to get a goal back in the midst of half time. In the 57th minute, Che Adams capitalized on a set of mistakes from our backline giving Southampton the equalizer. The celebrations were brief after Kai Havertz made amends from his mistakes and linked up well with Timo Werner on a counter to immediately regain the lead 2 minutes later. This game personified Chelsea’s weaknesses; one being the set of mistakes from our relatively young side and second, the inability to hold off pressure from the oppositions press. Kepa’s poor clearance was another factor in Che Adams goal and once again reminded fans why Chelsea bought a new keeper in the summer window.
Lampard immediately took note of the defensive frailties that has been plaguing his team and went for a more pragmatic approach against Manchester United. Chelsea sacrificed their wingbacks mobility and looked unconvincing on the ball, prioritizing their defensive shape over taking risks in the offensive end. Édouard Mendy came up with big saves late in the game as Thiago Silva was able to hold off Edinson Cavani’s cameo in the last 20 minutes. The 4-0 win against Krasnodar in the Champions League laid the groundwork for the new and rejuvenated 4-3-3. This formation was once again utilized to easily dismantle a poor Burnley team 3 days later. The 3-man midfield continued to pay dividends against Sheffield United scoring 4 goals past a well-drilled Chris Wilder side. Moreover, Chelsea were able maintain their composure despite conceding in the opening 10 minutes. Hakim Ziyech’s impressive distribution helped Chelsea find gaps behind the Sheffield backline with the runs of Ben Chilwell and Timo Werner.
What did we learn?
One of the main standings points we are able to gather from the first 8 Premier League games is that Chelsea is far from the finished article. From starting different formations to acclimating our new acquisitions in the team, Chelsea is still far from complete. What we can rightfully assume is that going forward, Lampard will ideally seek to use the 4-3-3 as his main formation to get the best out his attacking talent. The first few games should not reflect the future as it only demonstrates the necessary means to improve. The supposed ‘struggle” from our talented German pair, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner didn’t exactly resonate well with analysts as they gave unfair criticism in the beginning of the season. Timo Werner found his feet a couple a weeks later while Havertz scored his first hat trick against Barnsley in the EFL Cup.
The age factor of Thiago Silva did not bear fruit for those who criticized the acquisition of the veteran defender. Silva has been our most important centre-back alongside Frenchman, Kurt Zouma who has vastly improved our backline. The Édouard Mendy effect did not only enhance our defensive structure but also recorded an impressive feat in securing consecutive clean sheets since Petr Čech in 2004. The 4-3-3 revelation is a huge one. It reiterates the fact that Chelsea will need to offload players in the January to gain funds for a DM. Thanks to the 4-3-3, N’golo Kanté’s role has become clear; to sit in front of the backline and disrupt the opponent in transition. Therefore, any injury that could come to the French midfielder could hinder our progress and fluidity in midfield. Kante’s holding role behind Havertz and Mount has licensed them both to bomb forward and join up with the attack. If Kanté is taken out of the equation, then there isn’t really a backup option to fill up that void. Jorginho’s limited defensive attributes make Chelsea vulnerable and Lampard will have to accommodate that by using a pivot or a more athletic midfielder. Recalling Ampadu could be another solution if Chelsea fail to get a backup DM in January.
In summary, it is still early days. The International break has come at a most delicate time in terms of safety and precaution. Any imminent injury can severely impact our recent progression. It’s important for Chelsea to guarantee the well being of Silva, Mendy, Chilwell and Kanté as they are the key players to how we play. Nevertheless, its safe to say that the early signs of success look promising as the path to consistency for Frank Lampard look well on track.