After Thursday’s general election results I would normally write something about it, but most everyone who reads this blog knows my opinion of Boris Johnson and of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, so I won’t waste your or my time rehashing old pieces. And I promise not to write anything about The Rise of Skywalker until I’ve seen it, so we’re going to focus on the other staple of this blog, Chelsea. Despite a more than positive start to the season for Frank Lampard and Chelsea they have suffered a dip in form recently and have lost 4 of their last 5 league games. They have qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League, but their league form needs to improve to maintain their challenge for a top 4 finish.
The thing is that if you’d said to most Chelsea fans at the start of the season that by Christmas that the team would be 4th in the table, 6 points behind Manchester City and qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League, they would had taken that very happily. Most observers were claiming that Chelsea would be nowhere this season, that Champions League qualification was a distant dream, they’d be doing well to qualify for the Europa League. Instead, Frank and the young lads have proven they can compete in the Premier League. The problem is that the younger players now dominate the line-up, and that is no bad thing. It freshens up the team and injects new energy. The downside is that there is now a lack of experience, game management and leadership.
In the last few Premier League games especially, Chelsea have looked more and more ineffective in attack. They are increasingly reliant on Tammy Abraham to score the goals, just as they became reliant on Eden Hazard to be a creative force for them last season. The two wider forwards need to chip in with a number of goals each as well. Willian’s performance levels have certainly risen since Lampard’s return to Stamford Bridge but scoring regularly has never been a strength. Christian Pulisic has started to get going in a Chelsea shirt, but is also not a regular goal scorer. Michy Batshuayi has provided decent backup for Abraham when called upon, either as a substitute or when Lampard rotates his line-up. But I’m just not convinced by him, still. Giroud has barely had a look-in and seems set to leave in January, with clubs in Spain and Italy seemingly keen to take him on. If he leaves, he has been an extremely valuable member of the Chelsea squad and should leave with our heartfelt thanks.
The biggest issue though is the defence, and it has been since the beginning of the season. There has been no-one taking command of the central areas in particular. Antonio Rudiger has been missing for much of the season and his return will help, but over the recent run of games, the whole backline has looked increasingly suspect. Left back has also been a concern to me ever since Chelsea switched to a back four last season, under Maurizio Sarri. My issue is that while Marcos Alonso is a very good left wing back, he is useless as a traditional left back. He is too often out of position in a defensive phase of play having overcommitted in the attacking phase.
That was finally thrown out for all the world to see in the 4-4 draw against Ajax at Stamford Bridge last month. Far too often Alonso was caught out of position and Ajax were able to exploit the weakness. He was substituted at half time and I don’t think anyone in the ground was surprised. Frank and his team need to work with the defence to make sure that the communication and awareness is improved, to cut out the mistakes that are starting to cost Chelsea dear. Chelsea don’t have bad defenders. But they are doing bad defending.
The good news came earlier in the month with the news that the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) had reduced Chelsea’s transfer ban to one window. Having served that ban in the summer, Chelsea are now free to buy and register players in January. But, just because Chelsea can now sign players doesn’t mean they should. Lampard has talked of bringing a new forward player to try and replace the goals Chelsea lost when Eden Hazard left for Madrid and that would be welcomed.
If Chelsea could actually finish more of the chances they create, people wouldn’t be worrying some much about the defensive frailties. Liverpool and Manchester City have both been far more prone to conceding goals this season but their respective attacking options are so effective they still win games easily. Chelsea simply do not convert their chances at the moment. Add that to the defensive shakiness and Lampard may have trouble on his hands.
This is not a case of simply buying a slew of players to solve the issues. This is a case of strengthening and augmenting what is already there. The young players have proved over the first half of the season that they deserve to be playing for Chelsea. But Frank now needs to show the leadership as a manager that he so often displayed as a player to get Chelsea through this period. His honeymoon as manager is over. The hard work begins now.