Football Features

‘A massive concern for Lampard’ – Five things we learned from Chelsea’s narrow victory at Reading

By Ollie Thomas

Published: 17:44, 28 July 2019

A thrilling pre-season encounter ended in a Chelsea victory as the Blues edged Reading 4-3 at the Madejski Stadium.

Reading took the lead early on after a wonderful lob from Josh Barrett before strikes from Ross Barkley and Kenedy gave Chelsea the lead at half-time.

A quickfire double from Mason Mount was enough to secure the victory for Chelsea, sandwiched between goals from Michael Morrison and Sam Baldock.

But what did we learn from this pre-season classic?

Bakayoko’s time is surely up

In the first half, Chelsea were below par. Despite the XI that played winning the half 2-1, Reading were arguably the better team. The Blues gave the ball away far too often: none more so than Tiemoue Bakayoko.

There had been some talk that Bakayoko may have a future at the Bridge following their transfer ban. However, following his display today, that seems unlikely. The Frenchman gave the ball away far too cheaply on a number of occasions, frequently looking off the pace.

It was his ill-timed press that opened up the space for Reading to score the opening goal of the game, a mistake which he failed to rectify during his 45 minutes on the pitch. At times, it appeared as though Danny Drinkwater was playing by himself in the middle (Drinkwater impressed).

Chelsea may lack physicality in midfield at times, but Bakayoko is not the answer considering his performance today. It would be a shock if he was included in Lampard’s first-team plans next season.

A selection headache for Lampard

It appears Lampard’s old habits may be rubbing off on some of his players.

Playing just off the striker, Ross Barkley was excellent in the first half, capping off a fine display with a perfectly executed free-kick to level the scores. He was by far Chelsea’s most lively player for the opening 45 minutes and looked to be the Ross Barkley that many expected him to become during his early Everton days.

Playing slightly deeper, Mason Mount’s brace ultimately won the game for the Blues. Both goals were Lampard-esque: the first being a powerful finish into the corner before Batshuayi put it on a plate for him following a mistake from Reading’s ‘keeper.

It is likely that the pair will be competing for the same spot next campaign: who Lampard picks remains to be seen. Both impressed, both scored and both will certainly think they’ve done enough to get the nod.

The diamond shines

Chelsea may have drawn the second half 2-2, but the improvement from the first to the second half was notable.

Chelsea began the game in a 4-2-3-1, with Bakayoko and Drinkwater holding. The pair struggled to get a chokehold on the game: Reading looked extremely dangerous, frequently breaking forward quickly and getting on the front foot. Ball retention was poor and there was an evident lack of options: Kenedy and Pulisic frequently went missing, particularly in the opening 20 minutes.

After the break, however, the likes of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic began to control the game. Chelsea looked far more comfortable and also a lot more dynamic. The passing was quicker and more fluid, as the full-backs effectively provided the width to an otherwise narrow formation.

We mentioned the diamond as an option for Lampard when we analysed what midfields he could use next season and, judging by today, it is certainly a possibility. Granted, the 4-2-3-1 was made up predominantly of fringe players who are unlikely to feature much (if at all) next season, but the Blues looked far more comfortable having Abraham and Batshuayi up front together.

Whether Lampard is willing to take the risk of the diamond against stronger opposition is a different matter.

Chelsea must improve defensively

Whilst it was certainly an entertaining game for the neutral, Chelsea’s defending will be a massive concern for Lampard and co.

They were opened up multiple times in the first half with a back four of Zappacosta, Christensen, Tomori and Alonso as Reading also hit the woodwork as well as scoring their first goal. Azpilicueta, Luiz, Zouma and Emerson played the second 45 minutes and didn’t do too much better.

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As the scoreline suggests, Reading had a lot of joy going forward, particularly from set-pieces: their second goal resulting from horrific marking from a corner, a common theme of the first half. The Royals are not the most physical side in the world, but the manner in which they bullied Chelsea from set-pieces was frightening.

Of course, chopping and changing the back four as much as managers do in pre-season means the continuity that is necessary to keep it tight does not exist. Lampard will know that, but will also be aware that conceding three goals to a mid-table Championship side is simply not acceptable.

Lampard’s work is far from complete

Chelsea fans may have been forgiven for getting carried away following their victory over Barcelona last week. However, this friendly was something of a grounding.

The ‘boring Sarri-ball’ style that Chelsea played last season has certainly not disappeared under their new boss yet: particularly in the first half, there was a lot of lateral passing as they seemed more concerned with keeping the ball than making serious inroads.

They may have scored four goals, but this somewhat masks an underwhelming performance at times. Besides, one goal was a moment of magic from Barkley and one was an absolute gift from Reading.

The second half was definitely an improvement on the first and we must, of course, remember that they were not at full strength, but it was clear that Chelsea are a team in transition. Defensively shakey at times, a somewhat disorganised press and a lack of understanding between new faces, the Blues must give Lampard time to implement his vision.