Chelsea are currently in pole position to qualify for next season’s Champions League but everything is not rosy at Stamford Bridge.
Much like last year, the Blues are sitting fourth in the Premier League as a result of being the least worst team among a large group. Although they are six points clear of Manchester United, the gap had been a lot wider and their recent form has caused some concern.
The Blues have won just four of their past 10 games in the Premier League, losing four and drawing two. Their most recent results, a 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United and 2-2 draw with Arsenal, brought questions from fans over the direction of the club and what they plan on doing to fix it.
Chelsea previously had an excuse of sorts for their problems with a transfer ban over the summer but that has since been reduced and the Blues are able to sign players in January. Yet, with just over a week remaining, Chelsea fans are still waiting on the club to make moves.
But can Chelsea solve all of their problems through the transfer window, or are there deeper things at play that must be fixed by Frank Lampard and co?
Can be fixed with signings
Lack of creativity in midfield
Starting with the ones that could potentially be solved through the transfer market, one thing Chelsea have been missing is creativity from midfield. Now, we’re not talking about wingers, just the usual central midfield trio.
During his playing career, Lampard himself was an excellent creator of goals, adding 102 Premier League assists to his 211 goals for West Ham United, Chelsea and Manchester City. But as a player, he doesn’t have someone like himself.
Of the five players to have feature significantly in central midfield for Chelsea this season, Mason Mount leads the way for chances created with 38 in the Premier League. On its own, that might not sound too bad, but the Englishman averages just 1.81 chances created per 90 minutes, not enough for a player trying to be a big influence in matches.
Mount is followed by N’Golo Kante on 23 chances created (1.61 per 90), Mateo Kovacic on 20 (1.29), Jorginho with 18 (0.95) and Ross Barkley’s 11 (2.08). In terms of frequency, all players have improved from their time under Maurizio Sarri with the exception of Barkley, and obviously Mount, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a problem.
When teams set up to defend against Chelsea and frustrate their attack, the Blues do not have any solutions from deep. No player capable of providing enough defence-splitting passes while also being in sync with the attackers. Jorginho has shown himself capable of this at times, but not enough to truly help Chelsea when defences are tight like Cesc Fabregas was able to.
Kante tries to break through defences in his own way, using his ability to carry the ball forward, and that does work until the Frenchman finds himself in the area. For all his improvements under Sarri and Lampard, Kante still isn’t an attacking player, meaning his forays up the pitch very rarely lead to goals.
It’s in these instances that Chelsea really miss Ruben Loftus-Cheek, with the Englishman arguably the first-choice attacking midfielder for Sarri last season before injury. He is on his way back but Chelsea fans should temper their expectations on him when he does finally return to first-team action.
But until he does return and is back to his best, what can Chelsea do? Getting a player like James Maddison would be a big coup for Lampard, with the Englishman expected to stay with Leicester City if he doesn’t join Manchester United. Maddison, who is 16/1* to join Chelsea in January 2020, has created 55 chances for Leicester in the Premier League this season, averaging 2.66 per 90 minutes, and has also recorded three assists — level with Kovacic among Chelsea’s central midfield options.
No backup for Abraham
Even if Chelsea do solve their midfield creativity problem, they will still need to bolster their squad further up the pitch.
Outside of Tammy Abraham, Chelsea have very little depth in terms of goalscoring threats. The Englishman has 13 goals in the Premier League this season and is the club’s top scorer, eight more than any other forward. Behind Abraham is Christian Pulisic on five but three of those came in one game against Burnley and the American is currently dealing with injury problems. Mount also has five so far.
Willian follows on four with Callum Hudson-Odoi and Michy Batshuayi both bagging one. These stats are the reason Chelsea have started to worry with Abraham limping off the pitch in their 2-2 draw with Arsenal after a collision with the advertising hoardings late on.
Even though Chelsea haven’t been blessed in the striking department for some time, they have always been bailed out by Eden Hazard — with the exception of 2015/16. Last year, the Belgian was Chelsea’s top scorer in the Premier League with 16 goals, but that could have been more with Hazard reaching double figures on Boxing Day 2018.
Hazard was the only Chelsea player to score 10 or more in the Premier League last season with Pedro next best on eight. Strikers Alvaro Morata, Gonzalo Higuain (both five) and Olivier Giroud (two) all combined for fewer goals than Hazard though the latter found his footing in the Europa League.
One solution for Chelsea’s striking problem is Edinson Cavani, who has been linked with a move to the Blues this January. The Uruguayan looks set to leave Paris Saint-Germain this month after making just 14 appearances due to injury problems, allowing Kylian Mbappe and Mauro Icardi to build a good partnership.
Edinson Cavani has scored 20+ goals in each of his last nine full seasons:
🇮🇹 33 goals
🇮🇹 33 goals
🇮🇹 38 goals
🇫🇷 25 goals
🇫🇷 31 goals
🇫🇷 25 goals
🇫🇷 49 goals
🇫🇷 40 goals
🇫🇷 23 goals
Respect El Matador 👊 pic.twitter.com/8jPWcwoQF0
— William Hill (@WilliamHill) January 22, 2020
Another option, if Chelsea wish to make a statement signing is Timo Werner. The RB Leipzig forward has been in devastating form this season, scoring 20 goals in 18 Bundesliga games, and is 13/2 to join Chelsea this month.
Another position, another problem. Due to injuries and departures, Chelsea haven’t really had a settled backline this season, with Lampard testing various centre-back pairings across the campaign as well as using different full-backs.
The past two games have seen Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger partner up, due to their ability on the ball, but the pair haven’t been the greatest at defending. Christensen looks as though he still hasn’t recovered his confidence after to costly mistakes in Antonio Conte’s final season at Chelsea against Barcelona and Manchester United, while Rudiger himself is prone to errors.
Chelsea’s weaknesses were exposed both against Newcastle and Arsenal. Firstly against Newcastle, Rudiger was beaten far too easily in the air by Isaac Hayden for the midfielder’s late winner and he then watched Hector Bellerin’s equaliser glide past him within reaching distance in the draw with Arsenal.
No goalkeeper has conceded more goals from outside of the box in the Premier League this season than Kepa Arrizabalaga (6).
Beaten from distance again. pic.twitter.com/l8f6wBXeR9
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 21, 2020
But it isn’t just the defenders, there’s a big problem with Kepa Arrizabalaga too. The world’s most expensive goalkeeper hasn’t been living up to his price tag for Chelsea, unable to contest with the likes of Alisson and Ederson for their game-changing saves.
The Spaniard has conceded six goals from outside the area this season, the joint-most in the Premier League, but also has a poor save percentage of just 55.56%. Of goalkeepers to have played at least five games, only Angus Gunn (54.55%) has been worse at saving shots in the Premier League this season.
Chelsea can’t realistically replace Arrizabalaga, given his price tag, but they can bolster their defence. Nathan Ake is the name most frequently linked with Chelsea, as the Blues have a specific buy-back clause in the Dutchman’s contract which runs out in January. Ake is 3/1 to return to Chelsea this month.
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Cannot be fixed with signings
Generosity late in games
Unfortunately for Chelsea, not all problems can be solved by spending money in the transfer market.
One of those is Chelsea’s tendency to allow opponents to score in the final 15 minutes of games. Bellerin’s equaliser in 87th minute at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night was the 11th Chelsea have conceded in the final 15 minutes of a Premier League game this season.
No team has been more generous to opponents late on, with the Blues joined by Aston Villa and Everton — the latter of whom only reached 11 thanks to two injury-time goals conceded against Newcastle.
Comparing this to Chelsea’s fellow clubs in the top four, Liverpool have conceded six times in the final 15 minutes, Manchester City eight and Leicester four.
Given the high-pressing nature of Chelsea’s game, it’s easy to see why the Blues conceded so much late on, when players have run themselves into the ground. But this is something Lampard can combat with more direction and better use of his substitutions, while also rotating his players a little more. Chelsea have played 34 games across all competitions this season and four outfield players have featured in at least 30 — Mount, Abraham, Jorginho and Kovacic.
Lack of fight after going behind
Another big problem for Chelsea this season has been their responses to going behind in Premier League matches — largely being that they don’t respond.
Chelsea have been behind a total of nine times this season and have only come back to win three points in their 2-1 win over Arsenal at the end of December. That game saw them jump up the rankings slightly having previously been joint-bottom with Norwich City on zero, but it’s still something to worry about.
Only Norwich, Watford, West Ham, Bournemouth and Everton have won fewer points from losing positions than Chelsea in the Premier League this season — four of whom occupy the bottom four places in the table.
If Chelsea are to keep their spot in the top four, they need to be more like Leicester (11), Liverpool and Manchester City (10) who all refuse to give up when going behind. Again, this is a mentality Lampard will need to instil on his team, turning them into one that never says never.
That feeling should come easily to Lampard, who was part of the Chelsea side that had to fight back so many times en route to winning the Champions League in 2012, but whether he can pass it on remains to be seen.