Football Features

Frank Lampard must remedy ‘considerable flaw’ to stop Chelsea’s season unravelling

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 12:14, 21 February 2020

It’s the middle of February and Chelsea have won just one Premier League game in 2020.

Alright they’ve also picked up two wins in the FA Cup against lower league Nottingham Forest and Hull City, but in the top division a 3-0 win over Burnley is their only victory across the six league games they’ve so far played this year.

That is poor, and although they ended 2019 with an impressive comeback victory over Arsenal, it’s not like they closed out the year with a string of wins either. In fact, Chelsea haven’t won consecutive games since the start of November.

Roy Keane said earlier this week that Frank Lampard‘s Honeymoon period is over, and when you look at Chelsea’s performances this season it’s hard to argue with that.

They began it in rocky form, but then they won six league games in a row between losing 2-1 to Liverpool in September and suffering that same scoreline against Man City in November. During that autumnal timeframe, the Blues also picked up a huge away win in the Champions League, beating Ajax in Amsterdam.

Since then, however, they’ve been far less consistent. In fact they’ve won just four out of 13 league games since Man City ended their winning run. Worse still is that just three of those games have been draws, leaving them with a whopping six defeats.

Only the staggering incompetence of Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have kept Chelsea as the prime candidate for a top-four position. In any other season they’d be mid-table by now, but as things stand, they cling to a slender advantage. The Blues are just one point ahead of Spurs, two ahead of Sheffield United and three ahead of the Red Devils, who completed a league double over them with a 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge on Monday.

Victory for United earlier this week means that two of their six wins over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this century have come this season. The Blues haven’t lost both league games against United since 1988, yet they have done so this season by an aggregate scoreline of 6-0.

After each game Lampard said that the result didn’t reflect the tone of the match. Well if not, what exactly is Chelsea‘s problem then? Obviously the primary one, as exemplified by the United games, is scoring goals (or not scoring goals as it were).

It’s not that Chelsea can’t score, their haul of 43 is the joint-fourth best in the Premier League, but the problem is that they don’t score enough for the style of play they employ. Under Lampard, Chelsea are a proactive side, always looking to dominate the ball. They have played 8,085 passes in their opponent’s half this season, a total only Liverpool and Man City have bettered.

The thing is, when you play that open you have to be ruthless in terms of scoring goals to put opponents away. Liverpool have scored 61 goals this season and Manchester City have put 65 away, so Chelsea‘s haul of 43 (the same as Spurs and only five ahead of Man Utd‘s 38) isn’t as impressive as it first seems.

Tammy Abraham has 13 league goals this season, an impressive total given his age. But, in the last two-and-a-half months he’s only scored three times, and when Abraham doesn’t score, Chelsea don’t really have anyone else that can. After Abraham, the next highest scorers in the league are Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic on five apiece.

Abraham’s importance, therefore, cannot be understated. In the 11 games he has scored across all competitions, Chelsea have won 10. Only against Sheffield United where they threw away a two goal lead — handed to them by Abraham no less — did they fail to record a victory. When he’s firing, so are Chelsea, but it cuts the other way as well because the Blues have won just five games this season without Abraham scoring (when he’s played).

That kind of reliance on a young striker is always tricky because if he goes through a dry(ish) spell, then the entire side will struggle. And that’s exactly what has happened to Abraham and Chelsea for the past couple of months.

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However, more worryingly, that’s not the only major problem at Chelsea. It is the main one, of course, and Lampard has even highlighted that in previous interviews. Their inability to create consistent goal pressure with the style of play they adopt – dominating the midfield – is a considerable flaw at the moment, but equally as troubling, is their goalkeeping.

Against Manchester United, they conceded three shots on target and two of them went in. The final one, right at the death, was a one-v-one that, had Odion Ighalo trained more than a couple days with his team-mates, would probably have been a goal too.

Chelsea’s dominance with the ball means that they have only faced 230 shots this season, only Man City have faced fewer. Of those 230 only 80 have been on target — with only Liverpool bettering that particular metric with 71.

So, Chelsea are amongst the top two in terms of shots faced and shots on target faced. They don’t let opponents get too many chances at goal. But, then you look at goals conceded, where Chelsea’s 36 leaves them 10th. Tenth. They’ve conceded more goals than Arsenal and Crystal Palace, for goodness sake! The Blues‘ save percentage is a league-worst 56.1% – and the second lowest belongs to Southampton who lost one game 9-0.

It’s even got to the stage where Kepa Arrizabalaga has been dropped for Willy Caballero. Predictably things haven’t improved much because the Argentine is very much past his best. But, Lampard has had to try something because the world’s most expensive goalkeeper is looking decidedly ordinary, especially when compared to the world’s second-most expensive goalkeeper, Alisson, who has kept 10 clean sheets in the league this season despite only playing 18 games.

Basically, Chelsea can’t put goals in at one end and can’t keep them out at the other. Only coaching can really help improve their goalkeeping situation but that they went through all of January without adding a striker, despite Lampard‘s obvious distaste for Olivier Giroud, as well as Michy Batshuayi only being good in 20-minute spells off the bench is genuinely baffling.

Newcastle vs Chelsea

And things will only get worse. Thanks to their profligacy the Blues have struggled to impose themselves at home. Their upcoming fixtures at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League appears a murderers’ row on paper. They face Spurs, Manchester City and Wolves at home, not to mentioned relegation-threatened Watford and Norwich, who will be scrapping for their lives. Plus they still have to make daunting trips to Bramall Lane and fortress Anfield.

Through their transfer inactivity Chelsea have made their own bed and now they have to lie in it. What looked like being a dream debut season for new manager Lampard, is now slowly transforming into a brutal nightmare.

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