Frank Lampard’s Chelsea are very good and very likeable.
Sure, his side being likeable isn’t much of a surprise. Lampard is an affable chap who speaks very well about his teams, while under his and Jody Morris’ watchful guidance, they play an attractive and proactive style of football.
Moreover, the club’s transfer ban over the summer has forced them to play the many, many young talents which have been a part of their ‘loan army’ for the last few years – and who doesn’t love the kids getting a chance?
But good? Precious few thought they’d be good. The Blues lost the titanic Eden Hazard in the summer without replacing him, they had no decent left-back, their midfield seemed wholly reliant on the brilliance of N’Golo Kante, and who on earth was going to score the goals up-front?
However, Lampard and Morris have had a solution for all the above issues. The loss of Hazard has been offset by a number of their wingers raising their collective games, particularly the one new addition: Christian Pulisic (signed before the ban came into effect). In attack we’ve seen Tammy Abraham take the Premier League by storm, and he has been aided wonderfully by Mason Mount.
Then in midfield it seems as though Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic have – deployed in a less rigid system of play – been able to reveal the talent that was there all along. Left-back is still an issue but Lampard is getting more out of Emerson Palmieri than anyone thought possible.
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And so, Chelsea look like a proper, well-rounded team. They’re fourth in the Premier League having scored more goals than all but Manchester City, Liverpool and Leicester City.
They’ve had numerous ‘Big Six’ clashes already and whilst they’ve lost them all, it’s notable that, not once have they been played off the park; the closest they came to that was the 4-0 beatdown at Old Trafford on the opening day of the season, but even that was something of a counter-attacking masterclass from Manchester United as Chelsea dominated the actual flow of the game.
They’ve played Liverpool twice and Man City once and were equals on the pitch. They’ve had two battles with Man Utd which they were unfortunate to lose. And in Europe they’ve played last season’s Champions League semi-finalists Ajax twice, winning once and drawing the other.
At this point, Chelsea’s ability cannot really be questioned, but how about their ‘bouncebackability’?
After the defeat against Man City, Lampard stated: “Now our test is can [we] bounce back from a defeat when we are used to winning because that is another challenge for us all.”
Sure enough, Chelsea have performed well above expectation this season, but the one thing we’ve rarely seen is an immediate reaction to a defeat. The Blues have lost six games across all competitions this season, with four of those coming in pairs.
Their loss to Man Utd was followed by a defeat to Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup. And then their defeat to Valencia in the Champions League came just before another loss to Liverpool, this time in the Premier League.
Their one case of ‘bouncebackability’ has so far come after losing in the Carabao Cup to Man Utd last month, and one suspects that that was down to their next opponents being the hapless Watford. Having a gimme made it all the easier for the Blues to get back to winning ways.
Now, after losing to Man City, their next game is anything but a gimme.
Chelsea will travel to Valencia this week, looking to avenge the loss earlier this season, but also stake a claim for qualification to the round of 16. Group H is incredibly tight, with Lille the only club seemingly out of the running. The French side have just one point, whilst Chelsea, Ajax and Valencia all have seven.
The Dutch side play Lille next so you’d expect them to move onto 10 points, which means that Chelsea’s game has huge significance for both sides. Whoever wins will be in a fantastic position to secure qualification on matchday six.
But can Chelsea get that win? Can they show instant ‘bouncebackability’ in what will be a very tricky tie?
After all, Valencia are a formidable home side. Despite their struggles this season, with the waning days of Marcelino’s reign, only one side have won at Mestalla, and that’s Europe’s immaculate road-warriors Ajax.
Lampard will have to call on the quality of his young talents as well as their fearless nature; but he will also need his experienced players, like Kante, Cesar Azpilicueta and Jorginho to stand tall. Kovacic has twice been all the way in the Champions League, and although he was a sub with Real Madrid, Lampard will be hoping he picked up something from all those big European nights.
Everyone has become enamoured with Lampard’s Chelsea, and rightly so. The building blocks for an elite side are right there, plus the fact that they are so much fun to watch. But at this stage of their development they are yet to demonstrate that they have the ‘bouncebackability’ all great sides must possess.
If they can show that in Valencia in midweek then it will go a long way towards establishing a bright and sunlit future for this wonderful, young side.