F365’s early loser: Frank Lampard’s flimsy Chelsea

Date published: Saturday 7th December 2019 3:29

I won’t profess to know anything about how a Premier League manager scouts an opponent. My experience is limited to an assistant sending me an e-mail on the eve of the match, informing me that this team plays on the counter-attack with fast strikers. I drag my ‘defensive line’ marker to ‘deep’, nod sagely, rename myself Arrigo Sacchi and reload the game after suffering a 5-0 defeat.

Frank Lampard has more money and means at his disposal to watch a rival, to identify their strengths and weaknesses, to consider ways of nullifying or exploiting them, and to devise an overall tactical plan. You would not have known it on Saturday lunchtime’s offering.

Your mind is not playing tricks on you: Everton have scored that goal before. The breakdown of play on the left of midfield, the instant lay-off by Dominic Calvert-Lewin, the overlapping run and inch-perfect delivery from Djibril Sidibe on the right and the final touch from Richarlison in the centre. It was an almost exact carbon copy of their strike against Leicester last week, and eerily similar to their winner against Southampton last month.

It was one of three moves Marco Silva must have constantly presided over in training, along with taking corners without defenders, getting players to practice their best VAR-lamenting faces and pointing and laughing at Oumar Niasse.

Yet Chelsea had no response. They stood on the shore in shorts and no T-shirt and were left wondering how they got drenched.

Each of Everton’s goals were preventable. Andreas Christensen was left marking three players for the first; Kurt Zouma compounded a woeful clearance with a pathetic attempt at a tackle for the second; Kepa passed to Theo Walcott under no pressure and Cesar Azpilicueta happily stumbled to his front-row seat for the third.

It is no coincidence that those four players have started in Chelsea’s three worst defensive performances of the season. Emerson Palmieri was the unfortunate fifth wheel against Manchester United on the opening day, while Reece James will be perhaps harshly tarred with the same brush as he was away at Valencia last month.

Lampard knew the risk. He rested Fikayo Tomori and Jorginho with an eye on Tuesday’s home game against Lille. He subsequently watched his defence capitulate and his midfield struggle to find a foothold.

And he will know that every Chelsea performance between now and February will be viewed through the prism of the January transfer window. If Jadon Sancho, Wilfried Zaha, Moussa Dembele and a back-up to Tammy Abraham really do top his Christmas wishlist, Lampard is due a lump of coal for such wilful naivety. And it would probably do a better job at centre-half.

His admission that Chelsea “didn’t deal with physical contact well enough” does at least suggest some introspection. His decision to make just two substitutions, the earliest of which came in the 71st minute, instead suggests he was happy with the largely sterile possession that he witnessed. Otherwise, why identify an issue but not seek to rectify it?

Therein lies another issue: Norwich are the only other side yet to gain a single point from a losing position in the Premier League this season. That can only be a consequence of poor in-game management.

It is the first true difficult run of his reign, a run of one win in five games and one clean sheet in ten. And the argument of a novice learning on the job hardly washes with Duncan Ferguson naming a midfield of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Morgan Schneiderlin in the opposite dugout and Everton playing exactly as they were expected to. Chelsea – Lampard – wilted.

Matt Stead


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