Frank Lampard blamed the players for the Arsenal defeat and claimed misfortune scuppered Chelsea against Villa. But what about your tactics, Frank? Here are five things we reckon Lampard has got wrong this season.
Frank Lampard says Chelsea’s slump in form following the injury to Hakim Ziyech is “not a coincidence”. No kidding.
Chelsea haven’t lost a Premier League game in which the Moroccan has played and they’ve won four of the five games he’s started. Since he limped off against Leeds on December 5, they’ve picked up just four points from a possible 15.
“We were very fluid until he got injured. We want him back,” Lampard added, after bemoaning a lack of quality in the draw with Aston Villa: a frequent gripe of last season remedied by Ziyech, with – as yet – next to no help from a £70million playmaker and a £48million striker.
The ‘time to adapt’ argument is incredibly irritating. Fans, pundits and the media grant managers this discussion-ending get-out clause whenever a new player fails to hit the ground running. Instead of asking pertinent questions about what is being done to help or hinder, managers are able to wash their hands of the situation, offering no more than Premier League buzzwords like ‘physicality’ and ‘pace’ as reasoning for new multi-million pound signings being a bit shit.
If Lampard is not to blame for Kai Havertz and Timo Werner’s struggles to adapt to the Premier League (he must be, partially), he is also undeserving of praise for Ziyech’s contribution thus far (again, he must be, partially).
But culpability aside, the reliance Chelsea now have on one man is an issue that has developed over one short pre-season. For all their foibles, Chelsea were very much a team last season; it was a solid enough foundation that’s now cracking under the overbearing weight of the flopping newcomers and the absence of the counter-balancing, flourishing star.
You might ask: where would Chelsea have been without Eden Hazard? Where would Manchester United be without Bruno Fernandes? An over-reliance on one player won’t necessarily come back to bite you on the arse, but an attacking plan built solely around one man is not healthy; individual brilliance over team ethos will never reflect well on a manager.
Lampard finally dropped Timo Werner on Monday. The German has started 15 of Chelsea’s 16 Premier League games this season and he’s been played out of position on the left wing in 12.
Signing Werner to play wide wasn’t necessarily a bad idea: he’s quick; his movement’s good; it means a Big Man can be played centrally for him to link with and play off. But for a very talented young player to look so uncomfortable and for Lampard to do nothing for so long has been painful to watch.
Lampard may claim Werner’s wing inclusion was due to a lack of options – Christian Pulisic and Ziyech have both been side-lined. But £70million-rated Callum Hudson-Odoi must have been sitting on the bench wondering just how obviously others have to fail for him to be given a genuine opportunity. He’s sat and watched Werner cede possession, mis-control the ball, run into opposition players and miss chances.
Lampard said he was impressed by Hudson-Odoi’s performance against Villa, but urged him to go one-on-one more often as “that’s the level of top wingers in the Premier League”, At least he is a winger, Frank.
I feel for Werner. In the three games in which he’s started down the middle he’s claimed two assists and two goals – both absolute corkers against Southampton. But unfortunately, most won’t reserve judgement for when he is actually playing where he should. The criticism he’s getting is unfair; it should instead be directed at his manager.
Why not use Werner as the central striker? Why not play two strikers? Speed and finishing: those are the assets he was bought for. So put him in a position to utilise them. Don’t ask him to dribble from wide and put crosses into the box – he’s very clearly not cut out for that. And Chelsea have got plenty of others who are.
What was billed before the start of the season as one of Europe’s most feared, fluid forward lines looks disjointed and ineffective as a whole. Ploughing on in the hope it will magically come together is very Lampard, but not very good.
And if Werner isn’t good enough to get into the best team then don’t play him. For a manager who supposedly picks his teams on form, Lampard has a remarkable ability to completely ignore his ideals when it comes to Werner.
Playing Jorginho at the base of midfield against Villa made sense. There was method to what many would consider madness. When confidence is low and nerves are jangling – as they would have been after defeat to Arsenal – put your foot on the ball and steady the ship. Kante, for all his brilliance, is not the most calming influence in possession. Jorginho at least tries to be.
The problem isn’t playing Jorginho. The problem isn’t even playing Kante when Jorginho is playing. The problem is playing Kante in a three when Jorginho is playing. Like Werner, Kante looks so uncomfortable out of position: unsure whether to press or not; a second or two behind play; without the vision to truly affect the game in the final third.
Play him in defensive midfield, as a one or a two, or don’t play him at all. It’s a waste of his talent that ends up hindering the team more than it helps.
Centre-backs three, four and five
Thiago Silva is Chelsea’s best centre-back, Kurt Zouma is their second-best centre-back. Despite recent hiccups, their partnership looks strong and their attacking prowess cannot be ignored.
But what has Fikayo Tomori done wrong? The 23-year-old is pushing for a January exit after just 45 minutes of Premier League football this term.
The situation is especially weird as Lampard appeared to have such trust in the academy product he took to Derby and then used for large chunks of last season, only for that trust to seemingly totally disintegrate.
Chelsea picked up an average of 1.9 points per game in games Tomori started last season compared to 1.6 without him. They’re on 1.63 this season. It would be understandable if he had made a hilarious rick or cost the team significantly, but no such occasion springs to mind, certainly not anything above the calamitous displays other Blues defenders have been forgiven for.
Tomori is unlikely to have been writhing on the floor like Andreas Christensen in the lead-up to Aston Villa’s equaliser on Monday, for example. Mainly because he would more than likely have got to the ball first.
Lampard, playing without a Lampard
Most assumed Kai Havertz was bought by Lampard to be the new Lampard at Chelsea: to make late runs into the box and bang in 20 goals a season. That hasn’t looked like happening and won’t until Chelsea are set up in a way which allows a central midfielder to attack the box from the centre of the field.
Chelsea’s method of attack is very odd. When Havertz is playing, he and Mason Mount act almost as auxiliary wingers alongside the supplementary wingers – the full-backs – who overlap the actual wingers. They then have a chasm of nothing between Giroud/Abraham and Kante in the middle of the pitch.
Overloading on the wings is a perfectly reasonable tactic, but it shouldn’t be the only tactic, particularly when there is so often just one target to hit with crosses from those wide areas.
Chelsea’s central midfielders have scored just two Premier League goals between them this season and only one of those has come from inside the box. For a team managed by the greatest midfield goalscorer the league has ever seen, that’s an astonishing tactical oversight.
Will Ford is on Twitter