Two losses to start the season, a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of a direct rival in the Premier League and penalty heartbreak in the Super Cup (well maybe heartburn – it is just the Super Cup). And yet a bizarre feeling of optimism ahead of a tough fixture against Leicester City in the Premier League on Sunday.
Here are six reasons to be cheerful…
1) The defence is not quite so porous as we thought
Kurt Zouma is not a complete waste of space. The French international (yes, full international, which bizarrely puts him ahead of the uncapped Aymeric Laporte) centre-back produced a tackle worthy of a Sunday league mud-trap to bring down Marcus Rashford on Sunday. Previously part of the 40-plus-strong Chelsea loanee WhatsApp group, he has been given a chance by Frank Lampard – partly due to Antonio Rudiger’s injury – to prove his worth to Chelsea. He didn’t do that on Sunday, but he did in the Super Cup. Slow and ponderous? Make that strong and commanding.
Along with Andreas Christensen, they held their own against the most-feared attack in world football. With Rudiger set to return, Chelsea have three solid, experienced centre-backs and Derby player of the year Fikayo Tomori on their books. The deadline-day loss of David Luiz to Arsenal does not look quite so ridiculous as it did on Sunday evening.
2) Mourinho is wrong about Mason Mount
Frank Lampard backed midfielder Mason Mount after his favourite person in the world (presumably) Jose Mourinho criticised the youngster after his performance against Manchester United on Sunday. “You look to the performance of Mason Mount, the performance of Tammy Abraham and for matches of this dimension you need a little bit more,” Mourinho said in the Sky Sports studio on Sunday.
This Mason Mount is going to be a superstar.. blimey he’s good
— Adam Brooks (@EssexPR) August 14, 2019
Mason Mount is very good at football – there’s no question about it. Can he develop his game to become the fulcrum of Chelsea’s midfield under Frank Lampard? Perhaps, but it’s going to take some time. Time that may see him out of the team and on the bench if results don’t come quickly. But just like legendary club status can carry you as a manager, being ‘one of our own’ can do the same for Mount, so long as his manager holds his nerve and preserves his place in the team.
Mourinho is absolutely right about Abraham by the way…
3) This midfield could be deliciously fluid
Seb described Chelsea’s midfield as passive in his 16 Conclusions and that was certainly the case for a short period after half-time in the Super Cup. But apart from that short burst where the introduction of Roberto Firmino seemed to completely baffle the midfield, defence and Lampard on the bench, the midfield trio looked good. N’Golo Kanté was everywhere; the World Cup winner was back to his very best, breaking up play and then breaking forward. Jorginho played two or three delicious passes and looks more of a leader than in his debut season. Even the much-maligned Mateo Kovacic looked like a proper box-to-box midfielder – picking the ball up off the back four and driving forward to create space for others.
They were fluid. There was none of the Sarri-ball midfield rigidity we saw last season. On Wednesday night, Kanté was the deepest-lying midfielder in defence and Jorginho was the deepest-lying midfielder when attacking, which makes perfect sense. It may take time for Chelsea to pull off the trick for a full 90 (or 120) minutes but the potential is certainly there.
4) Christian Pulisic is a decent fraction of a Hazard
Christian Pulisic isn’t quite Eden Hazard, and nor should we expect that. But as Seb said in his 16 Conclusions on the Super Cup, he was Hazard-like on more than one occasion. His assist for Olivier Giroud’s goal was pinpoint; there was a ball’s width of gap between the central defenders that he managed to find. His disallowed goal was even more diminutive-big-arsed-Belgian-like. First touch, close control, cutting inside and the pulled shot into the bottom corner.
Pulisic is about two-thirds of a Hazard and Chelsea fans should take that all day.
5) Chelsea are in safe hands with Kepa
Kepa Arrizabalaga produced one of the best double saves you are ever likely to see. Deflected shot from inside the box, one-handed diving save, get up and parry A Virgil Van Dijk pile-driver onto bar then post. “That’s as good as a goal,” says every pundit in the world ever.
That is incredible, Kepa Arrizabalaga! 🤯
The Chelsea keeper pulls off two brilliant saves 👏 pic.twitter.com/1xdQ1B3aaz
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) August 14, 2019
He is the most expensive goalkeeper in history, and yet his first season at Chelsea will be largely remembered for his refusal to be substituted in the League Cup final. Whisper it, but Kepa was the best Spanish goalkeeper in the Premier League last season. A shot-stopper with an excellent first touch and great distribution, he was initially dodgy in the air but is getting better all the time. Just as £75million seems like a snip for Van Dijk these days, you can almost hear the pundits saying the same about Kepa Arrizabalaga in six months’ time.
6) Suuuuper…super Frank
Hugely outnumbered by Liverpool fans who love Istanbul for some reason, the Chelsea fans went unheard for much of the game on Wednesday night. A couple of “Chelsea! Chelsea! Chelseeeaaas…” and a bit of celery, but cutting through it all was “Suuuuper, super Frank”. The goodwill towards the Chelsea legend has been spoken of a great deal in pre-season but it’s often hard to tell just how Chelsea fans are going to react to adversity.
Two losses in and the goodwill was there in force from the blue corner of the stadium, though he won’t get goodwill for goodwill’s sake forever. But regardless of whether Lampard proves to be a long-term success, there is unity in the stands thanks to the man on the touchline. That might be worth a goal or two on Sunday, at least.