Updated: Mar 11
It’s been a rough start for Frank Lampard and Chelsea - two league games and only a solitary point earned. And in those 180 minutes, only one goal scored compared to five conceded. Throw in a semi-competitive UEFA Super Cup with two goals over the 120 minutes eventually losing via penalties and you've got an underwhelming first week at Stamford Bridge.
Right now, Chelsea don't look like a top four team and the draw against Leicester epitomizes the problems facing the team in what could be a demoralizing year.
Chelsea drew at home to Leicester 1-1 at the weekend in Lampard’s return to Stamford Bridge and after the game, many pointed to tiredness as part of the reason the Blues faded in the second half. Certainly playing extra time a few days prior all the way in Istanbul against Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup didn’t help. But it’s only the third game of the campaign.
This early in the season, players should still be pretty fresh, especially since most had the summer off. Of Chelsea’s XI against Leicester, only one played a summer tournament - Christian Pulisic with the US in the Gold Cup. Surely a two month summer break was sufficient time for a majority of the squad to rest up.
Plus, if exhaustion is already the reason for Chelsea to drop points in the Premier League, they might as well just lose in the League Cup next month and crash out of the FA Cup come the first weekend in January.
No sense in putting more on the plate in an already uphill battle to finish top four. Based on the two league games so far, Chelsea don't look likely to qualify for Europe again.
The Champions League group stage draw for this season hasn't even taken place, yet it looks like a nightmarish challenge, especially if fatigue is already a concern. Chelsea played the Super Cup Wednesday evening and then faced Leicester Sunday evening. That is the exact same amount of rest they’ll have when competing in the UCL later this fall.
If the team is too tired to win eight days into the season, how will they fare following weeks and months of playing every three days?
In fairness, I’m not discounting the travel and 120 minutes of energy exertion in Turkey. It is difficult and I do understand that. However, that excuse falls flat on its face because fatigue was not the main issue in Chelsea's draw with the Foxes. Instead, Lampard’s inexperience as a manager held the team back.
Lampard sent his team out to press high and hard continuously to open the game. The Blues practically confined Leicester’s keeper Kasper Schmeichel to the six yard box when receiving back passes from teammates under pressure.
Initially, it worked resoundingly well as Mason Mount pressured Wilfred Ndidi, won the ball just outside the penalty box, and subsequently scored in the opening minutes. However, Chelsea didn't relent from this strategy. If Chelsea did tire out, which was glaringly obvious from watching the second half, it means the manager didn't account for possible fatigue coming into the match.
Therefore, Lampard employed a flawed game plan. The players may have been fatigued entering the game, but the manager exacerbated the problem and set them up to fail come the second half. That lack of forward thinking screams inexperience.
Not only did the young manager cause the team to burn the candle at both ends, he once again came out second best in terms of halftime changes. In the opening week of the Premier League, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United shut down Chelsea’s side in the last 45 and took advantage of defensive mistakes and frailties.
This past weekend, Leicester manager Brendan Rogers also bested Lampard with regards to adjustments at the break. Leicester’s midfield, especially James Maddison and at times Ayoze Perez, took advantage of Chelsea’s pressing. The two midfielders found space over and over between the lines.
Lighting quick striker Jamie Vardy also wreaked havoc by stretching the defense, timing his runs well whether the ball was coming from midfielders between the lines or over the top. He caused confusion for the defense, not knowing whether to step up with the press or run with the striker.
These issues don’t come down to fatigue. These mistakes were tactical. And these came from a manager who didn’t prepare well for the game, coach his team well in training, or during halftime.
Lampard got out-managed for a second consecutive league game and Chelsea drew the game because of his inexperience and a lack of quality in the team, not tiredness.
Now, the best way to solve the problems facing Chelsea is simply making more mistakes and learning from them. But that’s a tough pill to swallow for supporters, enduring a year of errors committed by a young manager and a team of young players. A necessary one, but
Chelsea don’t resemble and haven’t played like a top four team after getting dismantled by one last week and drawing level with a mid table team this week. Of course though, it’s only two games and a lot can change in the next nine months. But it seems more of a dream than a possibility at this point.
If the west London club have hopes of competing in Europe again next season, it may be best to finish third in their Champions League group this season, drop into the Europa League, and win that for a second year running.
Or, they could even just finish last and play once a week in the Premier League and attempt to finish fourth. That would take care of the tiredness problem and excuse. On the other hand, it would take away games to gain desperately needed experience. Quite the conundrum.
Either way, Chelsea need to improve and do it quickly as the midweek games starting soon will eliminate rest time and training time. It’s going to be a long year at Stamford Bridge and it’s only beginning.
Giving the Champions League and top four a real shot seem like a pipe dream. Lampard, the players, the board, and the fans unfortunately just have to take their lumps and see the season out one match at a time.