The dust settled as Bayern Munich showed us what could be achieved with clever recruitment, experienced coaches, world-class players, and a desire to win every game. Losing 7-1 on aggregate, and de-sensitised to conceding 4 goals.
This was the 8th time we had conceded 3 or more last season. Bayern Munich are the best team in the world, with old players nearing the end of their career and young players breaking onto the world scene, not too dissimilar to us. But in Flick, they have an exceptional head coach with 34 years of coaching experience either as a manager or assistant coach and a club culture where only the best will do.
The aim of this article is to critically analyse what could go wrong in this upcoming season. There are 2 ways to view last season, either we did amazingly well because we achieved Champions League football under a transfer ban and with young players, or we were poor because we kept making the same mistakes throughout the season.
There’s truth on both sides of the argument. With young players from the academy mixing with world-class talent bought in, last season’s man to bridge the gap between the academy stars and first-team now has to step up to be the man to bridge the gap between us and Europe’s’ elite.
When looking ahead to this season it is vital to understand that the narrative has changed. As soon as Lampard took over the narrative was set, ‘lost hazard, transfer ban, forced to play the kids’. Due to this narrative, the reality has been manipulated.
66 points is average for this squad, nothing more nothing less. The fact we finished 4th is due to the results of our opponents more than it is our own results. In contrast, 70 points under Conte who’d allegedly thrown in the towel and finished 5th and 72 points under Sarri finishing 3rd having spent £130mil on a ball-playing goalkeeper and midfielder to orchestrate the play.
This season the narrative is different, this is a manager who has been backed as much as Mourinho was when he arrived. Despite the incoming players we still face the real possibility of Kepa, Christensen, Emerson & Jorginho playing so much work is still to be done in the market. 80 points should be a minimum expectation with over £200 million spent on 5 players (not including Sarr). This is no longer, Transfer ban Lampard, this is chequebook, Frank.
- Out of possession
Whether fatigue was a factor, it is difficult to tell but there was often a lack of intensity out of possession; players late when pressing an opponent, not pressing collectively, not tracking runners, and jumping out of position.
To begin the season we embarrassed teams trying to play out from the back, with a mobile attack and high defensive line but as the season progressed we tried to sit back in a midblock and press aggressively around halfway.
However, this was inconsistent as we lack the personnel to stay disciplined in a mid-block. Against Man City, at home, we won 2-1 with Mount, Barkley and Kante who provided a shield for the back 4 forcing man city to play into wide areas which lead to more predictable attacks, especially when City have no height in the box to attack crosses in the air.
Contrast that to our horrific 4-4-2 against Bayern away which became a 4-2-4 with Mount and Barkley running like headless chickens chasing Bayern defenders leaving Kovacic and Kante outnumbered. Kovacic often charges at the opposition centre back when they’re in complete control leaving a gaping hole in our midfield. If he can stay in shape more he could become a very important player this season.
With the new additions to our squad, we will become more reliant on Kante in midfield. If Lampard wants to persist with a 4-1-2-3 with attacking midfielders ahead of a lone sitting midfielder, Kante will be our most important player. *Yes he can play as a lone defensive midfielder so please don’t tweet telling me ‘u don’t know ball’* Ampadu could be a valuable asset as a player who’s strong, combative and a ball winner in midfield or at the back.
If he was named after a side dish and had played in the league last season we’d be bidding £60mil for him. This being said, Kovacic could become a linchpin in our midfield next to Kante providing balance to the team with his combination of excellent dribbling and passing to progress the ball to the excellent attackers, this would be in a 4-2-3-
1. Similar logic can also be applied to our centre backs, often when defending crossing situations the ball side centre back pushes wide leaving space and leaving their fellow defenders isolated in the box.
Another area where we were exposed last season was the positioning of our Full backs high up the pitch. Lampard clearly wants his full-backs to play very high up the pitch in possession. This was a trait of his Derby team as well. Our attackers often take risks in possession which can yield great reward but inevitable there will be lots of transitions to defend.
There were signs last season at this improving with the right-back tucking in narrow when the ball is on the left to help deal with counter-attacks. This is something I expect to see more and could be done with both full-backs which would provide more stability.
Last season we often tried to counter-press high up the field in an attempt to win the ball back quickly on a defensive transition. This is an area where Mount and Willian excelled, with Willian gone more pressure sits on Mount’s young shoulders with defensive responsibility in midfield. We often struggled to counter-press effectively often leading to our defence getting exposed on counter-attacks.
When considering the risk-takers such as Ziyech, Pulisic and Werner set to become regulars I anticipate a lot of turnovers. Ziyech committed numerous tactical fouls in his debut against Brighton in a friendly. This is a very good sign as tactical fouling is something Chelsea need to embrace with open arms next season, particularly in the opposition half.
It only takes a glance at Leipzig’s run in the champions league to realise how easy it can be to nullify teams by repeatedly fouling them. Leipzig committed 21 fouls against Atletico having 57% possession, compared to Atletico committing 17 in 120 minutes against Liverpool despite only having 29% possession.
It is almost impossible to know what goes on at a football club behind the curtain in training sessions, leaving fans often using their own knowledge to jump to conclusions. Here’s my attempt at jumping.
Team selection based on training performance is a nice idea to an onlooker, it implies players will be giving their all and no-one will get a free ride in the team. This transactional style of leadership is easily digestible, players work hard in training and are rewarded with game time in matches. Makes sense… until the best players are run into the ground in training and overused in matches leading to avoidable injuries and the best players missing large portions of the season i.e. Kante. If only we got points for being good trainers. The reality is we pick up needless injuries on a regular basis leading to us dropping points, especially in matches after breaks.
Last season we have suffered greatly from injuries, in particular muscle injuries. This indicates the players’ training load is not managed correctly. High-intensity training could be an explanation for the number of muscle injuries. As we marched to the mighty total of 66 points we avoided criticism for the management of the squad but when we’re competing for titles we can’t afford Werner to pull his hamstring chasing down a centre back with 25 minutes into a game despite having 7 days between games.
Questions should be asked about what they do in training regarding managing the players training load. Prior to the FA Cup final, we played 3-4-2-1 against Manchester United, Liverpool and Wolves (became a 4-4-2 in possession) with a high press matching up man for man in the opposition half.
Yet with 6 days rest before the cup final we managed to pick up 2 muscle injuries during the game, both a result of sprints. A game which Jorginho, Rudiger and Christensen played in because their alternatives were injured. If we want to consistency this season with our new star-studded squad the training load needs to be reduced and players recovery has to be improved.
Last season we had 4 players (Azpillicueta, Mount, Kepa and Zouma) who started 40 or more matches in all competitions, Liverpool had 7 (Van Dijk, Robertson, Firminio, Salah, Alexander Arnold, Mane and Wijinaldum). Pulsiic got 27, Kante managed 26 starts and Tomori only 21.
For us to compete for trophies next season we need to aim for a higher level of consistency of playing personnel. It might work to our advantages that we’ll be playing 2 games a week for most of the season as the players won’t have enough time to actually…. train. They’ll just be recovering from the last match before going into preparations for the next one.
- Tactical switches
One of the biggest strengths of Lampard’s Chelsea team last season was the tactical flexibility. Few teams at Europe’s top table can switch between systems with such ease. Both a 3-4-3 and variations of a 4-3-3 have been used, not too surprising considering Conte and Sarri both recruited specialists for their systems or tried to in Sarri’s case.
Looking ahead to this season I expect things to be similar with lots of players being comfortable in multiple positions. However, we do need to improve how we deploy such systems. Our 3-4-3 has worked brilliantly on occasions against teams playing with 3 centre backs and trying to build from the back. However, you only have to look at defeats to Valencia, Southampton, Sheffield United, Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Arsenal to know that it isn’t always the best way to play.
The system changes need to be less of a knee jerk behaviour to a bad or good result. The view should be looking more towards what would be best to defeat the opposition ahead of us. Mourinho was famous for ultra specific game plans adapted to nullify the opposition and even Conte often adapted his 3-4-3 in his first season to get results. When considering the varying levels of performance, it is also worth noting the motivational influence. We often switched to a 3-4-3 after a bad result, therefore motivation could have been higher for the next match leading to an increase in performance level. Motivation which then falls slightly for the next game and subsequently the performance suffers.
- Individual errors
Last season we conceded 54 goals in 38 league games averaging 1.42 goals per game. The 13th best in the league. Unlike most managers Lampard rarely hesitates to throw his players under the bus, Conte spoke about work as much as Lampard speaks about individual errors.
Lampard made criticising players after poor results, never naming individuals but referring to individual errors. Errors would be excusable if Hudson-Odoi, Mount, Tomori, Gilmour, James, Abraham were playing as they are young and still learning, but not when the players in question are Rudiger, Zouma, Christensen, Kepa, Emerson – the list could go on. With the arrivals of Chilwell and Thiago Silva, Lampard can no longer use the excuse of individual errors.
I am unsure how much improvement we will see in the team from Thiago Silva and Chilwell. Silva will make a good partner for Zouma and he’s has had a great career but he won’t have the same protection in front and around him that he had at PSG. Comparisons of Terry are justified but when Terry won the premier league playing every minute under Mourinho at 34 he had Cahill and Azpillicueta next to him with Matic covering in front.
In the second game of the following season, Terry was hooked at half time losing away to Manchester City with Zouma coming on, Mourinho justified this by explaining that he needed Chelsea to play a higher defensive line. On the other side of Zouma, we have invested significantly in a less technical version of Alonso whose only outstanding trait is the number of sprints per game.
Against Liverpool and Manchester City this season Chilwell has been exposed against quality attackers in Trent Alexander Arnold and Mahrez. In these games, he was often in a 1v1 situation but he was often left jogging back towards Schmeichel while the attackers celebrated another goal. What this showed was a lack of desire to defend, even after he’d been dribbled past there were no signs of these sprints that he excels at.
It is likely that Silva and Chilwell will often be left exposed with a lack of protection in front of them. Lampard mentioned a few times last season about the need for taller players to help defend crosses. To look critically at this it is almost an admission of incompetence. He’s almost saying, I can’t work with these players I need taller ones.
Silva and Chilwell are both good in the air despite not being giants. Unless Chilwell significantly improves it wouldn’t surprise me to see Chelsea targeting yet another left-back in the summer of 2021.
- The elephant in the room
Obviously, the goalkeeping situation is something that had to be improved. Yet we face the real prospect of Kepa still being in goal and not having an adequate goalkeeping coach. I would argue the goalkeeping coach is more important than whichever goalkeeper they are coaching.
Since Opta started collecting stats Kepa has the 2nd worst save percentage of premier league goalkeepers, only to bettered by Hilario. Who is the current goalkeeping coach? There have been rumours that Lampard wants to bring in Shay given who he worked with at Derby and is still currently employed at Derby.
But I think we would be better off bringing in someone else with a proven track record of developing goalkeepers into world-class superstars. Emiliano Alvarez coached De Gea at Athletico Madrid before Mourinho recruited him to join his staff at Old Trafford.
He left Manchester United in 2019 amidst a fallout with De Gea and hasn’t joined a new club since. Another option could be Pablo Ignacio Vercellone who has been the Athletico Madrid goalkeeping coach since 2011. Kepa’s performance levels have been dropping for 2 seasons and the structure around him is getting worse. We need a new goalkeeping coach as much as we need a new goalkeeper.
To summarise, if the same mistakes are made this season Lampard could be under pressure due to the money spent to improve the squad. It is too much to expect us to bridge the gap to Manchester City and Liverpool, especially with our defence of goalkeeper. If we can be more organised defensively and dramatically reduce the number of injuries we could have a very special season.
Written by Ben Bell (Twitter: @benbell98)