Monday 16 September 2019

How Lampard can fix Chelsea's stuttering start despite club's constraints

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard. Photo: Steven Paston/PA Wire
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard. Photo: Steven Paston/PA Wire

Adam Hurrey

Frank Lampard's early days as Chelsea manager have, so far, been anything but smooth but despite the club's current transfer restraints, the former Derby boss could well turn things around by applying the following tactical adjustments.

Beef up heart of midfield

Since the days of Claude Makelele and Michael Essien, a succession of Chelsea managers have had the intermittent problem of finding a new midfield enforcer.

Nemanja Matic was a title-winning answer to the issue for Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte in 2015 and 2017, but the £40m signing of Tiemoue Bakayoko was a failure.

Since then, lightweight passing machine Jorginho has tried to be a proactive anchor at the base of Chelsea's midfield but, without the ball, they no longer dominate the engine-room battles against their more powerful rivals.

This fragility is reflected in Chelsea winning just 50 per cent of attempted tackles in their first two Premier League games while Jorginho has been booked in both matches for cynical fouls in his own half. N'Golo Kante - a gifted tackler and interceptor - has been deployed higher up the pitch to try to win possession.

Sadly for Lampard, the most obvious answer to his lack of midfield muscle is on the treatment table. Ruben Loftus-Cheek will be out until well into next year after rupturing his Achilles tendon in a friendly in May.

Be smarter in the opposition's half

Under Maurizio Sarri, Chelsea often dominated the ball against inferior opposition, averaging more than 63 per cent of the ball in the Premier League last season. In their opening two games under Lampard, Chelsea have had just 52 per cent possession, less than Norwich, Brighton and Everton.

Lampard lamented the lack of "calmness, angles and options" on the ball as Leicester started to press them more aggressively in the second half at Stamford Bridge.

One of the major post-Sarri changes in Chelsea's style is how quickly they get the ball forward into attacking positions, but, where Eden Hazard once toyed with opposition defenders, they now have the technically gifted but inexperienced Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount.

So far, Chelsea have completed just 52 per cent of their dribbles - Manchester United have a success rate of 63 per cent, and Manchester City 60 per cent.

Their effectiveness on the ball - and susceptibility to counter-attacks - will improve as Lampard's game plan starts to take hold.

In the meantime, Pedro and Willian will need to lead the way, keep the ball and give Chelsea's defence more breathing space.

Stifle counter-attacks

Asked after the 1-1 Leicester draw if his attack-minded approach was too open, Lampard was defiant. "You can attack but still be in positions that, if you turn the ball over, then you don't allow the counter-attacks that we allowed.

"I'm not here to play incredible attacking football when everything's great and then concede counter-attacks or easy goals when it's not."

This is easier said than done. Chelsea's new focus on bold, forward passing can leave them over-committed when the opposition suddenly gain possession and exploit the spaces left behind. Sarri's more patient build-up play may have lacked attacking urgency, but it meant the midfield was well placed to deal with attempted sucker-punches.

This theme was in evidence during Chelsea's patchy pre-season performances, where teams found space in front of Lampard's back four, counter-attacking through the middle in numbers.

Manchester United made them pay on the opening weekend and Chelsea players have already been dribbled past 27 times in the first two league games - only Brighton have been outmanoeuvred more often in one-on-one situations.

Find right centre-forward

The list of speculative successors to Didier Drogba as Chelsea's attacking spearhead can be charitably described as a mixed bag: there was Diego Costa, but there was also Radamel Falcao, Alvaro Morata and Gonzalo Higuain. It has been an expensive conundrum, exacerbated by the goalscoring exploits of Mohamed Salah at Liverpool, Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Harry Kane for Tottenham.

Now, with a transfer ban until next summer, a Chelsea manager has finally been forced to make do with what he has.

While £33.2m Michy Batshuayi kicks his heels on the bench after several loans, Lampard has tried Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud to lead Chelsea's attack. Abraham offers greater running power in behind, but his Premier League goalscoring pedigree is unproven. Giroud offers an aerial threat but is otherwise ill-suited to Lampard's desire to attack with pace and movement.

Despite Mount's bright attacking display from midfield against Leicester, the lack of impact by Chelsea's strikers is stark. Only Manchester City have created more than Chelsea's 26 goalscoring chances from open play, but centre forwards Abraham and Giroud have mustered just a single shot on target between them.

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