Chelsea’s 3-3 draw with West Bromwich Albion last week perfectly summed up this Blues team under Frank Lampard.
Initially starting the game strongly and looking to take the lead, the west London club ended up finding themselves 3-0 down (how?!) by half time. And the worst part? They were all very preventable goals. The scoreline left the Blues needing to rescue themselves in the second half.
But this is exactly what they did. With West Brom sitting back and inviting pressure on themselves, Chelsea showed their quality in attack and fought back to level things up.
The simple summary is that the performance highlighted the very obvious defensive flaws under Lampard, as well as their sublime threat going forward.
Part of the problem is that Lampard is still unclear what his best starting lineup is. In fact, Lampard named his 21st different defensive partnership in just 42 Premier League games for his side’s clash with Crystal Palace on Saturday.
21 in 42!
As if that wasn’t alarming enough, just three of those who started the FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal last season started Saturday’s 4-0 win over Palace. But the win could finally provide the necessary foundations from which Lampard can build.
Sure, it wasn’t the perfect display and there remain issues to resolve, but it was still a complete performance. There was the ideal blend of defensive solidity and creativity, while there were also some much-needed leaders in the team as well.
The clean sheet will perhaps be the most pleasing aspect for Lampard, but it was the manner in which they kept Palace quiet that will be most encouraging. Thiago Silva – who endured a debut to forget against West Brom – was commanding in his work, confidently stepping in to win the ball ahead of the likes of Wilfried Zaha. Knowing that he doesn’t have the pace to go up against the Eagles forwards, Silva was playing on the front foot defensively.
And in Kurt Zouma, he may just have his ideal partner. The Frenchman’s pace complimented Silva’s style of play, tracking runs and sticking tight to the Palace attackers. Cesar Azpilicueta was also a key figure at the back on Saturday, constantly keeping his teammates alert and communicating with his fellow defenders.
Oh, and did we also mention that new goalkeeper Edouard Mendy kept a clean sheet on his first Premier League start as well? No? Well, there’s that too.
This composure at the back set the tone for the display.
The confidence at the back allowed the Blues to dominate the ball, while Ben Chilwell – who made his Premier League debut for Chelsea – was also free to get forward and provide width down the left. And this is exactly what he did all afternoon, grabbing himself a goal before then setting up his side’s second. Not bad, eh?
As for N’Golo Kante and Jorginho, they controlled the game, winning the ball back with ease before picking out their teammates with incisive passes. They were able to influence the game much more effectively with Kai Havertz as the attacking midfielder, with Lampard having now seemingly found how best to utilise the German.
Giving the youngster the freedom to roam, Havertz was able to pick up a number of clever positions, playing on the half turn and always thinking positively. One of the most concerning issues at the start of the season has been deciding where Havertz will end up playing and how to get the best out of him – but Lampard now has the answers to these questions.
Of course, it wasn’t a perfect performance, as Timo Werner and Tammy Abraham both struggled to really get involved. Werner’s display will be of particular concern as he looked unsure of his role out on the left, constantly trying to find space by drifting in field. This proved unsuccessful, however.
But the reality is that Werner is most effective when operating as the centre-forward, and this is likely where he will return now that Christian Pulisic is nearing full fitness. With Hakim Ziyech soon to make a comeback too, Chelsea will have the creativity on the wings to bring the best out of Werner moving forward.
While there will still be changes to the team that started against Palace, the foundations have been laid now and the platform has been set for Lampard to take this Chelsea team to the next level. The boss may have found the blend of experience and youth – as well as defensive awareness and attacking threat – that he has been desperately searching for for far too long now.
The 4-0 scoreline will be pleasing, but it’ll be the finer details that had Lampard beaming in his post-match interview.