In another episode of The Chelsea Spot Podcast, Paree (Host – @CFCParee) is joined by Tom (Writer – @tmdftbl) & special guest Matt Selley (Guest – @matty_selley) to discuss all things Chelsea! Talking about how he became a Chelsea fan, his idols growing up, his current favoured lineup, Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s remarkable return, watching the women’s team and so much more!
In another episode of The Chelsea Spot Podcast, Orlando (Host – @0rland1nho), Paree (Owner – @CFCParee) & Adam (Guest – @AdamNewson) discuss the pathway from the academy into the first team after news broke of Livramento, Bate and MPH all rejecting contracts, while Marc Guehi looks set to move to Crystal Palace. They also talked about pre-season and which players could impress, as well as finishing off with a Q&A.
When you look at the Chelsea team of 2021, there is a very short list of players who are deemed as ‘Untouchables’ and have earned the right to start every single week. ‘Untouchables’ is a term seemingly coined by Jose Mourinho to describe players who are consistent and are permanently on the team sheet despite the opposition. In 2006, Mourinho listed his Chelsea Untouchables as Essien, Makelele, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ricardo Carvalho, Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack and Petr Cech. The names listed by Mourinho have a common theme. Every single player listed was willing to fight for the badge, possessed leadership qualities and knew their role to perfection.
Mourinho is a manager who needs players he trusts and especially during his time at Chelsea and Manchester United, he was not worried about criticising underperforming players and shaming them publicly. In this sense, Thomas Tuchel is the polar opposite of Jose Mourinho. It is very clear that Tuchel sees team cohesion and morale as key parts of a title winning side, which explains his recurring theme of never blaming defeats solely on one player. Despite this, a solid ‘spine’ is what many feel is lacking within this Chelsea team as of this moment and to achieve the task of implementing this spine into the Chelsea starting eleven, Tuchel would need to reserve spaces in the team for his most trusted players. This would undoubtedly upset some fringe members of the squad, which on the positive side could possibly bring about a much needed clearance of dead wood.
The only ‘Untouchables’ present in Tuchel’s Chelsea squad are Edouard Mendy, Cesar Azpilicueta and Mason Mount. This is worrying for a number of reasons, the lack of permanent starters present in the squad causes a lot of tinkering to be done from game to game. Tuchel is notorious for his changing of formation and personnel depending on the opposition, but in the Premier League there has to be some familiarity within the starting eleven.
Mendy is a suitable option for the calibre of goalkeeper needed to challenge for titles and his winning mentality and class has been shown countless times this season. Azpilicueta is still a top right back on his day and one of the most consistent full backs in recent Premier League history, however his decreasing pace is a worrying sign and his performances have somewhat become inconsistent throughout the past season. Tuchel has made it clear several times that he feels the captain of the club should be a regular starter within the team, something Frank Lampard disagreed with. Mason Mount in his breakout year has fought for the badge when others wouldn’t and backed up his performances with an increase in goals and assists. Mason has also shown up in some of our biggest games this season, scoring a fantastic goal against Liverpool in a 1-0 win at Anfield and also securing Chelsea’s place in a Champions League final with a goal against Real Madrid. Showing up in big games is essential to be regarded as an ‘Untouchable’ for Chelsea FC and the likes of John Terry and Frank Lampard lived for the big occasions.
The likes of Edouard Mendy, Cesar Azpilicueta and Mason Mount unfortunately dwindle in comparison to the ‘Untouchables’ of 2006 but players of that nature are hard to come by these days. Players with bundles of skill and flair that are able to compete in the Premier League are easy to come by, but players willing to fight for the badge week in, week out and players that can perform on the biggest stage frequently are a rare breed in todays market.
Looking at the 2006/07 season of the Premier League, Lampard featured in 37 games, John Terry featured in 28 games, Carvalho featured in 31 games and Drogba featured in 36 games. A poor run of form at the end of the season prevented Chelsea from lifting the Premier League trophy for a third consecutive year. However, it is clear to see that a team with permanent starters brings familiarity and solidarity to everyone else on the pitch. Patterns of play become natural and consistency becomes effortless, every player on the pitch knows their roles and this helps to secure the defence, midfield and attack. Permanent starters set the foundations for the whole team to succeed. Reliable players doing reliable jobs to set the whole team up for success. Of course, every player listed as an ‘Untouchable’ by Jose was exceptional but these permanent starters do not have to be phenomenal footballers to become an ‘Untouchable’.
In an era where the highly sought after signings cost upwards of £50m and fans only want the best of the best to join their clubs, it is often tough to identify how a winning team with a winning mentality is established. Apart from the odd occasion in football history, not many exceptional teams are filled with eleven exceptional players. Using our Champions League final starting eleven from 2012, we can easily see that some of the players involved on that day were nowhere near world class. Bosingwa and Mikel both started the Champions League final in Munich and had been main stays in the team for the duration of the competition. Mikel played in 9 games and Bosingwa played in 11 throughout the 2011/12 campiagn. Neither of these two players were regarded as world class for their positions and sometimes you don’t have to be to succeed. There is no doubt that Bosingwa and Mikel provided much needed experience and calmness to players like Ryan Bertrand, who was featuring in his first ever European game for the Blues.
This summer will be pivotal in Tuchel deciding his ‘Untouchables’ during his reign at Stamford Bridge. As with every transfer window looming, Chelsea have obviously been linked with anyone and everyone. Transfers at this point for Chelsea FC are impossible to predict and there is still so much to play for this season but there is some big decisions for Thomas Tuchel to make throughout pre-season and the beckoning summer transfer window. Establishing his set of ‘Untouchables’ , in my eyes signifies that Tuchel accepts the fact that permanent starters are essential to a Premier League winning side and evidently showcases his ever-growing intention to win trophies at Chelsea.
In another episode of The Chelsea Spot Podcast, Dan (Admin – @danbarkzr), Paree (Owner – @CFCParee) and Danny (Writer – @danny_new_) discuss Chelsea’s lacklusture performance against Leicester City which could lead to the sacking of Frank Lampard. They also discused possible replacements such as Hasenhuttl, Nagelsmann, Tuchel, Allegri, the youngster’s futures under a new manager, and so much more!
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Two hundred and eleven goals in the blue of Chelsea. Thirteen trophies gathered during his playing career at Stamford Bridge. One European Cup won as captain of London’s finest. Countless memorable displays. Frank Lampard is not so much a part of Chelsea, as he is Chelsea itself. It is beyond this writer’s understanding that anyone could be calling for the head of our greatest ever player after all he has given this club. But putting sentimentality to one side, in this piece I will try and outline a case for Frank Lampard remaining as manager of Chelsea Football Club, as well as suggesting where and how he can improve his side in the coming weeks.
A glance at the Premier League standings is enough to make any Chelsea fan grimace, the Blues are languishing in 9th place at the time of writing, behind the likes of Aston Villa, Southampton and Everton. But that is not to say that the lowly standing is deserved. Had the likes of Timo Werner been more clinical in front of goal and Edouard Mendy been available instead of the hapless Kepa Arrizabalaga to keep goal in games against West Brom and Liverpool, the table could have a very different look about it. As it stands, the Blues’ big-money summer signing (hot off a 28-league goal campaign) has failed to find the net in his previous 9 league outings. However, if his 5 efforts on goal which had rattled the woodwork gone in, the German would have been hailed a resounding success and the Blues would be further up the table. Thanks also to Kepa’s inability to do the absolute basics of goalkeeping, Chelsea conceded 5 goals and dropped 5 crucial points in the three aforementioned games. Put simply, Lampard and his team have not had the rub of the green so far this campaign, and to further demonstrate this, Chelsea sit 2nd in the expected points table so far (via Understat). As it stands, the Londoner’s are 6 points and 7 places below where their performances deem them worthy of. It is likely that with time Chelsea will go on a hot-streak and overperform their expected results, balancing out their luck over the course of the season and firing them up the table.
A 3-1 victory over Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United temporarily put Chelsea top of the table in early December, following a 9-game unbeaten streak in the league. However, those three points came at a hefty price as the majestic Hakim Ziyech succumbed to injury, keeping him out of the next 5 league games, 3 of which Chelsea lost. Before that it seemed Lampard was on to something with his 4-3-3 system, Ziyech being the main beneficiary of the set up. Both full backs were able to bomb forwards, in turn providing space for the wingers to cut in and shoot – or in Ziyech’s case provide left footed deliveries to the back post from the inside-right channel – or feed Reece James or Ben Chilwell on the overlap, who have both provided excellent balls into the box this season. With the loss of Ziyech occurring at the same time as Callum Hudson-Odoi picking up a knock in training, Chelsea were left with only one fit senior winger in Christian Pulisic. As Timo Werner has struggled to adapt his game to the left wing, Lampard’s side lacked any real cohesion in attack, with no width provided outside of the full back duo. The game plan seemed to change to cross and hope, even against Manchester City where all 5-foot-9-inches of Timo Werner were helpless against the comparatively towering duo of Stones and Dias. Crossing may be in vogue at the moment – with Liverpool leading the league this season with 391 attempted so far – but Chelsea need another option in attack for when opponents crowd out box. Slick linkup play and passing patterns will develop as a very young and freshly put together attacking unit gel and get to know each other’s games. When the Blues eventually have a fully fit squad and hit the top form that they showed glimpses of in wins against Burnley and Sheffield United, Lampard’s side will start to play in his image.
Naturally given the busy festive period and the increased frequency of games during this pandemic hit season, many of the squad look jaded and in need of a rest. However, with Lampard’s job on the line he has not been able to afford his key men time to recover which has resulted in their games often looking flat and lacking energy. Perhaps Lampard could afford to rotate more given the quality and depth of squad he has at his disposal. N’Golo Kanté, for example, has been way off his best in appearances against Manchester City and Arsenal – being caught out of position regularly and uncharacteristically careless in possession (see his intercepted blind pass which led to City’s third goal) – and is in need of a rest. Lampard fortunately has the incredibly talented Billy Gilmour ready and raring to go in the Frenchman’s place. Similarly, quality internationals such as Olivier Giroud and Emerson Palmieri as well as talented youngsters in Tino Anjorin and Henry Lawrence are all of sufficient quality to play in the Premier League and could give valuable rest to Timo Werner, Ben Chilwell, Mason Mount (among others) and Reece James, respectively. Utilising the large squad at his disposal is key to Lampard keeping his players fit enough to play his ideal high-energy pressing game as well as ensuring the players on the fringes of the squad are kept happy and do not revolt when the going gets tough (*cough, Marcus Alonso, cough*).
In his first season at the helm, Lampard looked to have a clear idea on how he wanted his Chelsea side to play. The side pressed aggressively and high up the pitch, bringing their defensive line close to the halfway line in order to compact the opposition in their own half. The results of this modern, progressive game plan were mixed, with Chelsea sparkling in attack – achieving the second highest expected goals scored over the course of the season (76) – but a mess in the defensive transition as teams frequently ripped through them on the counter, contributing to the massive 54 goals conceded throughout the campaign. Having strengthened defensively in the summer with the acquisitions of Mendy, Silva and Chilwell, Lampard would have hoped for a thorough preseason in which he could drill his side on the intricacies of his pressing style and how to efficiently switch shape when possession is lost before opponents can fly up the field. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on the fixture list, the manager was given limited time to integrate his 6 summer signings into his system. It is difficult to adjust for that number of signings in any normal season but given the circumstances it has proved a trying task. On top of this, regular domestic and European midweek matches have left little to no time for intensive, detailed work on the training ground. Not only are regular starters fatigued from the workload, but the coaches are unable to properly drill their sides and make the improvements necessary to turn form around. The board must stick by Lampard and give him time to work on his sides set up now that the hectic festive period has come to a close.
Lampard cannot blame all his defeats on a lack of luck and a congested fixture list, however. Injuries and profligacy have hindered Chelsea, but a lot of the harm caused this season has been self-inflicted. A worrying trend has emerged recently that I feel is in desperate need of being rectified. In recent games against Arsenal and Manchester City especially, Chelsea’s entire midfield seems to have vanished for most of the game. It is clear that a three-man midfield unit of Mount, Kanté and Kovacic is not good enough when facing top-half opposition. Both Kanté and Kovacic have very little positional discipline, whilst the latter does very little meaningful pressing or defending – his 1.7 tackles and interceptions per league game this season proving that (for context, Kanté stands at 5.2 in the same metric). Lampard needs to address this issue as a matter of urgency. It could be that playing Billy Gilmour as a deep-lying, disciplined number 6 to break up opposition counter-attacks and to set our attacks in motion could be an option. The 19-year-old Scott is a promising talent and superior to Jorginho in most – if not all – aspects of a midfielder’s game. This could see Kanté returning to his position as a ‘free 8’, given license to roam and destroy opposition breaks before they get going. Another alternative could be to deploy a midfield pivot of Kanté and Mount in a 4-2-3-1 to allow Havertz to play in his favoured role as a number 10, however, this would rely on the Frenchman holding back his natural urge to cover every blade of grass and for Havertz to fully commit defensively. Whatever the solution is, it is obvious that this is a major area Lampard has to look into, and one which could hold the key when it comes to changing Chelsea’s sorry record this season against teams in the top 8.
A major worry for owner Roman Abramovich will be the struggles of summer purchases Timo Werner and Kai Havertz. The German duo were bought in for a combined £120 million and were expected to lead Chelsea’s title charge as Liverpool and Manchester City have faltered this term. However, neither has truly replicated the scintillating form that saw them contribute 36 and 18 Bundesliga goals respectively last season. Having broken the bank to bring the pair to west London, Abramovich is well within his rights to question why Lampard has failed to get the best out of them so far. Whilst the usual excuses of struggling to adapt to a new country and a new league are valid (not to mention Havertz was left reeling following his time out with the COVID-19 virus), it seems that Lampard’s system has not been adjusted to facilitate the Germans. Havertz thrives in the final third, playing high risk, high reward football and making late runs in to the box – as was his manager’s trademark back in his day – to finish moves. Therefore, his positioning as a number 8 on the right of a midfield trio will have frustrated him as he spends much of his time tracking back and tackling and less of it contributing to goals as is his strength (his 3 goal contributions from 15 league games is underwhelming for a player of his calibre). Perhaps a move to a number 10 role where he is able to link play and attack without worrying about defending – and giving the ball away deep in his own half as we have become accustomed to – so much could see him rise from his meagre 0.6 shots and 0.7 key passes a game this season to the 2 he managed in each metric last campaign. Similarly Werner has been forced out of his natural position to facilitate Lampard’s use of a 4-3-3, and although he has been getting into dangerous positions (his 6.8 expected goals from 17 league games is respectable), his ball retention and crossing abilities are nowhere near the level of a natural winger. Playing Werner with one of Giroud or Abraham to feed off – as he did with Yussuf Poulson at RB Leipzig – in a front 2 could help the German rediscover his best form. Feeding off knock-downs and running into the space left by centre backs occupying themselves with his strike partner will help him to find his feet in this league. Managers who have been unable to facilitate their star players have not fared well under Abramovich (see Carlo Ancelotti with Fernando Torres and José Mourinho’s first spell with Andriy Shevchenko) and so it is essential Lampard can get Werner and Havertz playing to the best of their abilities.
It is important to remember that when Lampard was appointed he was not expected to deliver immediate success. Hit with a transfer ban, the young manager was unable to make signings to mould the squad to his liking, and perhaps more importantly, he was unable to replace Chelsea’s greatest player of the last decade in Eden Hazard. Scoring 16 goals and laying on another 15 for his teammates, Hazard directly contributed to 49% of Chelsea’s league goals in his final campaign at Stamford Bridge. It is rare to have a side so overwhelmingly dependent on one talismanic figure, and so losing the Belgian was a massive blow to Lampard. The board decided that Champions League qualification was sufficient in Lampard’s first campaign, with his second focussed on showing further improvements before an expected title charge in his third. It is easy to forget the incredible work Lampard has done thus far at Chelsea and it is reasonable to think that he should be given time to enact his philosophy and push for silverware next season as his three year plan comes to a conclusion.
Fans who have been following Chelsea over the past couple of decades will have been refreshed by the idea of owner Roman Abramovich sticking behind an exciting young coach for the long run. The culture of hiring and firing instilled at the club since the Russian Oligarch’s takeover in 2003 may have bought with it 18 trophies (if we stoop to Arsenal’s level by including our brace of Community Shields), but it has left fans yearning for more stability. In the 16 years that preceded Frank Lampard’s appointment, Abramovich ran through 11 managers (twice welcoming José Mourinho and Guus Hiddink) and yet it is difficult to remember any notable academy graduates breaking through and starring regularly for the senior team in that time. Given the immense pressure to deliver success in the short-term, managers were unable to plan ahead and therefore were reluctant to put their neck on the line for youngsters. Frank Lampard has changed that culture and finally shown everyone why Chelsea’s academy, led so ably by Neil Bath, is renowned worldwide. Promoting Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Reece James and Fikayo Tomori to the first team and playing them regularly signalled a huge change in the Chelsea philosophy. No longer were the club going to go out and spend £50 million on a player when an academy graduate who could do their job was working hard for their chance. With Gilmour, Anjorin, Lawrence, Valentino Livramento, Lewis Bate and many more likely to follow their fellow academy graduates to the first team, this progression shows no signs of slowing down. If Lampard were not manager, it is feasible to suggest that none of this would have happened. Yes, we knew Abraham, Mount and James were quality players, but would another manager have stuck by them when they struggled and they had the likes of Giroud, Barkley and Azpilicueta waiting in the wings? Any new arrival could still decide he has no room in his side for Mount, Abraham et al and revert to type. This academy revolution has brought the fans closer to the club than ever before, seeing their own starring week-in-week-out. Lampard is the man who will keep this going, and many fans will massively appreciate that.
Narratives in football change quickly. Coming off the back of a highly respectable debut season at Chelsea which comprised of a top four finish and an FA Cup final, Lampard hit the ground running with a 17-game unbeaten streak in all competitions. A sticky patch of form over a month has seen Chelsea go from ‘title favourites’ (take Klopp’s word not mine!) to midtable mediocrity. But the story can reverse for Lampard just as easily. You only have to glance up North to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to see how quickly fortunes can turn. In early December as Lampard was heavily praised by the media, his counterpart was widely criticised following an early exit from the Champions League and a difficult start to the season which had seen them lose 6-1 at home to Tottenham. A month on and the Norwegian has led United to top of the league with a game in hand. Similar turnarounds have been witnessed at Arsenal and to a lesser-extent Manchester City, as Guardiola has gone from under the radar to apparent favourites for the league. In this highly unusual season, Lampard’s side find themselves a mere 3 points off the top four, albeit having played one or two games more than most sides above them. The compacted calendar means that a few weeks of hot form can result in a long winning run which in turn can fire a side up the table. Should Lampard make a few tweaks to his midfield, get Werner firing again and sort out his press, I have complete faith that the Blues will rocket back up the table. It should be every Chelsea fan’s dream to see a club legend succeed at Stamford Bridge, and fortunately for us Frank Lampard has what it takes to lead us to the top. He just needs time, something which right now seems to be in short supply.
I was fuming. Absolutely fuming and I’ve only just started to calm down. I found out quite early that there would be no chances for any Chelsea debuts against Morecambe on the weekend, and that really was disappointing. This pretty much is going to be a rant as to why including none of Lewis Bate, Henry Lawrence and Tino Livramento in the squad was an absolute disgrace. I do understand that there were reasons and context as to why not all of them couldn’t make it, but, if I’m honest, most of the arguments were pretty weak in my opinion. I will try and balance it out, especially towards the end of this piece, but I’m still confident that many wrong choices were made on the weekend. I know most of you have already read the first paragraph and think I’m just overreacting and moaning for the sake of it, but please do read right to the very end.
I think one thing to point out before we get started is that I absolutely love the academy. I watch every single U23s game and as many of the U18s as possible, and I’m not afraid to admit that I am biased towards them. When I was writing the plan to this article, the thoughts just kept on coming and that is simply because the youth team is an area I’m so passionate about. So yes, I will probably be quite one-sided here, but I don’t think that takes anything away from the fact that Sunday’s squad selection was not good enough, whoever’s fault that is. Before we get started, I do have to give credit to Frank Lampard and the staff members that I am even having this conversation. No manager other than Lampard has brought in the youth like he has, giving multiple debuts last season and trusting them, so I guess I’m only frustrated because I expect Frank to match those amazing opportunities he gave last season. Let’s get into it.
Chelsea got drawn against Morecambe in the FA Cup third round, and as soon as that got announced, I had been looking forward to this fixture. The last two weeks I genuinely have never been as excited for a game in a while, as I and many others expected to see 2-3 debuts from players I had been watching and raving about for ages. The week before the game, I heard that Bate, Livramento and Lawrence were all training with the first team – brilliant. A few days later, Jude Soonsup-Bell & Marcel Lewis made it an academy team of 5 – even better. When the number reached five, I was confident we would see a few of them make the squad. The whole of Saturday I was texting people asking which players have made it to the squad. None. What? Huh? I already counted Anjorin as first team as he is that good and fully deserves to be in that picture, but it was just shocking to see no other players involved in the squad. I was not asking them to start the game, which I’ll talk about later, but are you really telling me Henry Lawrence couldn’t be on the bench with Reece James out and that Lewis Bate couldn’t get ahead of Jorginho or Kovacic for an FA cup game against League 2 side Morecambe?
I saw so many people say it would have been too much of a risk for Lampard to include them in the squad. Wrong. So wrong. If you said too much of a risk to be starting, you could have a point, yet I’d still heavily disagree with you as I’m about to explain, but in no way was it a risk putting them on the bench. None at all. One competition that Chelsea participate in, the EFL Trophy, consists of the best U21 teams coming up against professional sides in the third and fourth tiers of English football. It’s a brilliant experience for the young lads as they get to experience the real game for the first time and our kids are more than good enough to put up a real fight. Earlier on this season our U21s faced Bristol Rovers in one of the best games of the season and we unfortunately narrowly lost 4-3. Despite the loss, the players were still extremely impressive and should have been very proud of their performance. Three days ago, Bristol Rovers only just lost to Sheffield United – a Premier League team! Now, I know football doesn’t work this way, but if you use a bit of logic that’s only going to suggest that our U23’s would put up a real fight against a Premier League team, and although we probably would lose, it just shows that our boys are good enough. Our side against Bristol Rovers basically consisted of 10 kids + Danny Drinkwater, so to start/involve 2-3 of them against a side in the division below Bristol Rovers in Morecambe with world class players around them really wouldn’t have caused any harm. Here’s the thing about these players: they are more than good enough, and that’s because we have one of the best academies in the world. Throughout the game against Morecambe, I couldn’t stop thinking about how slow Azpilicueta was, and although he’s a good squad player to have as well as being a Chelsea legend, he simply does not have the brain of an attacking fullback, and I can pretty much guarantee that Lawrence or Livramento would not have done any worse either from the bench or the start, as well as it being a huge learning curve for them. No risk whatsoever.
Against Morecambe, especially in the first half, we looked short of ideas and the intensity was lacking. However, it was absolutely no surprise to me that our three best players were all academy products – Callum Hudson-Odoi, Mason Mount and Billy Gilmour. I’ve said it so many times, but these are the guys who will put so much desire and effort into this club and would do anything to put the Chelsea shirt on, compared to signings who just want to play in the Premier League (of course they like the club, but no way near in the same way). Another thing which frustrated me even more was how Anjorin was treated in the game. He definitely had a case to start, although I understand that it was good to give Hudson-Odoi confidence and Ziyech some match fitness, leaving Anjorin on the bench. We were 3-0 up around the 50th minute, and everyone was waiting for Anjorin to come on and impress. But no, we had to wait another 30 minutes and he was given 10 pity minutes where he probably touched the ball about 5 times and was brought on after Christian Pulisic, who we’re trying to protect from injuries! Not only that, but he also came on the pitch playing as a right-sided winger, a position he has very rarely played, in a new formation that we were trying out and you could see he was playing way too close to Kai Havertz at times – can we please see Tino in midfield, just once? My point is, give these players chances, even better a proper chance, and they will turn up. Billy Gilmour got given that chance vs Liverpool last season and his career arguably changed due to that game, same with Anjorin after being arguably the best player on the pitch against Krasnodar in the Champions League, and I’m sure very similar things could transpire with the likes of Lawrence, Bate and Livramento if they were given a proper shot.
The worst part is that last season we were known for giving opportunities and now this season it all seems to have been thrown out of the window. Aston Villa (albeit due to a coronavirus-struck senior squad) fielded a full academy team against a very strong Liverpool side, and really put in a good shift as some players impressed the world. Manchester City and Spurs included young kids in their squad, the main name being Alfie Devine who scored at the age of 16 for Tottenham. Just a few weeks ago, Chelsea U23’s played Spurs U23’s in a thrilling match, where Devine got sent off and Livramento, Lawrence and Bate were all better players on the night, yet it was the much lesser-experienced Devine who was given the opportunity to make his dreams come true by José Mourinho, of all people! In the third round of the FA Cup, pretty much every side gave minutes to some kids and we didn’t, which is really frustrating for the fans as we literally have one of the best academies in the world and arguably the best in the country. What makes it more annoying is that Lampard gave debuts to players last season, and the likes of Maatsen, Broja and Guehi have all developed heavily since (which Frank can take huge credit for), but we’re not doing the same thing. Even worse, these guys are going to go to their England camps, and despite being some of the better players there, they’ll be the ones with the least number of minutes in professional football.
And that’s just not going to make the youth players happy. They will see players in their age group playing senior football and getting opportunities which will just be disappointing for them. The best example has to be Jamal Musiala. The ex-Chelsea man is best mates with some of our guys in the academy right now, and it is very likely that if he stayed here, he would still be stuck in the U18s or U23s. Yet, he took the risk of leaving and going to Bayern Munich and is now recognised as one of the best youngsters in the world. His mates will be looking at him and surely be thinking why that couldn’t be them too, especially with Germany being a very appealing option for English youngsters at the moment. Callum Hudson-Odoi’s camp tried to do the same thing by forcing a move to Bayern Munich, Charlie Webster has been linked with Dortmund in the past, and these examples will keep on coming. After all, other clubs will be seeing Chelsea not giving many opportunities and will be licking their lips as they’ll simply just try to seize one of our incredible talents. On top of that, the guys in the 18’s and even lower will be keeping an eye on how the youth is used in the first team to see whether they have a future at the club. I don’t want any academy prospect to leave, nor do I necessarily think they will, but they will certainly be assessing their options based on what goes on around the first team in terms of opportunities for youngsters.
I don’t think it is anywhere near yet turning into this case, but could we be returning back to the old cycle of not using the kids? This is especially if Frank Lampard does end up leaving the club sooner rather than later – if Lampard can’t give minutes to the younger lads, who will? We know Frank has been brilliant with the youth in the last 18 months, so with another manager the situation could obviously be even worse. Is there a pathway from the academy into the first team? Or does it look like being loaned is the only option and following the likes of Marc Guehi and Conor Gallagher? Don’t get me wrong, both players’ development away from Chelsea has been absolutely exceptional, however I can fully understand why some players wouldn’t want to take the risk of going out on loan when things can change so quickly, and before you know you’re in the constant cycle of being sent out season after season, which really can hinder development. This links to my next point in that the academy players need to feel rewarded after staying at the club and for playing so well, and currently they are not. For playing so well in the U23s right now and to an extremely top level, they are being rewarded with…absolutely nothing. For example, Henry Lawrence just signed a new contract at the club, has trained with the first team multiple times this season, been the most consistently excellent player for the academy for a full year and a half, yet he has just missed out on so many occasions. What more does he actually need to do to make the bench against Morecambe when someone in his position – Reece James – was injured? Then, there’s players like Marcel Lewis (one of my favourite players in the academy who is criminally underrated) who has been brought into the first team bubble recently, how’s he going to feel? His contract runs out in the Summer and I’m sure we’re trying to convince him to sign an extension, perhaps before going out on loan. But, from his point of view, why should he sign a deal when he’s seeing his mates not get an opportunity (he’s probably even further behind the others mentioned in this article too)? The players aren’t stupid and they’ve seen what’s happened in the past.
Now, obviously, there will always be players who will leave the club at a young age and we cannot do anything about. That’s absolutely fine. For example, we would have tried our best to convince Musiala and Illing-Jr to stay at the club, but if they still wanted to leave, there’s nothing we can do. Same with Tariq Lamptey – there unfortunately wasn’t anything else we could do to keep him at the club. Talents will always leave, but it’s about reducing the amounts that are even thinking about it. We have to do our very best to keep them at the club, especially with this very special crop of players coming through (Colwill, Bate, Livramento, Lawrence, Simons, Soonsup-Bell, Webster etc). And that starts right from the very top.
But, despite all the criticism I have given, you do have to remember I am talking about Jody Morris and Joe Edwards who are in the coaching staff, probably the two best academy coaches the club has ever had, and they surely know what they’re doing, right? Which probably means I should shut up. Lampard also has a very large squad and perhaps politically he is being forced to play some of them or keep the squad players happy – I do understand that. There was context to the kids not starting. Hopefully the game did a world of confidence for the likes of Werner, Havertz, Mount and Hudson-Odoi. Hopefully the victory improved the morale around the club, and we can go on a running form. That still won’t take away the disappointment I had when I saw that not a single player would be making their debut against Morecambe.
Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe I’m being biased. Maybe, in six weeks’ time, I will look like an absolute idiot when these kids get their chances against Luton in the FA Cup, or in the very heavy schedule. Then again, we would be treating the 23s better in 6 weeks than we are now if that were the case, and that’s simply all I’m asking for. Deep down I do believe that they will be given their chances in the next six months. Some need to be if we want to keep them around. That’s the way football works nowadays. Play the kids, or they leave, because our boys are damn good enough.
What did you think of the article? I know it’s an extremely controversial topic criticising Lampard on the way he’s using the youth after he’s done so much for the academy lads, but let me know your thoughts on our social media!
When Chelsea’s ‘Captain, Leader, Legend’ himself picked a successor to his crown as the club’s leading centre half, fans everywhere sat up and took notice. So, when John Terry described Andreas Christensen as a ‘top footballer’ and ‘one of the future men for Chelsea’ back in 2014, many would have expected him to have nailed down a starting slot long before now. Terry even went so far as to say that the Danish international should be ‘hungry to take my place in the team’, but that is something that has never truly materialised. After dropping to fourth choice centre back at the club and following his latest high-profile error against Aston Villa, it is time to question whether Christensen has a future at Stamford Bridge.
With Chelsea 1-0 up against Aston Villa at the break and looking for a win to nudge them out of a mini crisis, an early goal conceded in controversial fashion was hardly what Frank Lampard was looking for. Yet with Aston Villa attacking on the break, Christensen went down following contact from nimble playmaker Jack Grealish as both contested possession of the ball. Play continued, but whilst the much slighter Grealish got up and carried on, the 6-foot 1-inch-tall centre back remained on the floor. Half a minute later Villa had scored as a stretched Chelsea defence did not have the numbers to commit a man to mark Anwar El Ghazi and prevent him from freely knocking in an equaliser at the back post. The match finished 1-1 and to make matters even worse for Christensen, his hero rather bluntly put him down on social media following the final whistle. Replying to a comment under his latest Instagram post accusing Aston Villa of poor sportsmanship in continuing when the opposition were a man down, Terry (currently assistant manager at Villa) stated that his former teammate should have ‘got up’. Having already been sent off for a rugby-tackle style foul on Sadio Mane at Stamford Bridge earlier this season – costing his side in a 2-0 loss to the reigning Champions – the Dane is hardly inspiring confidence in Chelsea fans.
None of this was in the script when Antonio Conte integrated Christensen into a three-man defence in the 2017/18 season. Coming off the back of an excellent couple of seasons on loan in the Bundesliga at Borussia Monchengladbach, a then 21-year-old Christensen finally got his chance in a Chelsea shirt, just as Terry was leaving Stamford Bridge following his move to Aston Villa. 23 starts in all competitions gave fans a reason to be excited in the youngster, who was one of a few bright sparks in an otherwise horrible campaign as Conte left the London side in a mess. Quickly it became apparent that Christensen would become the side’s new David Luiz figure, as the fiery Brazilian was shunned from the side following a falling out with the manager. The Dane’s distribution was likened to Luiz, and he stood out as one of the finest passers of the ball in the league, with a 93.4% passing accuracy across the season. However, playing as part of a defensive three covered up a multitude of failing in the Dane’s game which were exposed when new coach Maurizio Sarri implemented a back four.
The evidence was perhaps there all along that Christensen was not the centre back Chelsea fans always hoped he could be. His break-out season’s tackle success rate of 53.3% was low but not disastrous, as Antonio Rudiger and Gary Cahill were there to help him out. However, Sarri did not have faith in the former prodigy to lead his defence and so Christensen made only 6 starts in the Premier League that season, having to be content with being a Europa League regular. His tackling ability appeared to decline further, with only 42% of his attempted challenges being successful in the league that season. For context, Chelsea’s Thiago Silva has completed 64% of his challenges so far this season. Christensen was rapidly building a reputation for being a wonderful passer capable of playing out from the back, but a player who was far too light-weight and error-prone to be successful in the Premier League.
Low on confidence, a season of being constantly thrown in and dragged out of Lampard’s side in 2019/20 certainly was not what Christensen would have hoped for. Whilst his fellow academy graduates Reece James, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham made themselves indispensable to the side with consistently excellent performances, Christensen became a scapegoat for one of the worst Chelsea defences in the Premier League era, as the side concede 54 goals (over three times more than the vintage of the 2004/05 season). Starting 21 league games, he would be dropped for between one and five games on five separate occasions. This lack of consistent game time seemed to spell the end for Christensen.
The signing of Thiago Silva, ‘O Monstro’ on a free from PSG this summer has transformed the Chelsea defence into a different beast. With Kurt Zouma looking back to his rejuvenated best and performing at scarcely believable levels in the air, game time is hard to come by for the rest of the Blue’s centre backs. Despite being left out of the match day squad for 4 consecutive league games, Rudiger seems to be back in favour with Lampard and currently sits above Christensen in the pecking order, which could result in him starting a fair few games across the season as the 36-year-old Silva’s game time is closely managed. The delayed European Championships are due to commence this summer and Christensen will be desperate for a run of game time to stake his claim as a starter at the tournament. However, such an opportunity seems unlikely to arise at Chelsea, so could we be seeing the last of the Dane at Stamford Bridge?
A tidy, ball-playing centre back will always draw attention on the continent, so it is no surprise to see Christensen linked with top 6 sides in Spain, France and Germany (via the Athletic). It will be a great shame to see such a talented academy graduate depart but it could be for the best. Fikayo Tomori is already frustrated with his lack of first team football and Marc Guehi is developing at a frightening rate on loan at Swansea this season and will surely soon be knocking on Lampard’s door asking for regular game time.
Ultimately Christensen’s lack of physicality and seeming inability to mark big, physical forwards in the ilk of Michail Antonio and Christian Benteke, has been his undoing. For every excellent performance against the likes of Manchester City at home last season (playing without a recognised centre forward, allowing Christensen to excel against physically weaker opponents), there was a horror show (see West Ham, Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and more). His Chelsea story began when John Terry’s came to an end and perhaps fans were too keen to see their captain’s boots filled immediately and the pressure got to a young Christensen, but for whatever reason he has been unable to fulfil his massive potential. Maybe one day we will see him excelling at one of Europe’s biggest sides, but for now it is difficult to see a future in which Christensen remains at his boyhood club.
In another episode of The Chelsea Spot Podcast, Orlando (Host – @0rland1nho) and Dan (Admin – @danbarkzr) discuss Chelsea’s draw to Aston Villa, including Tammy Abraham vs Olivier Giroud, a potential loan for Billy Gilmour, an exceptional performance from Callum Hudson-Odoi, Lampard IN, player ratings and so much more!
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A few months ago I was convinced that the Chelsea hierarchy were making a huge mistake in targeting Ben Chilwell as the club’s next long-term left back. The position has been a major weakness in the squad since Ashley Cole left Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2014 (excluding two scintillating seasons of Marcos Alonso as a left wing-back under Antonio Conte) and I was convinced that there were better, more cost-effective options on the market as I pushed for Alex Telles and Nicolas Tagliafico to be considered. I am happy to admit that I was wrong and, surprisingly, Frank Lampard and the board had a better idea of what was needed than I did! We can’t always be right, and having previously performed a U-turn in my opinion about Declan Rice, I will happily do the same for his compatriot, who looks to have Chelsea’s left back slot for the next decade under lock and key.
Chilwell has hit the ground running as a Chelsea player. After only 10 league starts the England international has racked up 5 goal contributions (2 goals and 3 assists), only one short of his tally over the entirety of the last campaign. His early form helped Chelsea shoot up the table to third before their recent wobbles against Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers, and if he continues to exhibit the skills he has shown so far I have no doubt that he will be a key player in helping the club avert their current mini-crisis.
An early sign of Chilwell being the perfect fit for Lampard’s system is his couple of league goals. The former Leicester man got off to a dream start by converting (and assisting) against Crystal Palace on his debut, lashing a loose ball on the left of the area past a helpless Guaita. Lampard wants his full backs to be offensive, especially against defensive low blocks, and to get in and around the area, something Chilwell is clearly willing to do. Even his scruffy – potentially inadvertent – finish against Sheffield United was an example of Lampard’s ideal goal. Chilwell stealthily floated in between wing-back Max Lowe and goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale at the back post to convert a beautiful deep cross from Hakim Ziyech. Only a slightly cynical looking shove in the back against Burnley prevented him converting another back post cross from Reece James. Chilwell is consistently making darting runs off the shoulder of the last defender towards the back post to gamble on a deep delivery from one of the formidable duo of James and Ziyech. This is something we saw Pulisic excel at last campaign but given his injury-hit start to the season, Lampard has clearly asked his new left back to take up the responsibility, and if he continues to make runs in this vein then the goals will continue to come.
It is not only his goal scoring which has been promising so far. One of my main gripes with Chilwell before his arrival was his lack of apparent crossing ability, as he managed only 0.7 completed crosses per 90 minutes in each of his previous 3 seasons at Leicester. With the aerial threat provided by Olivier Giroud, Tammy Abraham and Kai Havertz, having excellent crossers is essential to Lampard’s system as proved by Reece James. However, not only has Chilwell massively improved in this department, he has also overtaken his compatriot’s numbers, managing 1.6 completed crosses per league game so far in 2020/21 compared to James’s 1.5. This is clearly an area that the 23-year-old has worked on extensively in training, and it has proved crucial on the pitch. His near-post delivery was gratefully accepted by the left boot of Giroud to put us ahead at Wolves, and his delightful, floated delivery into the Palace box was converted by the clinical head of Kurt Zouma in October. The variety of crosses in his repertoire make him a danger to any defence and this will continue to prove crucial to Chelsea throughout the season.
When looking at Chilwell’s underlying numbers last campaign, I was also concerned by his minimal defensive contributions in comparison to Cesar Azpilicueta, the player Lampard most trusted to fill in at left back last season. Whilst his tackles and interceptions per game are roughly the same this term (2.7 compared to 2.6), he is making fewer fouls and crucially is getting dribbled past less than he was last time out. Last season Chilwell was bypassed 1.1 times per 90 minutes of league play, a number he has reduced to 0.7 so far. As defending against quick counters was one of Chelsea’s Achilles heels last season, having a reliable presence to stop rapid wingers in their tracks before they can launch counter-attacks is vital, and Chilwell is certainly playing his part in doing so thus far.
We can see that Chilwell is excelling so far, but how is he doing compared to another left back Chelsea were linked with in the summer who recently arrived in England? Telles signed for Manchester United on deadline day, and although there was a time that I would have been envious of this deal, Chilwell has so far proved himself to be the superior signing (although this is from a very small sample size). The Portuguese full back has only a solitary assist to show from his 8 league and Champions League starts to date despite being a much more attack-minded player than his English counterpart last season. He is also dribbled past more and makes more fouls per game than Chilwell, although he wins possession of the ball back for his side on average once more every 90 minutes. Additionally, Chilwell is 4 years Telles’ junior and is yet to enter his prime. Although United may have found a solid left back for the next few years, Chelsea have snaffled a supreme one for the decade to come.
The Blue’s signings have largely performed excellently so far this term: with Edouard Mendy a gargantuan presence in goal, Thiago Silva an inspiring leader at the back and Timo Werner terrifying opposition defences with his electric pace, it could be argued that Chilwell has made the greatest impact of the bunch. The Englishman has turned left back from a nightmare position to one which is a genuine asset to the side, and he is only going to get better from here as he meshes with the side’s other new signings. Not only has Chilwell excelled on the pitch, but he is also said to be incredibly popular in the changing room and has certainly bought into the youthful, positive vibe around this Chelsea squad. It has taken 6 years and over fifty million pounds invested in failed left backs, but Chelsea have finally got their man and in Chilwell we have someone who can help drive the side to a new era of glory.
Before 8pm last night, Chelsea Twitter was in a great mood. We were one of the favourites to win the League, Jamie Carragher and Jurgen Klopp said Chelsea had the best squad in the Premier League, and fans were getting excited as we were on a 17 match unbeaten run.
There was only one man who disagreed with that and constantly said it throughout press conferences that we couldn’t be compared to Liverpool and Manchester City, and that man was Frank Lampard (and myself who said in the Everton preview that Chelsea fans were getting too complacent, and a few others, but you get the point). And he was absolutely spot on; as Chelsea lost to Everton 1-0, and all of a sudden we now have to challenge for top four. The Chelsea manager kept on repeating himself how you can only win titles with consistency, and last night showed we’re not there, yet.
There are a few reasons we’re not consistent enough at the moment, and they all make sense with context. The main reason though is despite what people are saying, we simply do not have that strong of a squad compared to the big boys. We definitely have a big squad, but that doesn’t really matter. At The Chelsea Spot, we always say quality over quantity, and that’s something we do not have at the moment in the Chelsea squad.
Our B Team
I think Chelsea’s lacklusture performance against Krasnodar sums it up, but I’ll go into detail with it. For this, I’m going to assume our best lineup is this one (although that is never really a thing): Mendy, Chilwell, Zouma, Silva, James, Kante, Mount, Havertz, Ziyech, Werner, Pulisic.You can have your own opinion on your best lineup, but this is just the model I’m going to use to show exacly what I mean.
After Mendy we have Kepa. The worst goalkeeper in Premier League history. That’s not a great start is it? Willy Caballero – he’s average, old, and not really up to the high standard. After all, he’s older than Petr Cech who’s our technical director (although he is playing tomorrow vs Spurs with the development squad). So, if Mendy gets injured or has to leave to go to AFCON, we’re in trouble big time.
Ben Chilwell has been brilliant so far this season, but he’s a player who will have a few bad games in the season and will make mistakes as he’s still young. Normally you’d have a player who could come in for him when he’s struggling to do a job – nope, not in our case. Chilly-B has Emerson and Marcos Alonso behind him, both players who the club want to leave but they can’t afford to lose both at the same time. Emerson is actually decent on the ball, but has the defensive positioning of a donkey, and Marcos Alonso hasn’t played a single minute for Chelsea after his row with Frank Lampard at the game against West Brom. Lampard definitely doesn’t trust them both, and playing Azpilicueta would probably make more sense, but Frank has been opposed this season to using inverted fullbacks. It’s against the style of play, and also Dave is playing a lot of the time on the right hand side when James is resting. If Chilwell gets injured, we’re pretty much screwed.
Our centre backs – they’ve been a breath of fresh air this season. Zouma has been scoring from corners like it’s nothing, is winning every header in in his own box, and next to Silva they are building a great partnership. Thiago has changed our team completely, adding so much composure on the ball, experience and has shown so many good moments of defending (although, his worst game was probably last night vs Everton). Behind the Brazilian centre-back we have Fikayo Tomori, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen. Tomori’s situation at Chelsea is just bizarre, that’s for another article. So, if Silva gets injured, we’re back to the same defence as last season, which was extremely leaky. Rudiger always has a mistake in him and Christensen has looked good this season, however when it comes to being physical that’s certainly not his strong point. So, if Silva can’t play, we could be back to the dodgy defence from last year.
James has definitely been our best and most consistent player this season, and the improvement from last season has been exceptional. After him we do we have Azpilicueta who can certainly do a job, so I won’t complain too much about our RB situation, but again Dave is nothing like Reece and is a lot more negative (football playing wise) so Hakim would struggle not having a constant overlap. Henry Lawrence is probably our next best option at RB, and as much as he’s my favourite academy player, he could be leaving in January on loan and probably isn’t ready to play every single week in the Premier League.
To the average Premier League fan, they will think we are stacked in midfield. But are we actually in the style of play we are pushing towards? I think it is very clear that Frank Lampard wants to play with the 4-3-3, with two number 8’s. Kante isn’t even a number 6 naturally! So we don’t even have a defensive-midfielder at the club, and behind N’Golo we have Jorginho who cannot defend for his life, and Billy Gilmour who yes can certainly do a job there, but isn’t your ideal 6. For the box to box type of midfielders, we have Kai Havertz and Mason Mount. Mateo Kovacic has played there a lot more this season but he still isn’t naturally an 8 and doesn’t offer the goal threat required in the 8, so your next two players who can play there are Gilmour and Tino Anjorin. Don’t get me wrong, both exceptional players and can do a good job for us this season, but both have been linked with loan moves away this January and if one of Kai/Mason were to be injured, we will be lacking experienced and ideal replacements.
Our attack to be fair, we’re quite stacked in. We have three clear wingers, and three strikers, one of which can certainly play out wide (although Frank thought Tammy would also be able to do a job at LW yesterday…). Yet, somehow we still struggled in attack against Everton! All three of our wingers are out at the moment, but we’re hoping that these are just short term injuries. Our backup to Pulisic and Ziyech out wide includes Hudson-Odoi and Werner, which is brilliant, and up front Timo Werner has Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud on his neck, who are again both top strikers. So despite us having to play Havertz and Timo last night out wide and it not working at all, in a few weeks time we should be back to normal.
Very young & inexperienced squad
That’s enough about the squad depth, hopefully that shows you that we do have numbers, but in a lot of areas we are lacking proper quality. Look at yesterday’s bench vs City’s bench, and you’ll see the difference.
Another reason that we don’t have the best squad is due to this team being very inexperienced and young, as expected before coming into this season. Most pundits and fans wouldn’t have put us as clear title challengers, so what has changed? I think most of us would have said comfortably top four, and to close the gap between us and the top two. That still seems very reasonable.
About half of these players have only played one season in the Premier League, and the other half are new to this team. Our most experienced players are Kante and Silva, while Silva has never played in the pace or the intensity of the English League before. Ben Chilwell and Zouma are our next players with more experience in the top flight of English football, but even then they are both still young guys who have a lot to improve on in their game. As brilliantly as they did last season, we saw it took time for the likes of Mount, James, Abraham and Tomori to get used to the League, and that’s only going to be the same with the likes of Havertz, Werner and Ziyech. On top of that, a lot of these guys have never played with each other before, so it’ll also take time for them to get used to each other’s movements.
Many sources have reported that Frank Lampard’s project is going to be a three year plan, and that’s when you’ll see the likes of Rice come in, and other young experienced players at the top level, like Gimenez/Alaba/Haaland. Imagine in 5 years time, when Chilwell, James, Mount, Havertz, Pulisic, Hudson-Odoi, Abraham and Werner will all be in their prime. Lampard would have also learnt from inevitable mistakes on the way, and we could be an absolute force in Europe. I’m not saying we should give Lampard 5 years to win a trophy, but I’m just showing you what the future will look like if we give these players time. Klopp needed time and investment, Guardiola needed time and investment – that’s called building for the future and as part of the process. Lampard needs time and investment, and I’m sure he’ll get both.
To summarise: can Chelsea win the league this season? Possibly. Can you expect Chelsea to win the league this season? NO. Frank needs time. The players need to time to get used to the league. The players need time to get used to playing with each other. It’s all part of the process.
In another episode of The Chelsea Spot podcast, Orlando (Host – @0rland1nho) and Paree (Owner – @CFCParee) were delighted to be joined by Chelsea expert Joe Tweedie (@joeTweedie) where we discussed how the season has gone on so far for the academy boys like Jude Soonsup-Bell, Henry Lawrence, Tino Anjorin, Lewis Bate (etc.), our Summer transfer window and who has been our most important player, FIkayo Tomori and Hudson-Odoi’s lack of gametime, and A LOT more!
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In another episode of The Chelsea Spot podcast, host Orlando (@0rland1nho) & Paree (@CFCParee) are joined by special guest, journalist for The Athletic, Liam Twomey! We talk about working with David Ornstein, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Declan Rice, Frank Lampard and much more! Make sure to have a listen and share it with your friends!
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Make sure to check us out on all our social media platforms, including our website, Twitter, Instagram, Spotify, ITunes, Amazon Music and Google.
Timestamps: 1:18 – Liam’s journey as a Journalist and working for The Athletic 7:10 – Liam travelling to Kai Havertz’s hometown in Germany for an article 10:55 – Anthony Barry’s Influence on Chelsea this season 14:10 – Alonso’s fallout with Lampard and will he leave in January? 17:25 – Having 5 centre backs at the club… who’s going to leave? 19:45 – Online Abuse, Players’ Mental Health & The Mason Mount Agenda 24:20 – What’s going to happen with all our attacking midfielders…(Mount, Havertz, RLC, Barkley, Anjorin, Gallagher etc) 28:17 – What Lampard thinks of Ethan Ampadu and his future position… 30:47 – Declan Rice – how close is the deal? 33:08 – How involved are Chelsea with the European Super League? 35:30 – Future Positions/Players we’re looking into & our Scouting Network 36:50 – Callum Hudson-Odoi’s situation at Chelsea – could he move on loan in January? 41:50 – Has Frank Lampard’s job ever been under threat? 45:00 – Could Jorginho or Kante leave soon? Is Jorginho still in Lampard’s plans? 47:55 – Seeing 4-3-3 in the next few weeks & Gilmour replacing Jorginho… 51:05 – Kepa’s situation and the mess that it is…
We’re five Premier League games into the season. Two wins against Brighton and Crystal Palace, two draws against West Brom and Southampton, and a loss against Liverpool. For a team which should be comfortably making top 4 this season and challenging for the title in the next few years, this start is simply not good enough.
As always, there is pressure on the Chelsea manager, but Frank would certainly be feeling it from the media right now. After spending huge amounts of money on Havertz, Werner, Ziyech, Chilwell and Mendy, he was going to have to impress. This disappointing start has lead to many concerns over Lampard’s ability to make it to the top level…. but what actually is his fault? I analyse and try to give my opinion on as many of the concerns around the gaffer….
There’s one thing which Frank Lampard can’t be blamed for – and that’s individual mistakes. Individual mistakes are certainly the main factor which are costing us at the moment – a silly red card from Andreas Christensen against Liverpool, Thiago Silva slipping on the ball against West Brom, Kurt Zouma failing to clear the ball as well as Kepa against Southampton, and many other mistakes which opponnents have fortunately not been able to take chance of.
These types of mistakes are made under every manager and there’s not much Frank can do, although we do have to question the concentration and mentality of the players at times as the numbers of individual errors seem to be increasing heavily. Or it could be a lack of pre-season, just returning from international break, too many signings in one window – who knows, but the players need to sort it out, because Lampard is taking the blame for them right now.
And what Lampard can’t even be blamed for is that he’s been playing the youngsters too much (in general), because it hasn’t been them which has been costing us the games. Reece James, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Tammy Abraham – I’m struggling to remember the last time they made a clear cut mistake in the Premier League which has cost us points. In fact, it’s been the more experienced ones – Silva is one of the best centre-halfs of all time and has already made a clear mistake, as well as Zouma and Christensen who have incredible experience in big games and Kepa who is the most expensive goalkeeper of all time.
However, although he can’t be blamed for playing the younger lads, his lineup selections and in game management certainly can be questioned at times:
This is something which Lampard definitely needs to be questioned on a lot more in my opinion, especially as with someone like Mason Mount, it’s the midfielder getting the blame and abuse on social media rather than Lampard: I’ve seen multiple tweets of people admitting to hating on Mount because Frank overplays him and instead of Hudson-Odoi on the wing….that makes zero sense.
Last season Mount was one of those players which split the fanbase, but was starting to get on their good side after impressing in the latter stages of the season with some great performances against Aston Villa, Norwich, Wolves on the final day and many more. Yet unfortunately, Mason became a victim of his own success, as Lampard relied on him so much meaning he got tired in some games and simply could not play to his highest level on a consistent basis. The thing is as well, Mount is by far my favourite player at the club, and even though it’s brilliant to see him play week in week out, I’m not sure if that’s really best for Chelsea at the moment.
But, I do get it from Lampard. Frank absolutely adores Mount’s work ethic in training sessions and after all he is the second most fit player in the squad after N’Golo Kante, so he definitely can be played a lot more compared to others. He’s so important in the press and when he’s on the ball glimpses of brilliant quality are shown throughout the game. Although the problem comes where it seems as if he’s being forced into the team at a risk of himself, or at the loss of another. For example, I remember last season he suffered quite a bad injury against Valencia and had to be substituted off, but after a few injections and only a few days later he was playing against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge and it just was never going to be one of his good games. Even a few days ago, Pulisic is outstanding on the left and Mount is solid on both wings, yet it was Mason playing on the left and the American out wide on the right hand side. Sometimes tactically a switch up can work, yes, and througout the game there is a lot of switching in positions, but there is just that feeling that he’s being played in one or two extra games every month.
Some other slightly questionable lineup choices include Kepa and Christensen. Personally, I do try and look from Lampard’s point of view, and it does make sense. Andreas has in some games been incredible under Lampard and Frank certainly wants to credit him for these performances, but he unfortunately just lacks the consistency to play 3 good games in a row without making a mistake, and at the age of 24 these mistakes should be leaving his game very soon. Like Frank and the club, I still have a lot of faith in Christensen so I understand his involvement. But what I don’t get at all is the complete exclusion of Fikayo Tomori from January onwards till now when he had a great partnership with Zouma, and has barely done anything wrong. Obviously we don’t know the ins and outs of the training sessions, but I really can’t see the England defender not trying his best. The club also have a lot of explaining to do after somehow managing to keep Christensen, Silva, Zouma, Tomori and Rudiger all at the club, but that’s for another article.
With Kepa, like I said, I get it. He wants to give him confidence and for his career not to be destroyed and known as the biggest flop in football, and he has shown signs of confidence after making two decent saves against Southampton and impressing for Spain in the international break. But sometimes Frank just needs to be ruthless and stop playing him, because against the Saints he was a huge part of the second goal conceded with Zouma, and for the final one although many keepers wouldn’t have been able to save the last header, conceding a goal with 0.02xG isn’t always a good look on the eye. Caballero also does have a mistake in him – but is he really worse than Kepa? No.
I won’t be too harsh on the coaching staff about in game management as I have clearly seen improvements over the last year, but at times for me it’s still not there. Against West Brom, we were 3-0 down and he brought on Hudson-Odoi at Half-Time – great. That substitution arguably got us the point, as he was by far our best player on the pitch, scoring his second Premier League goal in a lovely move involving Kai Havertz. But when it went to 3-2, and we were steaming ahead and looking very likely to pick up the winning goal, Frank decided to go even more crazy and we basically played a 2 at the back formation, with Werner and Hudson-Odoi as fullbacks. Yup, you read that right. And although the incentive is there of trying to push as many players forwards as possible, it just meant that the complete change threw us off guard and we were unable to move the ball at the same speed as before.
Even a few days ago, as much as the excitement levels to see Hakim Ziyech play for Chelsea and come on the pitch was at its highest, I’m not sure if it was the best of substitutions to make. We were only leading by one goal and these were his first official minutes this season, and therefore was always going to be caught on the ball a few times and be lacking match fitness. For me, subbing on Hudson-Odoi who was sitting cold on the bench would have made a lot more sense, as he would’ve kept the ball ticking and is a lot more match fit, as well as his pace being a real option if we ever needed to lump the ball forward and play it in behind Southampton’s high line.
But, like I said in game management is something I can’t critcise too much as Frank is the one with the coaching badges not me, so he knows what he’s doing. I’m just trying to show what I would have done.
Using Tactics That Can’t Work With This Squad…
The way we are playing, I think it’s very clear that Lampard wants Declan Rice in this team, and my days he would be perfect. But, my concern is that we’re playing with a style that requires someone like Rice in our team, and we simply don’t have anyone similar to his specialities, so why on earth are we still doing so?
Defensively, in the midfield, I would say we are close to a shambles. Frank doesn’t know his best pivot, whether that’s Jorginho-Kovacic, Kovacic-Kante or Jorginho-Kante. In some games, each one works, and in some they don’t, and that’s where it’s close to impossible for Lampard as the players don’t make it any easier for him. In reality, whichever pivot we use, there is too much space between the defenders and the midfielders, and that’s costing us heavily. At times it’s both Jorginho and Kante pushing high up the pitch to press, things which Lampard encourages them both to do, and we are simply cut through which a few simple passes from the opposition. In transition or on the counter we get hit hard and there’s a complete overload on the defenders, with no midfielders seen on the television screen.
We don’t have a traditional Centre Defensive Midfielder in the squad (yet) but we keep on playing as if we do have one…. so what should Frank do? Frank has two options in my opinion – play the 4-3-3 with Kante as the deepest midfielder, or a double pivot, with a clear emphasis on the two defensive minded midfielders to sit back, especially as someone like Havertz as a 10 can drop back and link the play between the midfield and attack. Personally, against the teams who won’t have much of the ball, we play the 4-3-3 with Kante as the deepest, two 8’s such as Havertz and Mount either side, with Pulisic, Werner and Ziyech up top. That means we can play our best players all in one and still have some sort of shape. Against the bigger teams, where Kovacic is much more likely to play due to his ball carrying abilities, a 4-2-3-1 makes a lot more sense, BUT WITH AN EMPHASIS ON CUTTING DOWN THE SPACE BETWEEN THE DEFENCE AND MIDFIELD!
I don’t think anyone can blame his man management in the slightest. It’s probably been close to perfect.
From day one, you could see it was there. Luiz was frustrated at Lampard’s tactics and supposedly showed him some disrespect in training. What does Frank go and do? Sends him away from group training, and showed to the players that that attitude would not be accepted at all. A similar incident happened with Marcos Alonso a few weeks ago. Against West Brom, Alonso reportedly watched the second half after his substitution in the team bus rather than the stands, and Lampard went absolutely ballistic at him for not supporting the team, with reports saying some players had never ever seen him that angry before.
And that’s the main thing. He bleeds blue, he knows what Chelsea means to the fans and he knows how much of a pleasure it is to play for this club. He’s just like one of us, and that’s something you’re not going to find in many clubs.
Not to forget, his incredible balance between the youth and signings. Chelsea have had the best academy in England for years now, but never ever used them in the first team, with them being sent on loan multiple times and never getting that opportunity. Frank saw it differently and although due a transfer ban made his choice less difficult, he recognised the abilities of James, Abraham, Mount and Tomori and the young boys became the stars of last season and the main talking point around the club. Come one year later, we are only signing incredible players such as Havertz and Werner, compared to previous panic flops like Drinkwater, and the younger lads are still getting many opportunities. He’s getting it spot on. Even Hudson-Odoi who had the chance to join Bayern Munich and isn’t getting much game time under Lampard wants to stay at the club and get into Frank’s plans – and that’s what it’s all about.
Lampard Out? Not a Single Chance!
Don’t get it twisted, I’m no where near wanting Lampard to get the sack as much as I have questioned him in this article. I don’t think I can and ever will be.
He needs time. We signed him because the club wanted to change their ways about doing things, and try and support their managers as much as possible. This is a long term project and something completely new to Chelsea fans, as we’ve seen the more ruthless side from the owner and board in recent years. But that means if the club are willing to give him time, so should you. Our new players need to adapt to the League and gel together, especially as so many arrived together at the same time. Just like the young lads, he’s inexperienced too and will make mistakes along the way, but in the end the final product we should get will be exceptional, I’m sure.
And to the people who say I’m being bias due to his playing career: you’re correct – I am bias to our greatest ever player in club history, and although it shouldn’t get in the way of me judging him as a manager, I think it always will because he was that good for us.
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard was interviewed by Arlo White as part of the series ‘Inside the Mind’ for NBCSN, and here are some of the best quotes from the chat. To have a listen to the full interview, simply watch the video below (only available in the United States).
Frank Lampard on bringing in Thiago Silva:
‘He will bring us the experience of playing in winning teams and what it takes to win and I hope that he can lead from the back in terms of how he holds himself and communicates with others around him and hopefully that will address some of our defensive problems.’
Frank Lampard on the signings of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz:
‘They’re two players I’m delighted to bring in. They were players that I had a lot of admiration for from the outside. They were two players that I said I wanted to bring to the club. I think it will give us a lot of speed and flexibility in higher areas of the pitch as well as a lot of quality. I get a really good feeling from them that they’re hungry for success.’
Frank Lampard on Chelsea’s New Number 10 Christian Pulisic:
‘He’s trained with us for the last couple of days so I suppose I’ll have to be a little bit careful going to Brighton. I’ll see how he is right up to that game as his recovery has been pretty quick and a lot of testament goes to him for that because he’s worked really hard to get fit. I had every feeling last year that Christian would be a huge player for this club. I genuinely felt it was time for him to adapt to the League so I tried to protect him [hence I didn’t play him as much earlier on]. When he got into the team I didn’t need to protect him.
I saw that progression in restart that showed those qualities [he has] – speed and balance and finishing, and there was a new belief in being a player that was going to make a difference for us. I am very excited that this season he’s going to improve even more. He’s come back looking really hungry. He will only improve with the players brought in around him that will hopefully be on the [same] wavelength with him – maybe with their movements Christian will get even more space.
I wanted him to have the number 10 shirt because I felt like he deserved it and he wanted it. We all know what a fit Christian Pulisic can do. I was very pleased to actually make the call to tell him about it and I could sense he was happy and I sense a feeling that this is another push up for him and I’ve got no worries for Christian.’
Once again, make sure to listen to the full interview to hear more from Frank Lampard!
In another episode of The Chelsea Spot podcast, Orlando (Host – @0rland1nho) and special guest Sam (@stighefootball – Journalist for BR Football) discuss Chelsea’s upcoming season, and instead of talking about the many positives, they instead try to look at some of the concerns which could show up in the next 12 months…
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Chelsea and ‘youth’ are two words which before this season didn’t go together at all, but the arrival of Joe Edwards, Jody Morris and Frank Lampard in the home dugout as well as the transfer ban certainly changed that linkup. As fans have seen the likes of Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori, Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Billy Gilmour all have a proper shot with the first team, the Chelsea academy has never been as popular. More and more Chelsea supporters have been trying to look down the age groups to try and find out who the next ‘talent’ is, and even some of them have made an appearance this season.
Marc Guehi has featured against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup, while the likes of Tino Anjorin, Ian Maatsen and Armando Broja have all debuted for Chelsea at some point this season. All four players have such high potential and have impressed when given their minutes, such that the academy players would be working even harder to try and push into that first team. One player who has been in the spotlight recently is Lewis Bate, who made the bench against Sheffield United at just the age of 17 – check out our scouting report of the young English midfielder by my fellow writer Orlando. If it wasn’t for his injury in training with the first team, there is a good chance that Henry Lawrence could have been involved in the squad too. But who is exactly Henry Lawrence, and why isn’t his name being mentioned much?
Just to clear things up, sometimes young players’ name’s being mentioned less can be a good thing. As Pat Nevin said in our exclusive interview, it would be harsh to comment on the ‘next big thing’ from the academy since all it is doing is putting immense pressure on them when the transformation from youth football to men’s football is definitely a huge one. As we have seen with Billy Gilmour, his substitution against Sheffield United wasn’t convincing and led to us dropping a 2-0 lead, and therefore was put under immense pressure from the Chelsea fanbase and was blamed for us losing two points, yet only a few months later he dropped two masterclasses in a week against Liverpool and Everton. Also, like I said, Lawrence had trained with the first team a couple of times throughout the season and has impressed Lampard according to certain reports, and him going under the radar means that he can just do his work and business without being in the headlines.
Enough waffling though, let’s get into Henry Lawrence as a player…
Henry’s name was first brought up properly on social media at the beginning of the season, when he scored a screamer against Brighton at Stamford Bridge for the development team. His curling effort from a tight angle was mainly overshadowed by a Callum Hudson-Odoi assist who received the ball with a great switch from Reece James, yet as I was sitting in East Lower with the fans, I kept an eye on the fullback and the more I watched him the more I was impressed. After the game, I contacted him on Instagram congratulating him on the goal and a really solid performance, and he replied and ever since we have stayed in touch, which also shows a touch of class which not many footballers have the time for.
As the season went on, as I attended more matches at Kingsmeadow and plenty more games were being streamed on The Fifth Stand, I kept an eye on Lawrence more and more and his ability really started to shine, especially in the FA Youth Cup, and personally he has a really strong contention for Academy Player of the Season.
If you know anything about Lawrence, it’ll most likely be that he’s extremely versatile. We joked about it during a chat, but he has played in every single position apart from Goalkeeper some time this season, including striker in pre-season. Shifting from Right-Back to Left-Back, sometimes to Centre-Back in a back three, often as a Wing-Back on either side, originally being a midfielder, and playing on both wings too, Lawrence has played to a top level in each position and shown enough Football IQ to understand the game fully.
With some players, I think having a few positions under their belt can be a negative thing. For example, with players like Trevoh Chalobah and Ethan Ampadu, as much as it is great for them to get minutes while on loan and to experience different positions and roles, for me I would love to see Chalobah nail down the Centre-Back role, and for the Welsh player to stick as a central defensive midfielder, where he is best at for Wales. But with other players, it can work – playing in a few different positions. Players like James Milner has played in multiple positions throughout his career and excelled in each one, as welling as moving between them as he aged. Even Chelsea club captain Cesar Azpilicueta has played in both fullback roles as well as a centre-back in a 3 at the back formation, and I have also seen some extremely dodgy shouts on the timeline saying that he has the qualities to play in defensive midfield! Lawrence can definitely be like one of the latter players, and there isn’t anyone better than Dave to learn from.
Lawrence has recently been compared to Ethan Ampadu, however I’d argue that that’s an easy and lazy comparison to make and that comparisons to Azpilicueta make a lot more sense. It’s not necessarily the style of play which makes them similar, but more the level of consistency. Dave has been named ‘Mr Consistent’ by Chelsea fans all over the world, and every single game he puts in a shift no matter what. Lawrence has shown a high level of consistency over the season and I’d struggle to namy any disasterclasses.
Another way in which you could compare the two is that they both play a nice and simple game, but still a good one. That is certainly a quality which Frank Lampard likes. As Lampard said in a press-conference and Roy Keane emphasised in the Sky Sports studio, Billy Gilmour was just playing a very simple game ‘like the old days’ and was always looking forward, trying to keep the ball moving and being aware defensively. None of the fancy flicks and turns in midfield, nor dancing in celebrations, just simply wants to play the game and help the team score as many goal as possible. Although Henry does have some flair in his locker due to playing in the midfield previously, he’s not the one to always show it and like Azpilicueta plays a simple game and is very composed on the ball.
To round off the article, let’s quickly go through some other qualities. Lawrence has a really powerful shot, as shown by his goal against Liverpool, and really aims to keep it on target. Have a look at his goal which according to my memory brought us level at the time…
His dribbling is also one of his best qualities, but to be honest, I think I could say that for every single Chelsea academy graduate with how advanced the training technically is. He’s not afraid to dribble past a player in defence to create another option, or if it’s to whip in a cross. Arguably his best goal, in his international debut for the England U19’s, consisted of him running all the way from the halfway line, dribbling past three players and tucking it sweetly into the bottom left hand corner.
Obviously with him being a quick player and being able to dribble well, it opens up a lot of opportunities to cross the ball in or make the right pass. So many times you will see him go past a player and cross it in brilliantly into the box, or to beat a few players which opens up a lot of space for the likes of Anjorin and Bate to do the work in front of goal. A few times this season Lawrence has also broken the lines with one simple pass, something which Lampard is looking for more and more.
Finally, it’s the work he does off the ball which really shouldn’t be missed. Defensively the fullback is strong and really isn’t afraid to put in a tackle or go into a 50/50. When moving off the ball, it’s arguably some of the best I have seen. He’s always looking to make an option and really understands what the players around him wants to do. Something which Reece James has done a lot this season is come into midfield in a three at the back formation, and when playing four at the back he’s overlapping a lot more and whipping crosses in. Lawrence is constantly making inward and outward runs and is able to do both pretty well due to playing in so many positions, and for the opposition defender it must be extremely confusing. I think Chelsea Academy guru @chelseayouth summed it up quite well…
I’ve said it when writing scout reports on Gilmour, Anjorin and Bate and I’ll repeat it again. The transformation from youth football to men’s football is very hard and we don’t know how they’ll get on, but the potential is very high and I’m sure he’s working hard to reach that level.
Want to know about my opinion and Orlando’s on other academy players? Have a listen to our podcast we recorded a few months ago where we went through and talked about as many academy players as we could…
In the best episode yet of The Chelsea Spot Podcast, we got the wonderful opportunity to interview Chelsea legend Pat Nevin. A big thank you to Pat of course for taking his time out to talk to us, and also our hosts Dan (@danbarkzr), Orlando (@0rland1nho) and Jordan especially as he was the one who organised this episode (@brighty160), as well as our producer (@ACParee).
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Make sure to check us out on all our social media platforms, including our website, Twitter, Spotify, ITunes and Deezer
If you don’t have time to listen to the whole podcast now, you can read some of the best quotes from it here.
Pat talks about the best opponents he played with and against while playing for Chelsea, playing international football vs Maradona, Black Lives Matter, hanging out with Pele, Billy Gilmour, Frank Lampard, Virgil Van Dijk, and so so much more! Have a look down below for exact timestamps on the most exciting topics!
#TheChelseaSpot | #Chelsea | #CFC
Players Pat has played against – 4.50
Racism in football/Black Lives Matter – 10.18
How good can Billy Gilmour be, in comparison with Jorginho? – 16.30
Why is Frank Lampard different from most managers? – 20.30
How is the philosophy of Chelsea changing at the moment? – 24.04
How and why do different players have different paths? – 29.29
Coaching vs Punditry, why? – 33.09
Pat explains his secret DJ’ing career! – 36.07
Chelsea Player of the Season? – 39.17
Why is Pat a Chelsea fan? How have football fans changed since Pat’s playing days? – 42.40
What is Pat’s favourite Chelsea chant? – 46.29
What are Pat’s thoughts on the new signings coming in this season, and how might they affect the academy players? – 47.25
How is it working in and around the club nowadays? – 53.29
Which youngsters from the academy are Pat looking forward to seeing play for the first team in the future? – 56.13
In our twenty first episode of The Chelsea Spot podcast Orlando (Host – @0rland1nho), Danny (@danny_new_) & Paree (@ACParee) discuss the great 2-0 victory over Wolves to qualify Chelsea for the Champions League next season. The boys also discuss the developments in Kai Havertz to Chelsea, the breakthrough in Willian signing a new contract and a lot more!
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