When the news surfaced of Chilwell needing surgery on his ACL injury we didn’t even fathom that potentially another injury of that magnitude was right around the corner. Reece James quite literally hobbled off of the pitch and was seen after the game walking only with the aid of some crutches. The injury is rumoured to be his hamstring and these kinds of injuries can vary in severity.
I’m no insider at the club but I can assume some scans will be done ASAP, probably today or tomorrow. Hamstring injuries can be tedious and are often flared up again if overdone and the normal thing would be to ease Reece back into play slowly. However, with 5 games in the next 17 days this is just not possible. This leaves Tuchel and the team in quite the predicament.
Below is a great post surrounding the possibilities of Reece James’ injury and the different types of recovery times for the different grades of hamstring injuries.
The options remaining at right-wing back now read Azpilicueta, Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi. Two of these aren’t even defenders… Azpilicueta is slowly declining which is saddening for everyone to see but is still a great option at RCB and to see him against the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham at wing back could be dangerous. Pulisic is still adapting to the position and everyone knows with him playing there against the aforementioned teams we could be in serious trouble. Hudson-Odoi didn’t have his finest match today against Brighton but it is evident to see he is more suited to the attacking positions. Both Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi will be in defensive bother trying to mark Mane if they have to play there and this will definitely reduce their attacking output as they would have to deal with a marauding Robertson and Mane.
An injury concern still looms over Andreas Christensen as his back problem flared up again tonight. A back injury like he has usually comes with the need for rest and with the hectic January schedule, it won’t do him any favours continuing to play through the pain. This means Azpilicueta could be forced to play RCB, lessening the options at wing back even further.
The only natural wing back at the club that is fit is Marcos Alonso. Even tonight he was having trouble against Lamptey, imagine the damage that Salah will do come Sunday. The idea was floated around before the game that Tuchel could be getting Reece James adapted to the left wing-back role as a way to prepare him for playing there against Liverpool. Well if that was a tactical plan by Tuchel, that went terribly wrong.
Obviously, we know that Reece James’ scans could all come back positive and he could be fine within a few weeks but what can we do in that time? My thoughts are that Tuchel will use Azpilicueta there against Liverpool to try and stay compact but for the other games throughout January he will use either Hudson-Odoi or Pulisic.
It would be nice if we had maybe Tino Livramento and Tariq Lamptey to replace Reece for the moment but we don’t. There are academy options that fit the profile of a wing back. For example, Dion Rankine is a pacy and dynamic player that has been utilised in this role before in the youth setup. Against Brentford we saw Xavier Simons play there and he put in a decent enough performance to earn some trust from Tuchel. It would be a big risk for academy players to be used in these big matches and I can’t really see it happening apart from the Chesterfield match.
If worst comes to worst and we need to explore the market for wing back options it would be a good idea for Tuchel and his recruitment team to possibly find a player capable of operating on both sides.
Another thorn in the side of a Chelsea side that has been ravaged by Covid and injuries over the past few weeks. The schedule comes under scrutiny and maybe rightly so but now is the time for the team to scrape together a few wins and steady the ship.
In another episode of The Chelsea Spot Podcast, Dan (Host – @DanBarkerCoach) is joined by Paree (Owner- @CFCParee) & Danny (Writer – @danny_new_) to discuss Chelsea’s 7-0 incredible victory against Norwich with a Mason Mount man of the match performance, Hudson-Odoi and Reece James goal, Chilwell screamer, Loftus-Cheek assist and so much more on a great day for Cobham!
We’ve won a trophy already, find ourselves top of the Premier League 8 games in and still remain in all competitions. There should be nothing to complain about, right? Wrong. With Chelsea, there’s pretty much always something to complain about, except this time it’s quite an important topic. The big question at the moment is whether our current way of playing is sustainable enough to win the title this season, and I strongly believe there is a link between this question and switching to four at the back, so I will discuss both matters in this piece.
As everyone will know by now, things at Chelsea change very very quickly. Last season on the December 5th we beat Leeds 3-1 at Stamford Bridge to take us to the top of the league, but in less than two months Frank Lampard found himself sacked from the job and Thomas Tuchel came in to replace him who went on to win the Champions League.
We could very much be in a similar position in 2-3 games’ time, with us definitely being the favourites for our next few Premier League fixtures against Norwich, Newcastle and Burnley. I’m not saying Tuchel is going to get sacked in two months and I definitely do not want anything like that to happen either, but we as fans genuinely shouldn’t rule out the possibility of something mad happening because a quick switch in mood around the camp due to a few losses can change everything.
The tiny chance of that happening is certainly based upon the fact that we’re top of the League, except we almost definitely shouldn’t be looking at the stats. Although, as I argued in the latest podcast episode, I don’t think it’s been anywhere near as bad as some people have made out and that the eye test and context is more important in this case.
Without doubt, especially in some games, we are overperforming. The stats quite simply support that. If you watched the game vs Brentford, you could see that we deserved to lose and that Mendy saved us big time, as he has done quite a few times this season – his shot save percentage so far is 96% while no other goalkeeper’s percentage in the League is higher than 83%. Our expected goals conceded is 10.1, and we have only conceded 3. That is truly remarkable and is credit to some incredible goalkeeping and defending at times. However, as you can see with Brighton finally cashing in on their xG and currently finding themselves in the top 4, the stats do normally catch up and it would suggest the method of defending to a high level and relying on individual attacking quality isn’t sustainable in the long run. And if you don’t think that’s the way we play, then you’re just wrong to be honest, and Andreas Christensen would also disagree with you:
“We are by no means a defensive team but we know that if we get that right we have a big chance of winning games with the quality we have up front. Not conceding is where we start and then we must score goals.”
However, this is where I have disagreed with most. I’d say the game against Brentford was a bit of an exception, and personally was the only one where we’ve won and I’ve felt that we’ve completely deserved to lose. If the performance against Brentford was happening on a regular basis, then I would totally agree that there would be no way we would win the League this season, but I simply don’t think that has been the case. Looking at our results: we weren’t amazing against Crystal Palace, but we fully deserved to win; Arsenal was a comfortable victory and we played some great football; Liverpool we played decently in the first half and due to the unfortunate red card we had to defend brilliantly in the second half which led to a fair result; Aston Villa was a game which we maybe could’ve conceded one or two in, but some great defending meant we were fine and our third goal should summarise the football we played that game; Tottenham we won with ease despite the shaky first half; Southampton they really only had one huge chance which was the pen given away and other than that we dominated especially when Mason came on, and Brentford we have talked about.
I think there’s a lot of context to the Brentford game which isn’t being mentioned, and also to why our football hasn’t been the best this season. This game was straight after the international break where players would have been both physically and mentally tired, so important players were left on the bench and the lineup was mostly made up of players who had been at Cobham the previous two weeks. I mean, this could literally be seen by us starting Malang Sarr in a Premier League game, who in general did have a solid game but in the last 20 minutes was the main culprit for a lot of their big chances. We were trying out a new style of play with the 3-5-2 formation, and we as fans in our minds should be treating Brentford as a top 6 team and see the result as a huge positive. I do wonder whether under previous Chelsea managers that result and performance would have been deemed as a sign of a ‘title challenging squad.’ I’d argue that under Sarri, Lampard and even Tuchel last season we would have crumbled very quickly with the heavy pressure they were putting us under (4-0 loss to Bournemouth, 3-0 loss to Sheffield United and 5-2 loss to West Brom all coming to mind…)
And with the rest of the season, one small but very simple reason which I’m sure is a big factor to the way we’re playing is that we haven’t played our best line-up for most of the games. Our most important player in Mason Mount, has missed quite a few games due to injury or controlling his fitness levels due to playing so much last season, and our wingbacks are so important to the system yet we haven’t seen our best ones start together yet. It’s vital with our formation that our wingbacks are able to get forward and offer some threat, so when opposition teams see Marcos Alonso and Azpilicueta out wide they will be much less afraid than if it was Ben Chilwell and Reece James. Hopefully, if all three can start getting into the team regularly, we’ll see a huge improvement in the way we play.
Another thing is that our issues have changed over the last two seasons. Under Lampard, we were creating many chances but not being clinical. Under Tuchel, we have struggled to create chances: 2nd highest in the League last season in ‘Shot Creating Actions per 90’ compared to 6th highest now. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but unless there is a change in tactics or style I can’t see that drastically changing. Even last season was a struggle with this formation with us finding it very difficult to break down the ‘worse’ teams and just off the top of my head I can remember many frustrating games where we dropped points: West Brom, Aston Villa, Leeds, Southampton and I’m sure there are many more. This season, those issues pretty much remain, and it’s arguably got worse. In the last few games, it looks like we have decided to sit a bit deeper and almost try and invite other teams onto us to stop them from sitting too deep, which has meant we are playing a bit more on the counter which could be one of the reasons for Timo Werner’s sudden introduction back into the team. Although one of his best qualities is creating space for other people and he did have a pretty decent game against Brentford, he is creatively nothing compared to the likes of Mason Mount, Hudson-Odoi and even Hakim Ziyech when he’s up for it. And, this is a huge problem because at the moment pretty much none of our attackers are on form (or being given the chance to play in their real position…) which simply means our only creative outlets have completely gone, and it’s the big reason for Romelu Lukaku’s struggles in the last few games.
It is very simple – if you think our current problems lie with Lukaku then you are wrong. Put any other striker in this team, and they are struggling just like he is. Yup, any striker in the whole world. There is literally no service to him – it’s so simple to see. First of all, we’re creating roughly one proper chance for him per game and no striker in the world should be expected to score each of these because that’s pretty much impossible. He needs chances to get into games and test the keeper, except he’s getting barely any of that right now. Secondly, I really don’t think we’re playing to his strengths, as Antonio Conte stated a few weeks ago. We’ve started to use him as a target man when that should only be used once or twice in the game when we’re under pressure, except that’s becoming a common occurrence so we may as well have just bought Akinfenwa. If you watch Belgium and the way he plays for his country: he’s out wide, interchanging with De Bruyne and Hazard, running down the wing, shrugging off defenders – like his debut against Arsenal except that’s the way he plays consistently. We have barely seen that for the Blues.
“He always has to be played, but at Chelsea they don’t quite understand how to use him. If they understand, Chelsea will become the team to beat.”
Obviously, he’s a top striker so give him chances and he’ll score most of them. In the Premier League, he’s only got an xG of 3.68 which is 6th highest in the League, and for one of the best forwards in the world who we’ve signed for 97 million pounds, you’d want and expect some better service for him. We need to find more ways to be creative for him – whether that’s crossing it from Reece James a lot more which we haven’t seen too much, or trying to get other players to link up with him well. As Tuchel has said, most of the players have struggled to do that apart from Mason and Mateo Kovacic so hopefully that can improve as they continue to play many games with each other.
Loftus-Cheek’s introduction into the team completely changes things though. He has replaced Jorginho in midfield and is sitting the deepest out of the three… and has looked entirely comfortable. He’s done the exact same passing, exact same ‘dictating the tempo’, and instead of escaping the pressure via passing backwards or sideways or the occasional in between the lines pass to Mason, he’s simply dribbled past their whole midfield. A bit similar to the kind of things Kovacic does, but from a much deeper role and his height, physicality, defensive abilities and end product if pushed higher up the pitch probably makes him a preferred option to the Croatian too. Personally, I just think the manager would prefer someone of Ruben’s physique who does everything which Jorginho does if not better in the attack. Imagine you’re one of the wingbacks. Would you prefer receiving the ball at a pretty slow pace deep into your own half leaving you with the two options of going backwards or having to go past the opposition team, or would you prefer receiving the ball higher up the pitch at pace when most of the team has been beaten? There’s only one option for me. Hopefully, this means that the wingbacks can create a few more chances and I’m really interested to see how we play when Reece, Chilwell, Mount and RLC all start together.
Into the second part of the article which as writing I’m going to keep very short and sweet due to Tom writing a piece on it the other day: the form of Loftus-Cheek certainly opens up the opportunity to play 4 at the back temporarily. I’m of strong belief that no manager needs to have a Plan B, except that for this Chelsea squad it makes perfect sense to play 4 at the back when we’re drawing in the 60th minute or in certain cup games. Personally our best football this season has come in a weakened team against Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup, where Reece was playing both inside and out wide changing the formation to four at the back at times. Most of our players improve so much when we play four at the back, and it just feels like we play so negatively at times to cover up a certain midfield duo (your words not mine). Chilwell and James go back to their natural positions, so do Hudson-Odoi, Ziyech and Pulisic. Mason Mount returns to play his best football as an 8, Loftus-Cheek is able to attack more, Kante has more freedom in midfield and most importantly more chances are created for our world class striker Romelu. Tuchel’s press conference ahead of the Malmo game was certainly pretty convincing in that they are potentially looking at changing formations to create more chances for the attackers, but it just seems like we have been crying out for this for weeks.
“One solution could be to change formation, put more offensive players. Let’s see.”
Yes, it does create weaknesses in other places in our team which is the big reason we’re playing 3 at the back right now. But, I do think the positives in creating more chances and putting more players in their natural position is larger than the negatives of not having a natural defensive midfielder and having a slightly shaky defender next to Thiago Silva. And, like I said before, this isn’t something which should be chucked in from the start, but more used as ‘emergency’ and if things aren’t going well, which you could argue is on it’s way if things don’t improve.
Do you think we’re playing at a sustainable level? Do you think we should have 4 at the back as a backup formation? Let us know on our social media platforms!
When Frank Lampard became the manager of Chelsea FC in the summer of 2019, many didn’t know what to expect. Coming off his first full season as manager for Derby County in the EFL Championship, his side finished short of being promoted back to the English Premier League. They lost 2-1 versus Aston Villa in the final of their playoffs and, despite that, they had a successful season that saw the team mature and grow.
Lampard, who spent 13 seasons with Chelsea as a player, had a positive first season as manager of the club. He led his side to a fourth-place finish in the Premier League, which secured their spot in the Champions League for the 2020/21 campaign. Additionally, Chelsea advanced to the FA Cup finals versus Arsenal, yet lost 3-1.
However, they weren’t as fortunate in the League Cup and the Champions League as they had bitter defeats versus Manchester United and Bayern Munich, with the latter proving to be too much to handle. It was a learning curve for Lampard as it was his first time managing a club in the Champions League. A tough task to do with limited managerial experience.
In Lampard’s first season, he exceeded expectations for his side after a transfer ban in the summer of 2018. He had the daunting task of not being able to sign players that he would have wanted to and, instead, had to depend on players who returned from the prior season and also relied on the Youth Academy. Although the ban was lifted and they were able to sign players in the winter transfer market, not much was done, which left Lampard in a difficult situation.
Most managers would prefer to arrive, transform the club as to how they would want it and have the flexibility to buying players in the transfer market. Lampard took on a challenging task and, in doing so, he has been able to take many Chelsea academy players to the next level in their young career.
Last season, Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Reece James broke into the first team and got their opportunity to show what they could provide to Chelsea. All three players didn’t disappoint as they finished the season rather impressively. Mount and Abraham had a combined 22 goals in the Premier League, while James proved to be a capable backup to Cesar Azpilicueta for the foreseeable future. He is a physical defender, with strong tackles and a good read for the game.
Heading into the 2020/21 season, expectations became much different for Lampard. This time around, the club had a full summer transfer window to purchase and were quite active, to say the least. They brought young, highly talented players, Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Ben Chilwell. They also brought veteran Thiago Silva to provide leadership and experience in the backend. They spent an excess of 200 million Euros in the summer transfer window and expectations were high.
Lampard’s job was in jeopardy at the mid-point of the season as his side had failed to produce. They exited early in the League Cup versus Tottenham Hotspur, advanced his side to the round of 16 in the Champions League and won against Hull City to advance into the fourth round of the FA Cup. Prior to his firing, Chelsea was sitting in ninth place in the Premier League. The results were encouraging yet not enough to save his job.
Lampard’s first season was more lenient given the circumstances the club faced however in his second season, club owner, Roman Abramovich, didn’t wait to evaluate Lampard’s performance as manager. The club decided to replace him with ex-PSG manager, Thomas Tuchel, which caught many by surprise when the deal was announced.
While it was sad to see Lampard leave Chelsea, he did his best in a tough situation the past two seasons. One noticeable area of concern was Lampard’s lack of managerial experience. Far too often this season, he had players in positions that were not their regulation position. Specifically, Werner, who was used as a left-wing but spent most of his time as a centre-forward with RB Leipzig. The German has struggled to find consistency, along with not scoring at the same rate he did in the Bundesliga.
All the blame shouldn’t be squared solely on Lampard. It was well known that he had limited managerial experience and he was going to need time to learn and adapt. Many successful managers have advanced through the youth rankings or have managed the lower divisions to help them gain experience. Lampard should have been given the proper time to adjust and figure it out with Chelsea. That’s never the case with Abramovich, who is known to have little patience.
Additionally, Chelsea acquired a plethora of new players in the summer transfer market and they had limited time to become familiar with each other. Training camp was shortened this season as Covid-19 altered the season and the scheduling. Injuries and illnesses also hampered Lampard’s squad, which made it difficult to have a full roster where players could play regularly.
While it didn’t go as planned this season, the Englishman was able to keep Chelsea on course through difficult times. Now he will embark on a new journey in his managerial career. Regardless of how it went, he will always be a Blue who gave it his all just as he did when he was a player with the club.