On Saturday, Chelsea and manager Frank Lampard travelled to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United, a match that culminated in a boring, uneventful 0-0 draw. Both defences stood firm in a match that was ultimately marred by yet another inexplicable VAR error.
Harry Maguire wrapped his arm around Cesar Azpilicueta’s neck during a corner to prevent him from jumping, essentially putting him in a chokehold. However, VAR didn’t even review the incident.
Regardless, there are many positives to take from both sides, specifically for the Blues.
Why a 0-0 Draw is Better Than What it Seems for Chelsea
So far in Lampard’s managerial stint at Chelsea, his biggest stumbling block has been his defence. In his first season, the club conceded 54 goals in the Premier League, the highest total of any side in the top half. The poor defensive form continued into this season, as they conceded three goals to both West Bromwich Albion and Southampton.
In both these matches, Chelsea also scored three, but this type of all-out-attack mentality will not work for Lampard in the long run, unless somehow he inherits Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona squad. An attacking mindset is certainly positive and beneficial, but it must be combined with a solid defence.
Look at Liverpool. For two or three years they had the same issue as Chelsea – a free-flowing attack overshadowed by an underperforming defence. In 2016/17 and 2017/18, they finished fourth. What changed? They signed Virgil van Dijk.
The Dutch centre-back completely transformed the defence, and gave the stability at the back that every champion needs. Liverpool then became a force in the league, finally breaking their 30-year duct last season.
Chelsea have been lacking a consistent defence, so for them to keep consecutive clean sheets against Sevilla and United is a very positive sign for Lampard and his squad.
Finally a Dependable Goalkeeper for Chelsea
Edouard Mendy may have only played four matches for the Blues, but he is very quickly becoming a favourite at Stamford Bridge. Why? Because after more than two wretched years of watching Kepa Arrizabalaga, the fans finally have someone they can rely on between the sticks.
Mendy is tall, which in itself means very little, but the confidence that comes with his stature is what already sets him apart from Kepa. He is never afraid to come out and claim crosses and doesn’t hesitate. All in all, the Senegalese is a dominant, imposing keeper.
The importance of having a reliable ‘keeper cannot be understated. A composed, assured goalkeeper gives confidence to his back four as well, which boosts the defence by a considerable margin. Having Kepa in goal did the opposite – it made Chelsea nervous at the back, which caused mistakes.
Now, with Mendy, the defenders are much calmer, knowing they have a dependable first-choice backing them up.
Consistent Back Four Will Work Wonders
A big reason for the inconsistency of Chelsea’s backline last season was the inconsistency of Lampard’s team selection. He was struggling all season to figure out who his best centre-backs were, as well as in both full-back positions.
For a period at the start of the campaign, which coincided with Chelsea’s best form, Fikayo Tomori and Kurt Zouma were employed at the heart of the defence. Then, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen became the preferred pairing for the next few months. Lampard shuffled his defenders in and out based on form.
While that method is good for choosing creative, attacking players, it works a little worse when it comes to the backline. This is because the defenders need to have a great relationship on the pitch to perform at their best, even more so than attackers. When they’re being moved in and out of the line-up, it’s harder to communicate effectively and have a solid system in place.
New signings Chilwell and Silva have had massive impacts, as has Mendy, and Zouma has established himself as Chelsea’s best centre-back from the options last season. Rudiger has been frozen out, while Tomori and Christensen are now acting as back-up.
In the three matches Silva and Mendy have both played in the league and Champions League, the Blues haven’t conceded a goal. In the other four, they conceded nine. That stat says it all.
Free-Flowing Attack Will Come
Much was made of the money Chelsea spent in order to bring Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech into the club this summer. So when the new-look front four, along with emerging star Christian Pulisic, did not get off to a flying start, criticism started to flow.
However, that is unwarranted for several reasons. Werner and Havertz moved from a very different league in the Bundesliga, and it will naturally take time for them to fully adapt.
Ziyech has probably had it the hardest, though. With the cancellation of the Eredivisie due to the Coronavirus pandemic, he hadn’t played football in nearly six months when he made his debut a few weeks ago. He also picked up an injury, which meant he was out for several weeks.
Fresh off an injury and six months without competitive action, it’s impossible for the Moroccan to be anywhere near his top form. In the next few weeks, though, he will regain his match fitness and finally begin to cultivate that relationship with the other attackers.
Werner, Ziyech, Havertz and Pulisic will be a dominant attack in the Premier League for years to come. All they need at the moment is time to settle in, but the sheer quality between them is enough to win many matches for Chelsea.
Some may have seen the dull 0-0 draw to United as a poor sign, but with further analysis of the game, it becomes more and more evident that it’s not such a bad result at this stage of the season.
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