While there’s been uncertainty surrounding the current football hiatus, governing bodies have vowed to finish the Premier League season. As we buckle down and wait to see developments unfold, it’s a good time to take stock of how Chelsea’s season – their first under Frank Lampard – has been going so far.
It’s safe to say it got off to a pretty rocky start. Lampard, who lest we forget is Chelsea’s all-time highest goal scorer, had to look helplessly on as his men were given a four-goal drubbing by Manchester United. This wasn’t just bad – it was historically bad: the biggest debut defeat by a Chelsea manager since Danny Blanchflower’s side lost 7-2 to Middlesbrough way back in 1978.
And yet… the scoreline only told half the story. On the pitch, the squad was strong, with more shots on target and more possession overall. “We dominated the midfield,” Lampard mused. “For big spells in the first half they couldn’t get out.”
And that meant Chelsea’s morale wasn’t dealt a lethal blow by the early loss, and there was an electric atmosphere when they faced off against Leicester City in the first home game with Lampard as manager. “Welcome Home Super Frank” read the banners, encapsulating the buzz around a bona fide Blues legend now being at the helm. The game itself was a draw, but they followed it up with their first Premier League win of the season, beating Norwich 2-3.
This was a superb showcase of the energy and potential of the younger players, with 20-year-old Mason Mount and 21-year-old Tammy Abraham bringing the goals. The latter’s brace was a taste of things to come, with Abraham scoring twice in the next game against Sheffield United. And then came a resounding 2-5 thrashing of Wolverhampton Wanderers, where Abraham once again proved his worth by scoring a hat trick (and an own goal, not that anyone was going to hold that against him).
Abraham’s treble came within 21 minutes, making him the youngest Chelsea player ever to score a hat trick in the Premier League. Once again, youth was the X factor at work here, with the other two goals provided by Mount and the 21-year-old Fikayo Tomori. This win provided a big boost ahead of their first Champions League game days later. But it wasn’t enough to overcome what is widely regarded as the squad’s main weakness this season: defence.
They lost that Champions League opener against Valencia, and there was a touch of controversy over Ross Barkley missing a late penalty which would have provided the equaliser. Was there a bit of a spat between Barkley, Willian and Jorginho over who should take the shot? Lampard denied it, saying “Ross is a penalty-taker… that’s why he took it”, while Willian later said he had indeed wanted to take it.
Either way, it was a chastening result for the impetuous young team, and things seemed to go from bad to worse with their next Premier League game – a 1-2 loss against the mighty juggernaut of Liverpool, who bagged their 15th consecutive league win. But actually, the Blues were poised on the cusp of a string of six back-to-back Premier League victories.
It began with them beating Brighton & Hove Albion 2-0 at Stamford Bridge – finally providing Lampard with his first home win as manager (and his first clean sheet).
The triumphant run went on to include a 1-4 win over Southampton, although Lampard refused to take anything for granted, and struck a note of caution by saying “We shouldn’t be sloppy, and after going 2-0 up we should make it 3-0. We’re scoring goals, but can we tighten up? Yes.”
Mason Mount echoed the sentiment, saying “It’s a transitional team” and emphasising the aim to “get as high in the table as we can.”
Still, they could have been forgiven for feeling cocky at this point. Not only were the blues winning game after game in the Premier League (with the victory against Burnley featuring a stunning hat trick from 21-year-old American winger Christian Pulisic), but they also enjoyed two Champions League triumphs – against Lille and Ajax – in the same period.
But then came a dramatic low period in the season, with two consecutive Premier League losses against Manchester City and West Ham. A brief breather of a win against Aston Villa was followed by another double whammy of defeats, against Everton and Bournemouth. Losing four out of five games was a gruelling reminder that, despite flourishes of brilliance, and some serious stars in the making, this Chelsea side was still very much finding its feet, especially defensively.
In 2020, their Premier League performances haven’t lived up to the early promise of the season, with a wide smattering of draws and losses. And the weaknesses of this work-in-progress side were horribly exposed by their crushing 0-3 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League last-16 first-leg tie.
While making up that deficit will be a Herculean task, a likely impossible feat if and when the Champions League resumes, Lampard and the boys can feel motivated by some of their brash Premier League wins (including two against Lampard’s old mentor Jose Mourinho’s Spurs). There’s also the small matter of reaching the FA Cup quarter-finals in style, with a 2-0 victory over Liverpool. It may also be a good omen that Chelsea’s last Premier League game before the coronavirus hiatus saw them deliver a thumping 4-0 win against Everton.
Sitting in fourth place in the Premier League, Chelsea will need to tighten their defence going forward, having conceded more goals than any other team in the top seven. Speaking after the football was paused, Lampard summed things up nicely: “How can we progress from here? We have youth. We’ve been searching at times for consistency, which I think can happen with a young team.” Once he finds that consistency, anything will be possible.