Chelsea went into yesterday’s game against Newcastle knowing that winning was extremely important. They now face a punishing run of fixtures that will see them face many of their rivals for the top 4, and they had a final chance to pick up points against a weaker side before the tough stretch.
They failed to get anything from the game at St James’ Park however, and now football odds across the board have them slipping down the rankings and looking less likely to reach the Champions League than we have for months. Bad form, combined with these difficult upcoming fixtures, mean that faith in Frank Lampard’s ability to lead this young team to the top 4 this season is starting to fade after an impressive start.
It’s not over yet, and the advantage of this series of games against our rivals is that we can swing things back hugely in our favour. But it’s going to be an uphill battle, and we will have to make our own luck.
One thing that will hopefully be in our favour is the setup of the games. Our real struggles have come in games like yesterday’s, where the opposition has sat deep and frustrated us. This side lacks the finesse and creativity to break down defences in those circumstances; and functions much better when we play teams of a higher level.
Our best performances this season have come against teams like Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham. So many of our players are at their best in open games, with space to run into and pressing to be done high up the pitch. Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic and N’Golo Kante aren’t cut out for delicately constructed passing sequences, they are runners and chasers who need space in behind to function at their best.
So on that front at least, we should see our setup function better in the games to come. The problem is that these teams also provide far more attacking threat than teams like Newcastle, as a result of this more aggressive attitude and the superior quality of their players. That could be a serious issue. At the moment, we’ve got a goalkeeper desperately out of form and a clutch of centre backs who all seem to share the same issues. Lampard has seemingly tried every possible combination of defenders to find a blend that works, but every week the same issues return.
That is the glaring problem right now, along with the aforementioned lack of precision in the final third. Addressing both successfully in January is a big ask, but fixing one will do wonders to help the other. So many of our defensive issues have come in games like Saturday’s, where our lack of cutting edge has pushed us into over committing massively and finding ourselves caught out – Kepa Arrizabalaga, Antonio Rudiger and co. will all look far more comfortable if we’re passing the ball around at the back at 2-0 up rather than desperately holding the line at the back as the rest of the team push forward in search of a goal.
Nobody should be panicking, and buying players who aren’t the right fit long term would be a far bigger issue than a few bad results against weaker teams. But there are holes in this team from back to front, and clear areas to improve. Chelsea fans been very patient through the first 20 days of this window, knowing that rushing into multi-million pound deals and multiple year contracts is the worst thing the club can do. But with just ten days left of this window and a squad that is looking short in a number of areas, there will likely be intense frustration if they don’t start to see concrete moves made in the next week.
Whether it’s a goalkeeper, a defender, a creative midfielder or a striker, the right move this winter could make all the difference in this upcoming run of games, and there’s no time to waste.