There has been very little to be critical of Frank Lampard for in terms of team selection this season. He’s played young players, changed things up when necessary and worked injured stars back into the side slowly.
Generally it’s been impressive how quickly his vision of the club lined up with that of the fans – at least those in the stadium. His decisions, while not always correct, were logical. One could see his thinking, if not necessarily agree with it.
The last two games have seen a truly puzzling call from the Chelsea manager however.
Mateo Kovacic, who has at times this season stepped up from being a smooth midfield cog to become a goalscoring, dominant attacking midfielder, was left on the bench in both matches. He didn’t play a minute of either.
It’s perhaps the first really mystifying decision from Lampard we’ve seen this season. Kovacic is a vital creative link between midfield and attack in this team, and his dribbling ability would have added a lot to the team as they sought to break down a sturdy Newcastle structure.
Perhaps it was the comfortable win without the Croatian last week that convinced Lampard to keep him on the bench again this time out. But that 3-0 win wasn’t all that it seemed. His team were really struggling to create anything against Burnley until they were handed a penalty from nothing, and then enjoyed a goalkeeping error in their favour.
That masked a continued lack of creativity, especially early on when the away team were sitting deeper. In fact, Kovacic was missed that day, just as much as he was today.
On this occasion we didn’t get a break, the Magpies resisted us and then struck from the blue at the end of the game. It was the same plot as many of our home games this season, with our futile pursuit of a goal at one end after a heap of possession leaving us exposed and lacking in focus at the back ourselves.
Kovacic would have added so much more to the team than Mason Mount, who was very poor and looks in need of period on the bench. Even Jorginho could be considered expendable, when you consider how critical our need for creativity grew.
Lampard has made the right call more often than not this season, and while he got this one wrong, we fully expect to see it righted on Tuesday when we play Arsenal. Mount, looking tired and off his game tonight, will probably sit on the bench, and a fresh Kovacic can be unleashed against the Gunners.
If the manager continues to learn from his errors, he won’t be leaving out the midfielder again.