After last week’s draw with Arsenal, Frank Lampard sighed that he sounded “like a broken record” in the way he was repeating the same thoughts after every match; and indeed he has even been repeating the fact he’s had to repeat himself, saying similar things after games before and since that 2-2 draw.
Given this, and the evident frustration the manager is feeling, changes to the lineup were perhaps to be expected. Clearly Lampard feels that the issues his team are encountering aren’t just going to work themselves out over time, and one can sympathise with the feeling he may have that more drastic action was needed. In those same frustrated flash interviews he’s sighed that there’s “nothing more” he can do with drills on the training pitch to clear that mental blockage.
The issue is that with such a limited squad available, making the decisive changes he made against Leicester represents a big risk. There is a reason that, until now, the alternatives have remained the alternatives, even as the first choice players struggled. You only get to play your cards once, and allowing frustration to dictate when you do so is not a winning strategy.
His decision to drop Kepa, who has been conceding soft goals all season, was a case in point. After more than half a season of patience with the young Spaniard, Lampard dropped him for Willy Caballero. Nobody can say it wasn’t coming – the world record fee paid for the Basque has given him far more protection than a player performing that badly would normally get.
Nevertheless, there is a reason Kepa is a Spain international, and a reason Man City moved on from Willy a good few years ago. Lampard insisted he didn’t blame the keeper’s mad rush from goal for the contributing to the second goal, but then he would say that. Either way, Willy’s performance hardly radiated confidence in a way to stop there being plenty of speculation in this “winter” break about who will be in goal next time out.
His decision to play Pedro in the front 3 ahead of Willian was made on similar grounds. Along with Kepa’s soft hands, the team’s major issue at the moment is scoring their chances. Presumably, the decision to bring the Spanish winger into the side was an attempt to remedy that, given he’s one of the best finishers in the squad. Lampard had said himself last week, in a tone of bitter frustration, that there was nothing more they could do on the training ground to in that regard, and his desperation to find a solution lead him to this more radical decision to reintroduce a player he has barely given a second glance for 6 months.
But again, in attempting to solve that one flaw he has arguably weakened the rest of the team, removing the eternally divisive but often quite effective Willian from the lineup. In the end, the chances came and went just as they have every week, especially in the first half, and there was still nobody there to take advantage of them.
The lineup decisions the Chelsea manager made on Saturday have been widely read as politically motivated, and there can be no doubt that there is an element of that after a transfer window where not one player arrived to strengthen his squad. However his primary motive was an attempt to fix the flaws that have vexed him in recent months – even if it was perhaps a bad moment to play his hand.
The problem with giving up on Plan A, is that if Plan B doesn’t work either, and you don’t get bought a 23-year-old Plan C from the Bundesliga in January, your only option is to return to A again. And it’s when a manager is forced to second guess themselves in that manner that the doubts really begin to grow.