Renowned for his work with his creation of The Byline Podcast, Chelsea fan Alex Goldberg runs the rule on what we should expect from the London club ahead of today’s Champions’ League clash with Lille.
For those who haven’t been watching Frank Lampard’s opening weeks at Chelsea as closely as you – what pillars at the club is he starting to try to change?
The first is that youth is being more than talked about. When he was appointed at Chelsea, he said that if youngsters earned it, whether in the 1st team or the academy, then they would get their chance. I think it is really easy to say that, but it is a lot harder to actually back that up and do it. And he has certainly done that. From the 1st game of the season starting the likes of Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham against Manchester United, in such a big game, actually doing that was pretty bold, but he is just going with players that he trusts and he is definitely not look at age and youth is really being used.
To the point where David Luiz, right before the season starts, figures out that he is not necessarily going to be the 1st choice centre-back and Frank has no problem sanctioning the move that he obviously wanted to Arsenal. Clearly Frank was thinking the whole time well I trust Fikayo Tomori, really promoting him to the point where if Luiz was still there, he might have been 5th choice.
The other is unpredictability, and it can be a good and a bad thing right now for Chelsea, but clearly Lampard is not tied or married to any formation right now. He has really used a handful, a 4-3-3, a 4-2-3-1, he’s used a 3-4-3. I think some of that is because he is a game-by-game manager. He does like to maybe look at the opponent, look at the personnel he has, and then make the formation accordingly.
But he has also had, and it can be a blessing and a curse, a lot of players to pick from, even with injuries, that aren’t necessarily clearly ahead or behind a specific player. There is a lot of competition for places right now, like at centre back. I think he’s still trying to figure out what works best. They can be unpredictable for themselves and for their own fans, but for an opponent they can also be unpredictable and maybe hard to game plan for. So it is not like Lille can look at one game and see the whole story from Chelsea.
Is there a feeling around the club, with the transfer ban and this emphasis on youth, that this season is somewhat of a free hit?
That term, “free hit,” has been used a couple of times and I think obviously someone like Lampard or anyone in the club would be reluctant to use that or admit to that, but there have been moments where maybe they’ve hinted that this season’s objectives could maybe be different to other seasons. And I think that’s because everybody knows with the transfer ban and Eden Hazard leaving, just the fact that with a transfer ban they were going to have to change things up anyway. I think with Lampard it is if we win a trophy, great! But unlike in previous seasons it is not a trophy or bust.
This season there is probably still an expectancy that in one competition, like the League Cup, Chelsea should compete for one, but if they can finish this season knowing that we actually have legitimate players in Mason Mount, Hudson-Odoi, Tammy Abraham, Reece James. If they can figure out that they now have a very promising core and foundation, and an English one at that, then that will really be encouraging for Lampard and all the fans especially.
Can opponents take advantage of that? Yes and no, the players out there on the pitch for Chelsea are giving a crap load of effort because their job and career is not at all cemented, so I don’t think it is ever easier on the opponent just because you have a load of youngsters trying to prove themselves in the league and the Champions’ League and then you have a lot of veterans who are trying to prove that they can still hang with the youngsters.
Lille have undergone significant player turnover this summer, but remain a side that likes to exploit their counter-attacking strengths whenever possible, home or away. Is that approach something that can hurt Chelsea?
In that opener (vs Manchester United), they played a 4-2-3-1, so once they lost the ball they had a gaping hole in the middle of the pitch and United really took advantage of that. Other teams have too so far, I think of Leicester City as that match went on. I would be a little bit surprised if Chelsea went with a 4-2-3-1 just because of that. Either way they are getting better in that department, I think it was pretty drilled into them after a couple of games that they cannot leave the centre of the pitch so wide open when they lose possession.
I’d like to think that Lampard knows Lille’s style, I’d like to think that Chelsea would prepare not to be so leaky. Where Chelsea have really struggled recently is on set pieces. The one category I have confidence in Chelsea being better against a counter-attack is that one of the club’s main centre-backs now is Fikayo Tomori, and he was partnered with Andreas Christensen at the weekend, and those are two very quick centre-backs.
Azpilicueta worries me for sure, on the counter and if Lille are blessed with pacy wingers and target them out wide, because Alonso as well is not pacy either, so I feel like Chelsea would be way more prone to trouble against a side that counters with width, because they are strongest at tracking back centrally. Not with their full-backs, all of that could be different if they decide to go with three central defenders and two wing-backs, I just don’t know that Lampard will take that jump today.
A quick prediction Alex?
Never good with these but will be happy to do them for you. I will go with safe one, they did not keep their 1st clean sheet in the Premier League at the weekend, I don’t think that they’ll keep one here, I think they’ll concede one, but I think they’ll got 2 and get a 2-1 away win.