Neither Michy Batshuayi nor Tiemoue Bakayoko have come onto the pitch for Chelsea so far this season. With loan rumours swirling in the final stretch of the transfer window, Frank Lampard should give them the necessary assurances so they will stay at the club.
Hopefully you won’t pounce on the technical inaccuracy in the paragraph above. Michy Batshuayi has, in fact, played a complete game for Chelsea FC in the 2019/20 season. He even scored a brace in that appearance, which was Monday night in the Premier League 2 against Liverpool.
But as for first-team action, Batshuayi did not come off the bench the one time Lampard tabbed him as a substitute. Tiemoue Bakayoko has not had any opportunity to dress for a game.
Hopefully Lampard is doing that whole man-management thing that his predecessor so thoroughly ignored, and is working with Bakayoko and Batshuayi in training while giving them clear notice of what they need to do to be in the XI, and when they can expect to be there.
Chelsea’s opening few games show they can scarcely afford to lose either player. At the most basic level, they cannot sacrifice the depth these two provide.
Even with a one-striker system with a handful of players who could play as a false-nine or ersatz centre-forward, the club should carry three strikers.
If Tammy Abraham were to be injured, Olivier Giroud likely does not have the stamina to go 90 minutes twice a week. Midseason playing volumes would blunt what little speed he has, making him too easy to mark out of the game for everything but set pieces.
Additionally, the two strikers are too similar to be the only options. Abraham can offer fresh, fast legs against tired opposition if he comes on for Giroud in the second half; and Giroud can give Chelsea a big target to aim for if they are maintaining possession high in the opponent’s zone while chasing a goal. Both are more than capable of scoring, but from similar situations. Neither will change Chelsea’s offence in a way that will substantively affect the opponent.
Abraham and Giroud, like Alvaro Morata in recent seasons, require consistently excellent service for their goals. Giroud can score from a variety of body angles and acrobatic positions, but he still needs the ball coming into him in the box. Abraham can advance the ball quickly into the middle third, but he needs someone to bring him to where he can finish the move. He has also shown a tendency in these early games to start his runs a bit late when a cross is coming in, moving reactively and then missing out on the chance.
Michy Batshuayi is the closest thing Chelsea have to self-sufficient, goal-creating striker. This is often conflated with his reputation as a poacher. Batshuayi not only has the scorer’s innate sense of position, he simply swings at everything hoping it goes in. He doesn’t need much in the way of service, just a ball within reach of his foot, thigh or head in any context. The Belgian works just as well pouncing on a loose ball in the box as he does at the end of a passing sequence or within a build-up on the break (for example, his role on Willian’s goal against Brighton several seasons ago, along with Eden Hazard).
Chelsea need a striker who can score in sub-optimal – sometimes sloppy, clumsy and ugly – conditions, and Michy Batshuayi is their best option.
The Blues similarly need Tiemoue Bakayoko so they have at least one defensive midfielder to back up N’Golo Kante. Mateo Kovacic can contribute a lot on defence, but he can not be the player helping Jorginho screen Chelsea’s back four.
In each game this season Chelsea’s defence was undone by their own disorganization and the lack of protection afforded by Jorginho. N’Golo Kante could cover Jorginho as necessary, but Jorginho still needed to cover the centrebacks. Tiemoue Bakayoko is the one other Chelsea player (we haven’t seen enough of Billy Gilmour to weigh in) who can protect the defence on transitions, especially in things like defending against the cut back pass late in a counter-attack.
With Bakayoko and Kante on the pitch together, Kante can spend more time supporting the offence without having to drop so deep to cover the other midfielder. Bakayoko can fulfill the defensive duties better than Jorginho, and he is a skilled enough dribbler to give Chelsea a solid alternative to Jorginho’s passing for bringing the ball out of the defensive third and through midfield. Against stronger opponents, Kante could stay closer to Bakayoko throughout the various stages of play, steadying the Blues in a 4-2-3-1.
Chelsea would gain more on defence than they would lose in distribution by playing Bakayoko instead of Jorginho. Neither the criticism against Bakayoko nor the praise for Jorginho hold water when it comes to ball retention. Bakayoko is at least as good as Jorginho for maintaining possession and advancing the ball past the press.
Tiemoue Bakayoko is still in the Paris Saint-Germain rumour mill. PSG signing Idrissa Gueye should have been the end of the line, but Gueye, too, has yet to play this season.
Michy Batshuayi has not been linked with any specific destinations, but his exclusion from the squad so far suggests Frank Lampard is following the tradition dating back to 2016 of Chelsea coaches shunting Batshuayi even when the rest of their striker corps are hardly damaging the back of anyone’s net.
Chelsea have just about 10 days to assure these players of the promise this season holds for them at Stamford Bridge. Frank Lampard arguably should have played them already: as a show of good faith; to test them and experiment with his tactics; and simply because the other players in their position were not always up to standards.
Chelsea’s transfer and loan business this summer has been top shelf all the way. They should maintain that level to the end of the window by not losing two players who could prove essential to this squad.