Chelsea face newly-promoted Norwich City in what should be an interesting and hopefully not particularly challenging game. Here are a few things to look for as we reacquaint ourselves with Carrow Road.
The last time these two teams met was in a needlessly exciting FA Cup tie. The first leg ended in a goalless draw (not the exciting part), but the second ended with Pedro and Alvaro Morata being sent off late in extra time before Chelsea won on penalty kicks. Of Chelsea’s starting XI that day, three players are currently on loan; one has been sold; and at least two others are awaiting their loan assignment.
You have to go back to 1994 for the last time Norwich City beat the Blues. Frank Lampard was the team’s leading scorer against the Canaries in the intervening 25 years, so things should come together for the first win of the season.
1. Shutting down a Golden Boot contender
Chelsea face one of the most lethal strikers in the Premier League, a player who has scored four goals on 10 shots to make himself an early contender for the Golden Boot. Teemu Pukki is exactly the sort of challenge the Blues’ centrebacks really do not need right now.
Alright, that Golden Boot thing is a good bit of banter. Pukki may score enough goals to give Norwich City something to be proud enough, maybe even enough to stay up for another season. But he is not going to finish above Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and all the rest. If he does, well, even I have to be wrong sometimes.
However, a striker riding a wave of early season first-time-in-the-Premier-League momentum and emotion really is the last thing Chelsea’s defenders need to face this week. The centrebacks are starting to figure things out without too much coverage from Cesar Azpilicueta, but they still need some help, especially if Jorginho is their only cover from midfield. The Blues’ defenders need an easy game against old, muted strikers and laborious build-up play. A team like Burnley, for example. Oh wait, Ashley Barnes has the second-most goals in the Premier League going into the weekend.
Last season, Teemu Pukki scored a brace against Frank Lampard’s Derby County, whose defence looked much like this Chelsea side. Derby needed to come from behind to win that game. The Blues might need to do it for Lampard again.
2. Philosophy vs. pragmatism
As Travis talks about in a neighbouring piece, Daniel Farke is a philosophy- and style-driven manager, the kind who wows and entertains his way out of the Championship and into the Premier League, where he earns plaudits for his gumption and vision while on his return trip to the lower tier.
On the Chelsea touchline is Frank Lampard, whose philosophy has been moulded by managers for whom pragmatism is philosophy. Lampard has not shown anything distinctive enough to drive hipster bloggers or Twitter denizens into chin-stroking, hand-gesturing rapture, and he probably never will. Chelsea will play sound, solid football under Lampard. But first they have to reach that point, and win some points along the way.
This game will be an opportunity for Chelsea to implement their structure and basic mechanics – especially in transition – against a team that has a distinct, and therefore learnable and predictable, approach to the game. Chelsea will know what to expect but still have to be flexible for the little variations that give Norwich their personality.
The Canaries do not have the individual quality of most teams Chelsea will face this season, but they have a system that will challenge the Blues’ ability to adapt and overcome.
3. Last looks and bona fides
The remaining transfer windows are about to close across Europe. If Frank Lampard is unsure about whether to keep a player he hasn’t yet played or if the club want a player in the shop window at least once this season to boost his loan or transfer prospects, this is the last chance.
The two most important players in that purgatory are Tiemoue Bakayoko and Michy Batshuayi. Neither have played a competitive minute this season (notwithstanding Batshuayi’s 90 minutes and brace in the Premier League 2), but both could play important roles for the Blues. Also hanging around the squad is Kenedy, who is rightly pessimistic about his chances and is aiming for a move. A few other players still need to be loaned out, but these are the only three with any real chance of staying this season.
If Lampard does not play any of them at Norwich City but still intends to keep them, he has to be giving them significant and durable assurances for the season ahead. Bakayoko and Batshuayi could walk into a number of teams in top-five leagues and be a starter after the international break. Both have dealt with enough uncertainty and inconsistency (their own and the club’s) at Chelsea. Neither can afford a season on the bench.
Chelsea will need Bakayoko and Batshuayi as the season goes on. They have arguably needed them both just in the first three games. A trip to Carrow Road is a chance for Lampard to prove they have a place in his plans.
And then if they make him regret or rethink that decision, the club still have a week or so to send them elsewhere.