Frank Lampard asks a lot of his fullbacks at Chelsea. As the fullbacks adapt, it appears the wingers have just as big of an ask to follow his instructions.
When Frank Lampard arrived at Chelsea there was much discussion about his tactics. It quickly became clear that, like Maurizio Sarri before him, Lampard would ask a great deal of his fullbacks.
Lampard wants his fullbacks overlapping and aiding in the attack constantly. That leaves a lot of space behind them for them to retreat into when the ball is lost. It is a heavy burden that some (Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta most notably) seem poorly suited for. But as the season has progressed nearly every fullback has improved enough to show that they are viable options for these demands.
As the fullbacks have improved, it has become clearer that the wingers also have a great deal of demands placed upon them. Lampard needs his wingers to be the smartest players on the pitch positionally and at times they have struggled to fulfill his instructions fully. It is likely that they will get there but for now the issues remain.
It is worth mentioning that whether Lampard is using a back four or a back three, those wider defensive men play virtually the same. The line between fullback and wingback is incredibly blurred so the same issues are showing up in whatever set up. Namely that the fullbacks are soaking up the space the wingers would normally be in.
Several times in recent matches, the fullbacks would push up to add a wide option. To avoid bunching up, the wingers will tuck in. That is fine and likely exactly what Lampard wants of them. He even referred to them as inside wingers after the Wolverhampton game. The main issue is that they do not just tuck in, they drop deep.
There could be several reasons to this. All of Chelsea’s wingers used so far this season (besides perhaps Pedro) are players that more or less started their careers as midfielders. They want the ball constantly, they want lots of touches, and they want to be involved. But that is not necessarily what Lampard wants them to do. His quotes about Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic after the Grimsby game reinforce that.
At halftime, Lampard said he told both that they needed to get in behind the lines and take players on more. Getting in behind is particularly hard to do when the player keeps dropping deep into midfield to get on the ball. More or less, Lampard was telling them to stay forward even as they tucked in.
By staying forward, they would theoretically force the opposition to commit for defenders. That would in turn alleviate the pressure in the midfield that the wingers dropping in were aiming to alleviate. If Chelsea is using a back four as they have in the last two matches, the winger need to stay high. If Chelsea is using a back three, they need to know when to drop and help the midfield. But more or less, they need to be able to read the situation and know which option is the better option.
Lampard is not a circuit based manager; he is a decision based manager. His tactics rely on his players making the right decision for the circumstance they find themselves in. For now, the wingers are still looking to figure out what that is. The fullbacks have turned the corner recently and it is expected that the wingers will do the same.
This is still very much a process with young players still finding their way in the game. Lampard would not start anyone that he thought was not able to learn how to make the right decisions. The wide men are still learning how to make their own decisions on the pitch after three years of circuits. It will come in time and when it does Chelsea will look even more dangerous in attack than they already do.