Chelsea improved markedly and steadily with their performance against Brighton this past weekend, with the team beginning to take form.
The beginning of the season is still very trial and error, which is why Frank Lampard has tried so many different lineups, substitutions and players throughout the first month of matches. Particularly with a new manager and so many new players it can be very difficult to find the best mesh of players to make up the Chelsea starting XI.
The early pieces Lampard has put in place already reflect Liverpool in their first year under Jurgen Klopp. They are growing together and playing at breakneck speed. The team has already started to have some fantastic moments.
One particular moment of shine was in the 68′ against Brighton, when Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi broke down the left side of the pitch before a quick interplay between Hudson-Odoi and Tammy Abraham sent Willian through on goal. It was the sort of football that shows where this squad is going. The pass was a little bit overcooked from Hudson-Odoi to Willian, so nothing came of it, but the meat was there.
Naturally the best bit of attacking football the side had was between three youth players who grew up together from the under-8’s. Imagine the amount of time we always claim a manager needs to get a side playing together properly. If the players already have this time together, the manager needs far less.
Hudson-Odoi, Mount, Abraham and other Cobham products already are over a decade into their bond. It’s exactly what made that special Barcelona team so fantastic, and why I have always regarded Pep Guardiola’s time there with a pinch of salt. Those players began their journey together over a decade before Guardiola ever coached them. It is the same with Chelsea.
With a steady backline finally being allowed to bond, at least until Emerson regains his health, Chelsea kept their first clean sheet of the season. They only ever looked like losing it on a couple of occasions, and Kepa Arrizabalaga was not forced into any acts of heroism.
Of course, there is still room to improve and for other players to force their way into the team. Ross Barkley did not look good at all in midfield, taking 2-3 touches too many at too many times. Pedro did not make an argument for his inclusion in the XI again next week, either.
Chelsea also are going to have to address forthrightly the injuries to N’Golo Kante and Antonio Rudiger moving forward.
The Kante situation is worrying because it would not be out of the realm of possibility for an all-action dynamo of a central midfielder to be facing his reckoning with the thousands of miles, tackles and collisions that have been asked of him over the years. Particularly as he is getting up in age Chelsea will need to tread carefully. It may finally be time to acknowledge that even the unconquerable Kante may need a rest, and a significant one. His campaigns with Leicester, Chelsea and France as the most important player for each team have taken too much out of him over the years. He needs a break, a real one, perhaps even a vacation for 2-3 weeks.
Rudiger may have finally ceded his position in the team for the same reason he lost it at Roma. During his current injury absence a central defensive partnership seems to have formed, and you cannot drop a defense that produces a clean sheet and doesn’t make any obvious mistakes. Fikayo Tomori and Andreas Christensen are, without a doubt, the obvious partnership at the moment.
Jorginho has also improved markedly in recent weeks. Without Maurizio Sarri around the Brazilian-Italian central midfielder is a bit more fiery and prone to get stuck in than he was previously believed capable or willing. He is a far better and more complete Premier League footballer than the lightweight and predictable player Sarri would have forced us to believe he was.
Though Tammy Abraham didn’t score in the match, and he should have, he put in a very dangerous, complete and hard working performance. If he had finished better on his two high percentage opportunities Chelsea would have won 4-0.
Abraham must improve his touch and finishing. He has now in consecutive weeks been through on goal with just the goalkeeper to beat and not converted. Chelsea FC needs strikers to score those goals. He should already be on 10 goals this season and shouldn’t forget that. Sometimes a striker has a second to impact a game, and that’s what their team needs from them.
A player who will be frustrated at the moment but mustn’t let it get to him is Christian Pulisic. He’s been good in the matches he’s played so far this season with the exception – oddly – of Grimsby Town.
Frank Lampard is a fair-minded fellow. If Pulisic trains well and shows he deserves it, he will get the time.
But it was disappointing to hear him airing his grievances in an interview this week. The season is young and he’s already made six appearances. He should be happy the team is winning and get to work not talking publicly. That is almost the only thing he could do to get on the wrong side of the manager, and Lampard would be right to feel that way.
Let’s hope someone gets the ear of the young American and tells him to get his nose down, work hard and be committed. The team is winning and that matters above his own self-interest.
He’s a good player, he has the talent and he will get his time if he doesn’t mess it up for himself with poor judgement and – dare I say it – David Luiz-like showings of public insolence.