Frank Lampard rang for changes, but the changes didn’t answer the bell. Here are some areas where Chelsea’s less regular players produced less-than-optimal results.
Frank Lampard not only gave N’Golo Kante and Cesar Azpilicueta an appreciated and necessary (especially for the still recovering Kante) day off, he started the rarely-seen Olivier Giroud and Pedro in place of the injured Tammy Abraham and resting Willian, respectively. Fun fact: Reece James and Pedro now both have 529 minutes in all competitions for Chelsea this season.
1. West Ham adapted to Reece James before James adapted to his teammates
Valencia’s Jose Gaya repeatedly beat Reece James in one-on-one situations on Wednesday by attracting James to the outside and then sharply cutting inside. West Ham must have noticed that as much as we did, as Aaron Creswell did much the same move to get past James and score the only goal of the game. Creswell’s cut was not as sharp as Gaya’s were, but James bought Creswell’s dummy and the result was the same. Worse, in fact.
On offence, James often found himself isolated on the outside. Chelsea normally have Willian as the right wing making overlapping runs with Cesar Azpilicueta at right back. Against Valencia, N’Golo Kante often provided the width as Willian took up a more central, “No. 10” position.
Neither Willian’s nor Kante’s replacements in the starting XI did anything similar. Pedro spent the first 20 minutes making useful runs centrally and would occasionally dart out from the box to the right flank, but he never overlapped or any in other way supported James. Of the three midfielders, only Mason Mount would ever come out wide, but he normally does so on the left, where he spent most of the game against West Ham.
This left James with very few options. One, really, and West Ham figured that out quite early. When James was alone with the ball on the right side, he would accelerate towards the goal line to get around his marker and send in a cross. This is not the worst option, but he was always well-marked and the crosses always came from the same area. With Fabian Balbuena and Angelo Ogbonna covering Olivier Giroud, the crosses did not have the aim or movement from the supply side or a ready target on the receiving end.
When N’Golo Kante and Willian came on late in the game, James drifted more centrally knowing he had options and cover on the right. This shows how comfortable the players are with their Plan A lineup and tactics, but also how easily a near-bottom opponent could neutralize a necessary Plan B outing.
In the absence of any Chelsea players coming over to support James, the Blues needed him to find new ways to advance the offence.
If James dribbled centrally instead of taking himself high and wide for a cross, Jorginho or even Kurt Zouma could have shifted to cover the space he left. Or James could have set up in a deeper position, either on the right or centrally, to make Chelsea even more lopsided in their attack up the left, similar to how the team have often done things in the past few years with Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso. That would have opened him up for a switch of play and a quick cross.