Chelsea flipped the script against Burnley, taking a 2-0 lead into halftime and winning 3-0 at home. This match had Frank Lampard’s fingerprints all over it, even as his star players earned their place in the spotlight.
Frank Lampard took a lot of empty heat towards the end of 2019 for not having a Plan B. His use of the 3-4-3 of Tottenham shut down that chatter, and Chelsea’s fixture against Burnley showed the depth of his variations around his Plan A.
1. An unexpectedly new XI
Lampard stayed pretty well committed to his core cadre of players and his usual XI’s over the festive period. Even as players like Kurt Zouma racked up minutes and started showing signs of fatigue from playing twice a week, Lampard did not rotate much unless injury forced him to do so.
After showing little apparent interest in rotating for freshness or fatigue over the last six weeks, this game seemed an unlikely candidate for anything or anyone different. The Burnley game came six days after the Nottingham Forest cup tie and seven days before facing Newcastle. For the first time in months, Lampard could play his usual XI and they would be somewhat rested for these games.
Instead, Lampard paired Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger together in a four-man defence for the first time this season. The only other time they played together this season was in the 3-4-3 against Wolves in mid-September, when Rudiger came off at halftime. Lampard said this week that he has no intention of letting Christensen leave this month, and this backed up that statement.
Lampard kept Ross Barkley in the XI after his return against Nottingham Forest, and in the absence of N’Golo Kante (injury) and Mateo Kovacic (tactical), this gave Chelsea a new system through midfield.
And along the right side, this was the first Premier League game Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James started together. Christian Pulisic’s injury may have contribution to Hudson-Odoi’s inclusion, but the decision will almost certainly repeat itself based on how those two combined throughout the game.
2. Another creative use of midfielders
Chelsea have spent most of the season in a 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3. With N’Golo Kante injured and Mateo Kovacic out of the lineup, the midfield trio of Jorginho, Ross Barkley and Mason Mount suggested a 4-3-3, although a very offence-oriented, imbalanced one.
Then again, against Nottingham Forest and in the Carabao Cup opener against Grimsby Town, Barkley had an unusual (undisciplined?) tendency to drop very deep in attempts to bring the ball out from the back. Barkley has shown signs of being able to play in the double pivot, but there are better things for Barkley to do if Mateo Kovacic is available. On the other hand, Barkley is a powerful dribbler through the centre of the pitch, so he could take on some of Kovacic’s usual duties in bringing the ball across midfield.
For the most part, Chelsea played in a 4-1-4-1 with Jorginho as the only deep midfielder. Obviously, the Blues cycled through 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3, at times, with Barkley shuttling between the defensive and forward lines.
Jorginho was much less involved in build-up play and maintaining possession than usual. He completed 50 passes, only the seventh-most on the team – fewer than Barkley, even.
Perhaps more interesting, though, was how Barkley and Jorginho would cover the centrebacks on set pieces. Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger would go into Burnley’s box for Chelsea cornerkicks, and Barkley and Jorginho would stay deep to cover a counter-attack. Christensen and Rudiger would sometimes prolong their stay in the box after the corner, allowing Burnley to start reforming their lines while Jorginho and Barkley were the last Blues back.
3. Inside-out and switches of play
Chelsea had many exquisite passing combinations, with Ross Barkley threading some unique passes to the full-backs and wingers; Reece James sending cross after cross perfectly towards Tammy Abraham; and James and Hudson-Odoi playing one-two’s down the right side.
But before Chelsea established themselves in the final third, they worked the ball brilliantly upfield, relying on either inside-out passing combinations or long switches, usually from left to right.
The centre-backs and full-backs brought the ball up field, with Barkley and Jorginho connected play through midfield. The Blues defenders would send the ball in towards their midfielders, who would just as quickly send the ball back out to a full-back or winger. This sequence sometimes repeated, allowing the Blues to stretch Burnley across the pitch while driving them back into their zone. This created the space between the Clarets’ full-backs and centrebacks and full-backs and midfielders for Chelsea to find runs and throughballs.
Cesar Azpilicueta and Willian on the left did more to bring the ball up field than Reece James and Hudson-Odoi on the right. Willian sent many long switches of play to his counterparts on the right. This not only helped create space, but it played to the strengths of players on both sides. Azpilicueta and Willian would bring the ball forward simply, drawing defenders to themselves, and then the switch allowed for the creativity and explosiveness of James and Hudson-Odoi to finish the move.
4. No substitutions
Frank Lampard has shown very little interest in giving players run-outs, or using substitutions to wind down the clock. If he is going to give a young player time on the pitch, he is going to give him a legitimate appearance. Tariq Lamptey, for example, made his Premier League debut in 31 minutes against Arsenal, coming on when the Blues were down 1-0. Most of his predecessors from the academy made their debut in stoppage time with a multi-goal lead.
Frank Lampard was so happy with what he saw from his starting XI that he did not make any substitutions. With the player-friendly schedule this week he did not need to worry about capping anyone’s playing volume. And even if he was into gratuitous youth run-outs, his youngest players were all on the pitch.
Lampard saw no tactical or physical reason to bring on Michy Batshuayi or Pedro, the two players on the bench who might be somewhat interested in a getting some playing time. His other outfield substitutes were all regulars who probably appreciated the day off.
It was the first time since October 31, 2009, that Chelsea did not make any substitutions. Carlo Ancelotti’s Blues defeated Bolton Wanderers that day. Frank Lampard had one goal and one assist.