Chelsea managed to see off Leicester in their FA cup battle this past weekend but they showed that the defense in quite obviously indefensible.
If it were possible for both teams to lose a match then that’s what should have happened between Leicester and Chelsea in Sunday’s FA Cup matchup. Chelsea won out in the end but that was more because Leicester have been even worse than they since the restart and because Ross Barkley continues to have an out of body experience.
Disappointingly, each of Chelsea’s youth players put in subpar performances and Frank Lampard was right to take them off. Days like these will happen with young players and as per usual Lampard managed it well. Shifting the standards of the club based off age groups is not how players mature. He was right in describing his disappointment as he did after the match. Each of them will have better matches in future and it’s likely they’ll never be asked to adapt to as peculiar a situation as the Coronavirus restart ever again.
What we know now more than ever though is that even if Chelsea manage to add the magisterial talent of Kai Havertz to the side, the Blues’ defense will determine whether they can compete at a much higher level than they are now.
Against Leicester City, Antonio Rudiger splayed long passes around the pitch and stands to show that he simply isn’t that type of defender no matter how much people would like him to be. Kurt Zouma isn’t either, but the good news is that he doesn’t try to be. He’s a very good defender who defends in the air the way that is expected and understands his limitations as well as his skills. He is Chelsea’s best defender by quite a margin at this point. His quality in aerial duels cannot be under regarded considering Rudiger has a peculiarly low 55 percent record in them compared to the Frenchman’s roughly 70 percent aerial duel record this season.
A partner for Zouma is who Chelsea should be looking for this summer. They can do so either at home or away.
It appears that Rudiger’s work ethic and attitude are valued highly by the Chelsea hierarchy and he’s a good member of the squad. The truth though is simply that in all four of Chelsea’s central defenders, they somehow don’t manage to have a single true starting partnership.
There is an argument to be made that simply in the return of Ethan Ampadu, whose mobility and passing range and reading of the game far outweigh his years, Chelsea have the correct player to do this. That said, a bad year at RB Leipzig has hurt his reputation even if his attitude and intelligence surely have him earmarked as a future captain.
Fikayo Tomori seems to have fallen out of favor with Lampard for reasons unknown. He has every single tool in the shed to be the English equivalent of Thiago Silva and Sergio Ramos but he needs to start showing a better mental grasp on defending. His reading of the game and his in game tactical acuity don’t seem to match his obvious class and intelligence off the pitch. That is likely also where Lampard draws his own issues with the young man as well.
If Tomori is able to pull it together, a future partnership of he and Ampadu seems like something that could be promising. That then complicates the idea of making a summer addition to the squad in that position. A player who is too young blocks the pathway for others moving forward and yet a player who is too old may represent a bit of bad business.
If the incoming player though simply is of the right class to keep the young players out of the role, then were they good enough in the first place? That question, as always, needs to be asked. Youth promotion simply for the sake of it is stupid. Winning games is what matters and if the youth players don’t help you do that then they’re not good enough. Done. That is why the defense is such a big issue.
For the first time in decades, it appears that Chelsea’s biggest issues are at the back and there is no easy solution. Another year of patience and youth integration may be on the cards while Lampard continues to search for a homegrown fix. That coupled with the fact that the enticing Dayot Upemacano will be a free transfer next summer and it appears that could offer an answer to the question.
At 21, 22 next year, the French centerback could be the foundation of Chelsea’s defense for the next 10-12 years. He is a 70 million pound defender, the definition of a Rolls-Royce at the moment and getting him on a Bosman would be too good of a deal to turn down.
The other is of course the purchase of an older center back like Kalidou Koulibably who could serve as a mentor to the younger players and teach them the things that they are missing at the moment. In that manner, Chelsea is not investing only in a player, but in the education of other ones as well. That could also prove to be a good solution. That said, dealing with Napoli is never ideal.
The truth is that this is a very complicated and undesirable problem to have. A good defense hides more issues than perhaps any other in football. With a good defense, a team simply cannot lose games and so at the bare minimum they are able to make progress in the league and usually eke out results in cups.
Chelsea already attacks beautifully and is building the sort of character that Blues supporters the world over can be very proud of. That said, the progress that everyone is so delighted with at the moment will be stunted immeasurably should they not fix this very basic issue at the back.