Chelsea: Fans must temper expectations after opening match

Some fans were quick to judge player performances in the opening match, but it’s important to give some context to the Chelsea opener.

The highly anticipated Premier League opener for Chelsea was not easy on the eyes, but inaugural matches seldom are. Many fans were quick to criticize the performance put on by Frank Lampard’s side at the Amex Stadium—both on an individual and group level. While there’s no denying there were some frustrating moments, it’s crucial we understand the circumstances in which the match was played. There were a plethora of reasons this game wasn’t as appeasing as others, so heavily criticizing the performances of the outfield players is something that should be avoided at all costs.

Perhaps the most important thing to note is the fact that the Blues’ preseason was non-existent. Sure, they had a lone friendly, but this pales in comparison to the nine similar games played last season and in previous years. Further, the players are usually given a month between the first friendly and the season opener to prepare for the upcoming domestic campaign. This year, the Blues hardly had a month between the defeat in Munich and the 2020/21 season commencing trip to Brighton.

To make matters worse, an international break was wedged between Chelsea’s two trips to Brighton (August 29 and September 14). As a result, some of Lampard’s players only trained with the first teams a couple of times. This allowed little time for the new tactics to be implemented and the team to become familiar with each other. From June 21 to the present, the players received a mere 10-day vacation. As beneficial as that may have been to destress the lads, a handful had to quarantine following rumored Coronavirus outbreaks within the team—adding to the stretched preseason schedule.

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Second, the personnel was far from what it’ll be in a few weeks’ time. Whether it be due to injuries, suspensions or lacking match fitness, a few familiar faces were absent from the squad at Brighton. Most notably, Christian Pulisic missed out due to a setback in his recovery and Hakim Ziyech’s debut was pushed back thanks to a nagging injury suffered in the friendly. While the attack looked flat at times, this can be largely attributed to the unavailabilities of two of Lampard’s key pieces.

Mateo Kovacic was also suspended, forcing the manager to play Jorginho in a double pivot with N’Golo Kante. While Jorginho didn’t play poorly, he had a far lesser impact than his Croatian counterpart would have. Ben Chilwell, Thiago Silva and Billy Gilmour also missed out while Cesar Azpilicueta’s minutes were limited. The team Lampard fielded was far from full strength. Although there is a lot of excitement about the season, fans need to understand it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Another reason the Blues struggled is the new formation. Lampard and his staff tried their hand at a 4-2-2-2/4-2-3-1 hybrid. This is vastly different from the way Chelsea lined up last season, especially with the personnel that played. Ruben Loftus-Cheek was deployed as a second striker next to the German debutant Timo Werner. While multiple managers have hinted at playing Loftus-Cheek—and even his 61′ replacement, Ross Barkley—up top, they lack experience. Pulisic and Ziyech’s absences also left wing depth thin, so Mason Mount and Kai Havertz deputized the wide positions. This meant a handful of attacking midfielders were utilized elsewhere and as such, the gap in midfield saw Brighton’s press become more impactful in the first half.

The foreign formation, coupled with the unfamiliar personnel and new signings, resulted in an unconventional style of play. Brighton may have controlled possession and fired off more shots, but the Blues had the better chances in the end. Supporters may not have enjoyed watching Chelsea sit back and defend more often than not, but Lampard realized it had to be done in order to come away with a result.

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When all things are said and done, Chelsea faithful must be thrilled at the result, regardless of the performance. These circumstances are unfamiliar and the squad unfinished, thus patience is key. The Blues would’ve surely dropped points with a performance of this level just a few short weeks ago, so we’re seeing signs of gradual improvement. Three points out the gate is something to celebrate, no matter how it was achieved.