Chelsea hosts Sevilla in the Champions League opening round. What things should fans look for as the Blues seek redemption?
The Sevilla match was already about redemption in a small way. Chelsea was blasted out of the Champions League by Bayern Munich last season. Sevilla won the Europa League, taking it away from Chelsea. Sevilla, in a way, is the Blues’ chance to show they still belong. That was before the draw to Southampton with Manchester United on the way. Now Frank Lampard’s men need to show they belong in more ways than one.
1. Juggling multiple fronts with momentum needed
The 4-0 win against Crystal Palace is gone from memory now, all that exists are the 3-3 draws to West Brom and Southampton. Both matches, Lampard was let down by individual mistakes. In one, his team fought their way back. In the other, they let the opponent do so.
With a massive match against Manchester United looming, the side needs to build some momentum. Especially with rivals also struggling to find any. The only issue is the insane fixture pile up.
This was expected before this crazy season began, but the lack of a preseason followed by (insanely dumb) internationals took its toll on the squad against Southampton. Lampard had very few alternatives for a starting XI against Southampton while having to keep Sevilla and Manchester United in mind. A win would have justified those decisions, but a combination of players ensured that would not be the case.
Chelsea needs a win against Sevilla. A draw would be acceptable in the grand scheme of the Champions League group, but all matches considered the Blues need to start building something. Can Lampard get his juggling right?
2. Punishments for issues or play out of them?
Lampard generally blames the collective for individual mistakes. Only once, after West Brom, did he really dig into individuals. Even when he hasn’t picked out the individuals, it has been rare for it to result in much of a punishment.
That should change. Full stop, individual player actions are costing Chelsea points far more that tactics are. An argument could be made that the tactics are leaving the players in bad positions, but Kurt Zouma simply knows better than to send a hospital pass back to the keeper under pressure when he has the option to simply clear it.
Lampard needs to find his ruthless streak when this school boy errors happen. Zouma was arguably Chelsea’s best centerback last season and he might be second to only Thiago Silva this season (jury is still out). That doesn’t matter. Make a mistake like that and you’re on the bench or out of the 18 for at least a calendar week.
Yes, a settled back four (and other partnerships) needs to be found. But standards also have to be set. Zouma, despite his ability, simply shouldn’t be allowed to start in the next two matches. It will be interesting to see if Lampard starts taking a harder line with these mistakes or not.
3. 4-2-3-1, pressing, and control
On paper, the 4-2-3-1 is ideal for pressing and attacking. It allows for four very attacking players are joining the press in a 4-2-4 sort of shape that gives the opponent no short option. In practice, the fullbacks have to retreat rapidly or someone needs to cover for them. The midfield pair needs to be positioned perfectly, vertically and horizontally, to cover in behind the press.
Lampard attempted the formation last season before giving up on it roughly after the first international break. When it works, it works well, but when it doesn’t it leaves tons of exploitable spaces around the pitch. It would be wrong to even say that it is Lampard’s preference. When all players were fit following the Covid break, he tried the dual eight system. It worked, until N’Golo Kante got injured and then it wasn’t viable any longer.
The pursuit of Declan Rice, plus the rumor that he would be the center of three centerbacks (like a halfback/libero able to push into midfield), implies that it remains Lampard’s ideal. The main issue now is Chelsea still doesn’t seem to trust options other than Kante and the depth for the eight role has been cut.
That being said, for big matches like Sevilla and United, it may be ideal. Lampard already used the trio of Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho, and Kante against Liverpool but it lacks the punch needed in exchange for a conservative midfield. Mason Mount needs a rest, but so does most everyone else and he could be an option for one of those midfield spots. So could Kai Havertz or Hakim Ziyech but then the issue appears on the wing.
Mainly, however, Lampard needs to decide if the 4-2-3-1 is viable with this team in the long term. It has had its moments (Crystal Palace, the first half against Southampton) but it is very reliant on the right balance of players all over the pitch. If Lampard is looking to shake things up for big games, the 4-3-3 might be the way to go.
What are you looking for in this match? Let us know in the comments and on Twitter!