The issues with Chelsea’s midfield makeup have come back into light after a poor run. As the saying goes, there has been too many cooks in the kitchen.
Often when discussing the likes of Everton and West Ham, the term “Frankenstein club” has been used on this site. It isn’t an insult, just merely a way to describe a team that has a lot of good individuals but those individuals do not match up stylistically. There are numerous reasons for this from poor scouting to board influence to every manager wanting a slice of the pie when they come in. That last issue describes Chelsea, especially in midfield.
The midfield is the heartbeat of any team. Regardless of the formation or style of play the team is attempting, without the right midfielders it will collapse. That is an issue Chelsea has not only had in recent weeks, but in recent seasons. No midfield combination truly works wonders or stands out because there are too many divergent ideas in the middle. Like the old saying goes, there has been too many cooks in the kitchen.
Looking through the midfield it becomes quite clear. Under Antonio Conte, a midfielder had to be a two way player but more than anything they needed to be hard working. With much of the creation coming through the wide areas and circuits, the onus was taken away from midfielders. N’Golo Kante came in and has played a big part since, but the likes of Tiemoue Bakayoko and Danny Drinkwater also came in before being discarded by the next manager(s).
Maurizio Sarri needed more creativity in the center but less of that hard working two way nature. Players like Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley who had struggled found themselves back into the team’s plans. Add in the signings of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic and yet another cook has added to the recipe.
Then Frank Lampard came in and his additions have been two fold. The first is the youth that had grown in their own environment at Chelsea and on loan separate of both Conte and Sarri. Mason Mount and Billy Gilmour became a part of the midfield rotation as others like Jorginho and Barkley faded out more.
Kai Havertz offers yet another ingredient, this time more on Lampard than the academy and loan system that preceded him. While he does suit the overall idea of the Chelsea academy, he is much more focused on space than structure which adds another complication to the midfield.
It is worth noting that just because a player comes in during a manager’s tenure, that does not mean they were the manager’s decision. The board at Chelsea has long had their own propensity to make signings regardless of whether or not they are in the manager’s plans. Barkley certainly comes to mind, but the question can also be asked if Kovacic would have stayed were it not for the transfer ban. It could also be asked if this past summer was a normal window where Chelsea had competition if they would have gone for or had a chance at Havertz at all. While obviously a good player (in a bad spot right now for various reasons), it is hard to say the Blues would have gotten him if they were not alone in the pursuit. It was an opportunity to good to pass up.
All that leaves Chelsea with a midfield (arguably the most important part of any tactic or formation) that is a muddled mess. There isn’t a pivot of Jorginho, Kante, or Kovacic that truly works wonders because they were all brought in for different reasons under different managers. Adding Mount and Havertz into that equation just furthers the difficulty. So would any additional signings such as Declan Rice, though if the club is willing to stand by Lampard, there would at least be good reason to reinforce the team with “his” midfielders.
There is no easy solution to this issue. Everton solved their Frankenstein issue by getting Carlo Ancelotti an entirely new midfield. West Ham solved it by seeing David Moyes marginalize the ones that didn’t suit his style while crystallizing the ones that did. Lampard has been on both sides of the fence which means he ends up sitting on it.
It cannot be ignored that the winning run came with a very consistent midfield of Kante, Mount, and Havertz (later replaced by Kovacic following the German’s bout with Covid). The more that delicate balance got upset, the more the team began to struggle. The press fell off, the movement and creativity were not far behind.
Regardless, Lampard has to find some solution be it temporary or otherwise. The Blues cannot afford more games like Manchester City where the midfield was so overwhelmed offensively and defensively. Finding the right balance that can work on almost every day instead of for a game or two could make or break whatever the remainder of Lampard’s tenure is.