Despite the quality of the opposition, Chelsea will have learned plenty from Morecambe as they search for form and points this season.
After the Morecambe match, there was a sense by many on social media that Chelsea will not have gained much from the match. Parts of the performance were poor and while some confidence might have been gained, overall the needle appeared to stay put. Especially in regards to the absence of the academy players, there was a belief that little was gained about the first players when much could have been with the academy group.
While there may be kernels of truth to those ideas, it would be incorrect to say Chelsea didn’t learn from that match. Morecambe may be the lowest positioned team Chelsea will face this season, but they will still have given the Blues a platform to learn about their squad. Not all of those lessons will have been positive but even negative lessons give this young team a platform to grow.
First of all, there is no hiding that the first half was particularly poor. One major issue Chelsea has had in recent weeks has been breaking down defensive blocks. Morecambe may be in League Two, but any team that defends that deeply and compactly is going to prove tricky. That being said, Chelsea was as passive in possession as they have been many times this season. There is such a fear of losing the ball that no risks are taken with passes or runs, so there is no spark to get through a defensive block. It was 2-0 at the half, but that scoreline did not signify how labored the half was.
Whatever changes were made at the half worked. Perhaps unburdened after the goals, the Chelsea team felt more confident in their ability to find spaces through Morecambe. Hakim Ziyech dropping deep pulled enough eyes away from Callum Hudson-Odoi running in behind that his goal was simple. While only one more goal came in the game, the simple desire to try passes into the forwards and make runs through channels and lines made Chelsea a much more dangerous side.
Part of that was the midfield and winger’s rotations. These were seen earlier in the season but they have become more difficult since Ziyech’s injury. With his return, he and Kai Havertz were able to swap with one another seamlessly. Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi were able to do the same on the opposite flank. This type of movement is very hard to defend against as it either leaves a player unmarked or it creates gap in the defense to be exploited.
Similarly, Chelsea was at least willing to use the center for attacks. Frank Lampard is a manager that prefers his teams build from wide areas before attacking centrally. More often than not, if that central attack isn’t in the box, the ball is recycled back out wide. In this match, players such as Mount and Ziyech were both more than willing to take shots from outside the box. This was an effective tactic for Lampard’s Derby County as any shot on target was able to create chaos in the box for strikers to pounce on.
One thing still missing from the center is creativity. Billy Gilmour had a fine game but he was largely only there to move the ball from one flank to the other. Though Mount was willing to shoot from outside the box and Havertz was willing to make runs into the box, neither midfielder was willing to pass the ball into the box from the center. That would be an understandably harder pass to pull off, but if Chelsea always enters the box through crosses then the opponent knows that is what they must focus on defending. A more varied attack would leave the opponent more confused and it would give Chelsea more of an edge to their offense.
But the game was largely about building confidence and the players that needed it the most got their goals. Timo Werner may have scored off one of his most difficult chances of the evening but afterwards he looked more energetic in pursuit of a second. Havertz, even without the goal, would have had an excellent game simply due to the effectiveness of his movement. The goal was simply icing on the cake and a signal that even while playing as one of the dual eights, he can find the net.
Perhaps the greatest disappoint of many didn’t even happen on the pitch (mostly). Five academy players trained with the first team this week but only one made the squad and Tino Anjorin was left with a late sub to impress. Given the poor form of Chelsea, this was understandable by Lampard but also telling. Lampard has a big squad that he is trying to keep happy but beyond that, he is trying to improve the intangibles for many by giving them an easier opponent. It is an indication that he is somewhat worried about current form and it is hard to blame him for his decision.
But overall, what did Lampard and the club really learn from this match? One major one is Havertz and Mount together, with the right wingers (Ziyech on the right, an open question on the left but Hudson-Odoi on form) is the way to run the team. There is still a question about who should be the defensive midfielder and the striker tying them all together, but the heartbeat of the team is clear. Lampard also likely gained trust in Antonio Rudiger and Kepa Arrizabalaga who both did well despite how little they had played this season.
All of these lessons will have the asterisk of it being “just Morecambe” but that doesn’t mean they aren’t lessons worth learning from. Chelsea now has a few days to rest up and prepare for Fulham to show what lessons stuck.