Frank Lampard has a fairly consistent platform for choosing strikers game to game, but it paints Chelsea into a corner too often.
Frank Lampard has often spoken about a meritocracy in his team selection. Train well and play well and the starts will come more frequently. Now, one can go back and forth over how true that is for some, but compared to Chelsea managers of the last 15 years, Lampard is genuine in his approach to picking players that have earned it over those that haven’t.
Sometimes, however, that approach can be too simplistic. That appears to be the case with the strikers. More often than not, if a striker scores, Lampard is sure to select them in the next match (barring the usual rotational games). That seems to make sense on paper. After all, a striker’s job is to score and if they successfully do so they have earned another start, right? Well, it is not quite that simple and making it so paints Lampard and Chelsea into a corner when it comes to selection.
First of all, Chelsea has three very unique strikers. Olivier Giroud is perhaps the last of the target men the Blues will see for some time. His ability to dominate players in the box while linking in teammates or scoring from preposterous angles is without match at Chelsea. Timo Werner is a unique blend of support striker and a line breaker. He is incredibly eager to help out defensively and in the buildup, but his main goal is to use his pace to cut through the opponent. Tammy Abraham is somewhere in between the two. He tends to stay central, but that idea becomes a loose one as he roams left and right and deep to find space to be open for the ball or draw opponents away.
Three unique strikers means Chelsea should have a solution to any opponent. If the opposition wants to play a high line, let Werner go to town. If they want to pack it in, have Giroud knock them about. If they want to go full man mark, allow Abraham to test how far they are willing to go.
The problem arises when the type of opposition isn’t factored into team selection, but just whether they have scored recently or not. When Giroud began scoring in almost every substitute appearance, he followed it up with four against Sevilla. He was made the starter over Abraham which makes sense on paper, but after a few matches it became clearer that Giroud’s scoring form was in part because the opponents were worn down when he came on. Furthermore, Giroud’s presence as a target man began to limit Chelsea’s attack. The Blues became tunnel visioned on crossing to Giroud. The attack was quickly figured out and Giroud stifled.
Which brings us back to Werner. He finally broke his duck against Morecambe. Because he scored now, it would seem that Lampard would favor starting him against Fulham. But this would come in spite of Giroud and Abraham who are both in good goal scoring form simply because Werner scored once.
Furthermore, the policy rarely considers the overall play. Werner scored against Morecambe, but overall, he was not highly involved in the match. Similar levels were seen when Giroud started over Abraham as well. Is the goal more important than the performance? Can the two be untangled for a striker?
There is another issue with it though. Werner started against Morecambe to build the confidence he sorely needed. He got his goal. Now, if Lampard doesn’t start him against Fulham, what happens to that confidence? It likely goes back out the window.
Alternatively, if Abraham or Giroud fail to start against Fulham, both will rightly be asking questions as to how much merit really factors into starts. Both should have been surprised to see Werner start against Manchester City. Tactically, it makes sense why he did. But when two strikers are on form and the completely out of form striker gets the nod, questions are surely asked.
So now Lampard’s usual striker selection has put him into a corner with no good way out. Does he start Abraham or Giroud, both of whom are in form and likely better suited to how Fulham will play, or does he play Werner to keep his confidence up and reward the goal? There is no right answer simply because both have pretty significant negatives. It will be telling who Lampard decides on and how that plays out with Leicester City so close behind.