Chelsea once again put in a pitiful performance only coming away with three points due to a monster game by the oft-maligned Mason Mount.
There they go again. Chelsea once again puts in a wretched team performance against a very mediocre Fulham side (which was done to 10 men by halftime) and only escape with three points due to No. 19, Mason Mount. Manager Frank Lampard along with millions of Chelsea fans worldwide have to again be pulling their hair out of their heads watching another poor performance by the Blues. It’s beginning to look quite clear that the whole of this squad is not equal to the sum of the parts. The parts, in this case, talented players. They are there, but the team isn’t, yet. It’s as simple as that.
This club is consistently underachieving its talent level. It’s loaded with great individual talents. But it just can’t seem to put all the pieces together to get the results that were hoped for and even expected, after a summer transfer spending spree whose great expense was only exceeded by the monumental expectations of its fans. Needless to say, as the club approaches mid-table status, it hasn’t happened yet. The main question is whether it will at all.
One thing cited previously in these pages was again abundantly clear against Fulham: Chelsea’s midfield, Mount excepted, is woefully deficient in the attack. Jorginho never saw a ball he couldn’t pass backward evidently. And absent Mount’s tireless work rate, attacking flair, and of course, goal, Chelsea got very little from the midfield at all. Today’s game would have been a perfect one to give Kai Havertz a roll out as a starter as he’s begun to round into form. Yet, not only did he not get the start, Lampard didn’t even roll him out at all in the second half with a 10-man Fulham team on the pitch, hoping to keep Havertz low, but hopefully rising confidence level heading upward.
The same went for Timo Werner, who was inserted into the game late (it should have been at halftime with Fulham down to 10 men at least). A full game would have given him an opportunity against a weaker team to continue his efforts to snap out of his funk. Lampard eschewed that opportunity, as well, and unfortunately, Werner was completely ineffective in his 20 minutes or so on the pitch. He doesn’t get the ball played to him much and when he does, he doesn’t seem to know what to do with it. Christian Pulisic had a golden opportunity to play a pass to Werner for a shot but inexplicably passed up the opportunity. It was not the American flash’s best game in a blue shirt either. Far from it.
And completely against form, even Olivier Giroud, the steady, reliable, goal-scoring machine for Chelsea couldn’t find the net on several very good chances. When Giroud is off-target that much, you know you are in for a tough time if you support the Blue-shirted side. I’m sure Giroud would admit that he just couldn’t hit the target on any number of chances. Giroud’s problem today in not scoring is not just an issue for him. Generally, this team can’t get shots on target never mind score goals. It’s frustrating, not only for the fans but most assuredly for the payers themselves. Their shots are constantly being blocked. Those blocked shots are so commonplace that they are not even that annoying anymore. They’re almost expected.
Yet, despite all this angst, the Blues managed to take three points from a weak Fulham team after the long bus ride from the Bridge to Craven Cottage. That’s good news. Three points are three points even if you played a bottom of the table team, as a bottom of the table team for just about the entire game. Yet, two factors are becoming increasingly more apparent. Again, the first is that Chelsea’s midfield is woefully deficient in the attack. Play in transition today, excepting that from Mount, was beastly. Hopes for Havertz there are high, but he needs to play. Another box-to-box midfielder a la Bruno Fernandes (he of the 11 goals and seven assists this season for Manchester United) or Ilkay Gundogan would fit perfectly.
And secondly, play out from the back by the Blues center-halves is slow, lateral, cumbersome, uninspiring, and unimaginative. In short, it’s second-rate. They’d struggle mightily to get the ball to the midfield in transition, even if there were additional midfielders who could effectuate solid transition. So, in addition to a box-to-box midfielder who can lead the transition, they need a center-half who can barrel forward and create on his own. Kurt Zouma is the closest they have to that player (unless the outgoing Fikayo Tomori, who can’t get on the pitch at all under Lampard is included), and Zouma isn’t any wunderkind in that aspect of his game either.
Yet, there is a player who just may be available with a release clause in his contract of about 37.4M pounds who plays at Leipzig (Werner’s former squad). That would be Dayot Upamecano. This young center-half has exactly what Chelsea needs. He has decent height but great size at 198 pounds. He is powerful, surprisingly pacy for his size, and he can burst the ball forward with pizzazz to create numerical mismatches with opposing defenses. Upamecano is the guy. Chelsea should work a deal with Leipzig now, (pay the $66M transfermarkt fee or more, if necessary), to acquire the 22-year-old even if the player is not available until the summer. It would be similar to the Christian Pulisic deal with Dortmund, where he signs but is loaned out to his current team until the end of the season. Just do it.
So Chelsea takes three points in a dreadful game against a weak team. Huzzah, a derby win against Fulham. But the flaws are exposed for everyone to see. The team’s forwards couldn’t find the goal today, and absent the usually reliable Giroud, they seemingly can’t. The midfield is deficient in the attack. Woefully so. And the center-halves can’t advance the ball at all. The striking power is there. It just needs an additional catalyst or two to get it firing. It’s clear that one of those will be the Moroccan Magician, Hakim Ziyech. With every passing game, he shows why he will be one of the best transfers of the season. But they also need a midfielder who can drive the ball up the pitch, pass, and, importantly, score. And finally, they need that center-half who can also advance the ball up the pitch with power and add to the attack. That would be Dayot Upamecano. One game but several suggestions. Let’s see if Chelsea’s management gets the message.