Chelsea fans were shocked, to say the least, when the starting line-up came out ahead of the Fulham game at Craven Cottage. The starting XI did not have centerback Kurt Zouma in it, as well as certain other key names. This shock was tempered by the consideration that the Blues had another game three days, traveling to Leicester City.
It was then surprising for Lampard to cite an absence of leadership and bad form as reasons for his team selection. That pre-match presser should have worried Blues fans more than the selection. Since John Terry retired and Chelsea lost strong characters like Gary Cahill, Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and even Eden Hazard, the team has looked more and more lacking in leadership and strong voices. Lampard wasn’t particularly out of line by deciding to pick a team of leaders against the Blues’ west London rivals, but his quip about bad form insinuated that he was dropping Zouma based on form and showed that is making Zouma partially responsible for the recent results and performances. Zouma has been Chelsea’s best central defender this season.
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It is even more bizarre that Thiago Silva has kept his place in the starting line-up while Zouma was dropped. The Blues have played five league games without Silva. In those five, they recorded two wins, two draws and one loss. The loss was against an in-form Liverpool where Chelsea got a red card, missed a penalty and saw its goalkeeper make an error leading to goal. In those five games, Chelsea scored 1.8 goals per game, and conceded 1.4 goals per match.
The Blues have played four league games without Zouma and of those four, they have recorded one win, two draws and one loss. In those four games, they have scored 1.25 goals per game while conceding 1.5 goals per game. Chelsea scores more and concedes less without Silva in the line-up, compared to when they don’t have Zouma in the line-up. There is context to this, but of those games, there is one (Aston Villa) where neither Silva nor Zouma played. If you take away the Villa game, it means Chelsea has scored 1.6 goals per game and conceded 1.2 with Zouma, but without Silva. The Blues have scored 1 goal per game and conceded 1.25 goals per game with Silva, but without Zouma. This shows that Zouma’s absence has more negatively affected Chelsea both offensively and defensively than that of Silva’s absence. This isn’t to say that Silva has not played well, because he has been an excellent centerback partner alongside Zouma, but it’s one indication that of the two starting centerbacks, Zouma has performed better.
Chelsea beat Leeds United, but lost Hakim Ziyech and Ben Chilwell to injury in that game. Since then, they have picked up two wins in eight games, losing five. Of the five losses, Zouma featured in four of those while Silva featured in all of them. According to the eye test and WhoScored, Zouma performed better than Silva in all four games that he featured. These observations are not for anything other than point out that Zouma has been the Blues’ best central defender this campaign, and that is even true in this run of games.
It was completely unnecessary for Lampard to drop any of the centerbacks in light of the poor run of results, but the numbers highlighted have shown that Lampard definitely dropped the wrong centerback. The Frenchman has gone on to be one of the Premier League’s best centerbacks this campaign, leading all defenders in goals scored. Zouma worked very hard to get to where he has, only to be dropped from the line-up and partially blamed for a bad run of form, where he performed better than his centerback partner.
It should not be ignored that Lampard is in a tough spot and looking for ways to turn things around, but even if he doesn’t know what his problem is, he should know what his problem isn’t. Zouma clearly showed that he is the best central defender on the team’s roster, and if Lampard didn’t know that—which, it seems like he doesn’t—it stands to reason what else Lampard doesn’t know about his squad.