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The lesson Lampard needed to learn: Chelsea’s defence is nowhere near good enough

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Chelsea's English head coach Frank Lampard reacts in the dug-out during the English Premier League football match between Sheffield United and Chelsea at Bramall Lane in Sheffield, northern England on July 11, 2020.

Image credit: Getty Images

ByPete Sharland
11/07/2020 at 19:42 | Updated 11/07/2020 at 20:02
@PeteSharland

If Frank Lampard took anything away from his team’s shambolic defeat to Sheffield United on Saturday it has to be that his defence is badly in need of an overhaul writes Pete Sharland.

As we have grown to expect from Frank Lampard during his time as a manager his reaction to what he saw on Saturday was honest, stern and, dare we say it, frank.

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"They were better than us, physically, in the mind and with the ball. So you lose the game.” Lampard said of Sheffield United after the Blades’ 3-0 victory at Bramall Lane

“They were stronger than us. You feel and hear every noise and all I could hear was Sheffield United voices. They are a good team. If you come here and perform below par this is what will happen.

"We matched them shape wise. We were too slow and weren't getting our wingers into the game. We tried to get control, which we did but weren't threatening. At 2-0 down you make it difficult for yourselves. Disappointing. Mistakes. You analyse all season and review and move forward. We need to put that to bed quickly and fight for the top four. I learned a lot and I won't forget that.”

That last sentence would be chilling coming out of the mouth of a movie villain, although it will still be plenty ominous for some of Chelsea’s squad.

Chelsea's English head coach Frank Lampard reacts on the touchline during the English Premier League football match between Sheffield United and Chelsea at Bramall Lane in Sheffield, northern England on July 11, 2020

Image credit: Getty Images

It feels as if the struggles of Kepa Arrizabalaga this season have at times covered up how poor Chelsea’s defence as a whole has been but the facts are there for all to see. Of every team in the top ten, no side has conceded more goals than Chelsea’s 49. In fact only seven teams in the entire league have let in more, and five of those seven are the ones sitting at the bottom of the table.

It’s hard to look at any member of the Chelsea defensive unit and say they’ve had a good season. Perhaps captain Cesar Azpilicueta, but as the leader of the defence he must take the blame for their lack of organisation. Fikayo Tomoroi is currently massively benefitting from being out of the team whilst Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Kurt Zouma take it in turns to fail to cover themselves in glory. It seems as if you can’t go one week without a Chelsea defender, who was excellent the game prior, making a high-profile mistake in the next match.

Left-back has been a real problem area. Marcos Alonso offers a lot offensively but is a liability defensively, whilst Emerson seems so-so in both categories, at best. That has resulted in heavy links to Ben Chilwell and Nicolas Tagliafico whilst in the short-term Azpilicueta has shifted across to that side.

On the other flank Reece James is excellent going forward, with a fabulous delivery, but he still needs to work defensively. He is, however, still just 20 years of age and don’t forget similar things were said of Trent Alexander-Arnold when he first came into the team.

But the same cannot be said of some of James’ colleagues. They should know better. It’s been noticeable over the past couple of months that Chelsea have been heavily linked to attacking players. Be it Werner (who signed) or Bayer Leverkusen starlet Kai Havertz. But have there been the same level of links to central defenders? Not particularly. Some tentative mentions of Kalidou Koulibaly or Dayot Upamecano aside there hasn’t been much to shout about. The links to Declan Rice continue but it still remains to be seen whether he can be a centre-back for a top four club.

Mason Mount of Chelsea and Declan Rice of West Ham during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and West Ham United at Stamford Bridge on November 30, 2019 in London, United Kingdom.

Image credit: Getty Images

For now Lampard has to focus on Norwich City on Tuesday and it will be interesting to see what he decides to do with his line-up. A back five seems an overreaction against the league’s bottom club but it has to be in his thinking for the other big games coming his team’s way.

"I am not concerned about top four today.” Lampard said. “All I do is sit and watch the games and consider what we want to do.

“But today I am concerned with how we performed. “We will see where we are when we approach Norwich. But we can't approach Norwich or Manchester United or Wolves like we did today."

Lampard may not be concerned outwardly but internally he has to be a little worried. Chelsea have been solid since football returned but the tight nature of the top four race means they remain under threat of missing out on Champions League football.

By Sunday evening they could be back to fifth, with Wolves and Sheffield United just a few points behind them. Credit to Chris Wilder’s side, they didn’t get restarted the way they would have wanted to but they’re in contention for European football on merit - they are extremely well-organised. Yet on the day Hakim Ziyech trained with his new club for the first time, and Timo Werner expected soon as well, Chelsea’s bold gamble is at risk of blowing up in their faces. They thought with their rivals suffering from Covid-19 related financial cutbacks Chelsea evidently planned to go aggressive in the window to capitalise. That decision won’t look so smart if they don’t have Champions League football next season.

Look, long-term Chelsea are probably about where they should be in the Lampard revolution, as has been stressed on multiple occasions top four would be a bonus this season. But situations change, and you have to adjust with them. With their rivals floundering an opportunity arose for Chelsea and missing out on the top four would now classify a disappointment. And if they want to become mainstays in Europe’s top table once more it’s time for Lampard and Petr Cech to look for reinforcements for their defence.

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