4 weeks, 3 games, 2 Emerson injuries and Barkley really shouldn’t be on penalties. It’s my write-up on what we learnt about Chelsea!
Key lessons learnt
Tomori is class
Tomori had a cracking season with Derby last year, taking home the player of the year award, but has come on further leaps and bounds in the last few months which has left him looking completely at home playing in the heart of a top 6 Premier League defence.
His first start came against Sheffield United, where Lampard rewarded Tomori with a start after he had been training at a very high level. It certainly seemed a good decision as well with, despite Chelsea conceding twice, Tomori looking composed and making some important blocks at the end of the game to keep the score at 2-2. Wolves was a similarly composed performance despite a few slips, which was capped with a fantastic strike that nobody in Molineux, including Rui Patricio, was expecting.
The crowing jewel in his 4 starts was the Liverpool game. It wasn’t that his stats were particularly incredible, but it was more the stats of others – Salah’s to be exact.
On the 22nd September 2018, Tomori led Frank Lampard’s defence vs Brentford, oozing class as he limited Maupay’s attacking chances to one shot.
On the 22nd September 2019, Tomori led Frank Lampard’s defence vs Liverpool, oozing class as he limited Salah’s attacking chances to one shot. Not a bad development.
I could wax lyrically about the rise of this man, but the thing that everyone wants to know is will be the next hot 4.5m bargain.
The bottom line is I think he’s more likely to play than not, but long term he’s got to compete with some serious players. If a 343 is used, Tomori should definitely be playing the majority of games, but the longevity of that formation is low at best. In a back 4, he’d have to hold off both Christensen and Zouma to play alongside Rudiger, which is a tough ask though it’s looking more and more likely each time he plays. Currently, if forced, I’d put him as 3rd choice centre back, but it’s getting ridiculously tight. If you’ve got the bench for it, have a crack. Though given the state of my team, I’d much rather have Soyuncu for 0.1m more.
Lampard is flexible
Unlike Sarri, Lampard is willing to adapt, change and adjust his team dependant on the situation. 4231 still seems his preferred formation, but he’s shown that he’s comfortable playing a 433, 4222 and a 343.
Which formation will be used going forwards? Well with everyone fit, it would likely be a 4231. Chelsea are blessed with 4 very talented wingers and 2 (3 if you count Barkley) number 10s that have huge potential and the only formation that allows 3 of the 6 play in their preferred formation would be a 4231, with RLC possibly being able to take Jorginho’s spot now a regista is no longer required.
In the short term a back 3 with wingbacks might be the flavour of the month, as it greatly suits Alonso whilst giving Chelsea some defensive strength as Lampard has always liked to funnel his opponents attackers wide.
Abraham is pretty decent
Does the curse of the number 9 shirt end here? Possibly. Abraham has really come into his own in recent games, with Lampard showing huge faith in him and for good reason. 5 goals in his last 3 games, or 7 if you look over the last 4, Abraham has been tucking them away for fun with him falling behind only Aguero (boosted by a Watford drubbing) for both Goal attempts, Shots in the box and Big chances in the last 3 for forwards. Coupled with some delicious fixtures on the way, Abraham could be bordering on essential if the Chelsea midfield are able to get the creative juices flowing.
With Emerson out for the next two league games at least, Lampard may well choose to play wingbacks with Alonso the best left back option (Though it should be noted that against weaker opponents he may believe even Alonso’s limited defensive ability is enough and play a back 4). As a result, there will be just 2 wide spots up for grabs between Willian, Pedro, CHO, Pulisic and Mount. Given Mount’s impressive form, it would be reasonable to expect that he’ll start the vast majority of games, which just leaves one spot left for 4 wingers. Pedro has been long expected to slip back to a rotation role, but Willian and Pulisic would certainly be expected to fight for a start.
Pulisic seems to have dropped out of favour, but the reason why is unclear – in fact his lack of games has attracted Lampard some criticism from fans on twitter. Possible reasons include the fact that Pulisic raced himself back into action after the Gold Cup too quickly and now needs a proper period of time to rest and recover, or it could be as simple as him not offering Azpilicueta enough defensive coverage so hasn’t been preferred. Willian meanwhile has been getting good minutes and impressing, though not to the point that makes him undroppable. As a result, a returning CHO could definitely steal his spot if his past performances are anything to go by. More on him later.
Barkley on pens
Outside of the league, Chelsea faced Valencia in the Champions League and we finally got the answer to who takes pens at Chelsea – Barkley. Who promptly placed it into the crowd behind via the bar.
Barkley already isn’t in the Chelsea fan’s good books following a series of disappointing performances that have left many questioning if pre-season Barkley was simply a far more talented lookie-likie. Given that Barkley doesn’t look close to getting many minutes bar sub appearances, it may be that penalties fall to Willian who tried to badger Barkley into giving him the penalty during the Valencia game.
Defence isn’t so terrible
Despite still having not kept a clean sheet, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about the Chelsea backline. Starting from the Wolves game, and continuing though Valencia and the Liverpool game, Chelsea have begun showing huge improvement in defensive situations from open play.
So if the Chelsea defence is new and improved, where have the recent goals conceded come from?
- One Wolves’ goal came late once the Chelsea defence had seen the game won and had preoccupied with planning what they’d eat for dinner rather than defending. The other came from a set piece.
- Valencia scored from a set piece, where Rodrigo was left unmarked.
- Liverpool scored once from a remarkable free-kick and the second from a poorly defended set-piece.
Simply put, Chelsea have been excellent at limiting chances during open play. In the last 3, Chelsea have conceded just 15 shots in the box, equal to that of Liverpool and Manchester City and 2nd best in the league. Granted, this can still be improved further, but it highlights the vast improvement that saw teams walking though our defence in preseason / early this season.
The undeniable weakness though is set-pieces. Ever since the Kawasaki Frontale game in Japan, it has been clear that set-pieces would be a challenge for our defence, with opposition players often getting free headers due to weak defensive work.
Currently, we deploy a zonal-marking approach to defending set-pieces, with the tall players – Abraham, Alonso and so on – defending the key defensive areas with the smaller players taking the lower volume area. This typically works ok as long as the defence is disciplined, but most teams tend to introduce a small amount of man-marking anyways to mitigate some of the flaws. Two of these flaws were shockingly exposed by Valencia and Liverpool.
The first flaw is that any movement off the ball is kryptonite to our defence. Valencia exposed this by not dropping the ball in the expected area and instead using the run of Rodrigo to instead play the ball towards the near post. Normally, this wouldn’t be too much of an issue – the defence shifts across and the ball in intercepted or the forward is forced into hitting a ball that dropping over his shoulder from a tight angle. Before the free-kick Rodrigo, one of Valencia’s main threats, was in front of Tammy Abraham – no issue there, Tammy has been one of Chelsea’s major aerial powers and is 3rd highest for aerial duels won – but critically he is not a defender. In situations like this, he has to track the run and take responsibility, but it’s not in his blood. As a result, Rodrigo gets a free shot.
The second flaw is the complete opposite and was exposed by Liverpool and Firmino. Chelsea lined up with each player taking a zone, as always, with Liverpool players dotted around and Firmino lurking on the penalty spot, unmarked. Mane, who is in Christensen’s zone, just steps forward as the ball comes in to try and find some space, causing Christensen’s defensive nose to kick in and follow his man. Sadly though, this doesn’t really work in zonal marking, as tracking that short run opens up space behind you, for the unmarked Firmino to waltz into for a free header. Simply put – either drill this defending technique more so players know who they need to watching or incorporate some man-marking aspects. Either way, defenders need to be aggressively challenging for that ball, especially if employing a pure zonal-marking approach.
Anyways, rant over. Summary is – expect clean sheets soon, but not for Chelsea to magically become a defensive juggernaut overnight.
Players to watch
Buy. Buy buy buy. Abraham has showed some tasty finishing recently, displaying a whole range of goals from first class headers to excellent individual ability to create space for himself before slotting home smartly – clearly that after-training finishing work is paying off. Great fixtures coming up and the third best forward behind Aguero and Aubameyang currently in my opinion.
The big question with Mount is whether it’s worth doubling up with Abraham. My response? Yes. Mason Mount has been looking a top talent in the Chelsea team, with most attacks going through him at some stage. Energy, shooting ability, creativity, work rate – Mount has demonstrated it all this season. There’s no worries about him playing wide is meaning that he has less chance to attack – he’s regularly the most advanced player in the team, with his game against Wolves highlighting this fact incredibly clearly. Great value, his price tag makes the double-up viable.
A name to chuck into the punt bucket, but not one I’ll be buying. Alonso will now be playing the next two league games with Emerson out with a recurring injury until after the international break and likely given some good attacking freedom. Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily recommend paying 6.2m for a potential 2 week punt, I can see him having some success over these weeks, in particular versus Southampton. 12 crosses, 4 chances created, 1 big chance and 2 goal attempts in his last 2 vs Liverpool and Wolves is not bad going.
Will we keep clean sheets? A few in the next 6 or so. Will Tomori be on the pitch? Tough, but I think it’s more likely he will than he won’t. If you have a strong bench, Tomori at 4.5 could be a great punt for not just a few points but also a good amount of price rises. Be warned though, he could easily not play and you might get stuck with deadwood – I’d want a somewhat decent bench.
I adore CHO. Talent, speed, ability – Callum is coming back to fitness and scored in each of his U23 games. I expect he will play in the Carabao Cup (this was written before that game) which should be another good opportunity to see him, but he’s definitely one watch. I warn you now – if he gets to play regularly, he’ll be an absolute steal at 5.9m, but with 4 wingers and Mount fighting over a limited number of places I won’t be trying to get ahead of the curve just yet.
Players to ignore
Must admit, it’s hard to say many players are bad options, just that I wouldn’t be buying anyone other than the ones above. I’ll include two though that may be popular but that I won’t be investing in just yet.
Rudiger doesn’t really offer much else other than clean sheets, which I don’t think makes him worth his 6m price tag. Zouma is the major aerial threat at set pieces currently, with Abraham taking a good slice when Zouma isn’t on the pitch. He had 13 headed attempts in 33 games last term, and whilst with no Luiz he may get a few more, I’m not particularly interested until the defence improves.
He doesn’t stand that badly for chances created per 90, but I’m not seeing enough to excite me. I think he could pick up some assists but I don’t think it will be enough to warrant investment for a 5.9m defender in a team that aren’t completely stable at the back. Under pressure from a returning James now, he might lose one or two games if James can find a bit of form in other games / training.