Chelsea started the season with a rookie manager in Frank Lampard while being hit with a ban that stopped them from signing players. Based on those scenarios, not much was expected from the post-Hazard era, but surely the team have surpassed all expectations.
Chelsea currently lie fourth in the Premier League and are only three points behind second-placed Leicester City (Skysports).
Prior to the start of the season, many of the Blues faithful would have seen the top half as a solid result for them – talk less of the top four itself.
Chelsea may have lost to Manchester City at the weekend, but their performance wasn’t all disappointing on the evening. If anything, it further exposed the struggles of a young side against “big sides” and how Lampard will have that problem to fix in the course of the season.
Lampard and his young squad have exceeded all expectations, but their mentality against big sides remains the final piece of the puzzle missing from a Chelsea side in transition.
Chelsea are miles ahead of where we expected but a significant split in their performances against the lower sides compared to the big sides has been the contrast of their season so far.
Chelsea have won all six games against teams in the bottom half, and only two of the seven against the top half – and those two were against Wolves when they were in no form and Burnley when they were in no form.
Leading to the all-important question: Why do Chelsea play well against top sides but fail to win regardless. Obviously, the quality of players isn’t the focus here but more on the mentality of these players.
When you consider Chelsea’s top scorer, Tammy Abraham is playing his first full season in the Premier League and the likes of Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Reece James just to name a few are making their mark as well, It shows just how the heavy burden and expectations of Chelsea (a top side) have been placed on these young lads still slowly developing and grasping the game at the top level.
Against Manchester United at the start of the season, Chelsea were the “better” side yet got hammered by a 4-0 scoreline. Also against Liverpool in the Super Cup, the Blues were once again the better side but lost out to the European Champions on penalties.
Even in the recent defeat to Manchester City, the possession kings of England and possibly Europe, a young Chelsea side saw enough possession to see Guardiola finish his first competitive fixture without his team averaging up to 50% of the ball.
Paul Scholes also questioned Chelsea’s struggles against top opponents on punditry duty, saying the quality is present, but the results are lacking.
“They keep going to these big clubs, playing really well and not winning games,” Scholes said as told by the Daily Mail.
“That will be frustrating for him I think, because he knows he’s got quality in his team but he’s missing something.”
“He’s definitely missing something. He went to Manchester United, everyone said Chelsea were the best team, played really well, got beat 4-0.”
Lampard is the joint-youngest coach in the League alongside Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe, and it’s easy to see why his young squad lack that top mentality themselves. The only solution to this remains the test of time, and it will pass soon enough.
Playing against the calibre of players the top sides have would be the first for most of these players and one can understand why they can’t keep up with the quality considering they’ve barely played such teams at all.
The likes of Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori, Mason Mount and Reece James plied their trades in the Championship last season (as did Lampard) and are probably still struggling to come to terms with that switch in quality of the sides.
As long as Chelsea keep winning against the “lesser” sides and keep a close distance to the top four or remain in it, their season would still come off as a successful one. Lampard can then focus his attention on signing quality and “experienced” players that would strongly improve the mentality of the squad as well as players the young ones can look up to.
Against all the odds, Chelsea and Lampard have been brilliant so far but have that one big puzzle to solve before they can further challenge for glory once again.