The Blues will look to get back on the winning trail on Monday night when they face West Ham at Stamford Bridge
As far as this season goes, the last week has been one of the most difficult for Frank Lampard’s Chelsea.
Back-to-back defeats to Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers seem to have quashed Chelsea’s title ambitions with a harsh reality check. In truth, Lampard and many supporters who have been around long enough to know the fickle mistress of football, have not bought in to the talking up of Chelsea’s title chances this season.
Results and performances like those seen against Everton and Wolves point to Chelsea just not being ready yet.
Post-match Lampard gave a timely reminder of where Chelsea are in their development: “We have young players, some players who have won titles, but we have some players in our squad who are new to the league. We have players who were playing in the Championship or on loan in the last two years. We are a work in progress.”
The performance against Everton was not in and of itself poor. After all, Chelsea hit the post twice and Kurt Zouma might have done better with a close range shot from a corner.
Everton capitalised on a rare error from Edouard Mendy to go 1-0 up and this played right in to their game plan. The wily old fox that is Carlo Ancelotti set Everton up to press high and hard, harry in midfield and defend deep with four centre backs. More to the point they disrupted Chelsea’s rhythm by both fair means and foul. Football may be a game of fine margins, but Chelsea really had no answer to Everton’s spoiling tactics.
The defeat to Wolves was a different issue entirely. This defeat was down to game management and mentality. Yes, Chelsea should have done more to make the game safe having taken a 1-0 lead. But at 1-1 with minutes to go, a team with title aspirations should not be caught on the counter-attack, to lose the game with practically the last kick of the match.
A point away at Wolves would have been no disgrace or as Jose Mourinho use to say “if you can’t win the game, then don’t lose it”. Something I’m sure Lampard would have heard him say many times.
No wonder Lampard, like the supporters was both disappointed and frustrated after the Wolves match, saying: “The threat from Wolves is clearly the counter attack…the players knew it before the game, the players knew it in game but we allowed some counter-attacks. If you are going to allow a team to play to their strengths then you may lose that game.”
He also alluded to the players’ mentality in contributing to their own downfall. I took that to mean their naiveite in leaving themselves open to the counter-attack rather than any lack of hunger or desire and again it points to the relative lack of nous and experience in what is, after all, the youngest team in the Premier League.
This inexperience will produce the odd blip in a season. It did last season too. One would hope that as they develop together as a team, results like this will become rarer.
With progress clearly having been made this season, especially in terms of goals scored and shutting them out at the other end, resolving Chelsea’s game management would appear to be the next stage of the team and its young players’ development.
Or to put it another way, how they learn to use their heads as well as their ability to win matches they are drawing, or not lose matches they are drawing.
Perhaps how well and how quickly they develop this mentality will determine whether or not they will win the title this season as much as any inherent talent and ability. There is a feeling that in a close race for the title, they are good enough to win it, but do they have all the tools to do so.
The Christmas fixtures arguably provide the sternest test of the Premier League season with matches coming thick and fast even by this season’s helter-skelter pace.
Over the Christmas period, Chelsea face West Ham, Arsenal, Aston Villa and Man City. All winnable but none of them pushovers.
We’ll know a lot more about Chelsea’s title aspirations in the first week of January but perhaps the biggest test of Chelsea’s progress will come in February and March.
The barometer of any side with elite pretensions is the Champions League. Chelsea have been drawn against Atlético Madrid, a side they last met in 2017 in the group stages. Chelsea have not made it past the Round of 16 since 2013-14, when, ironically, they were knocked out in the semi-final by none other than Atlético Madrid.
Atlético was arguably the toughest name to picked out of the hat for Chelsea. It would be easy to presume that the side that reached the 2014 final by knocking out Chelsea, may have faded. But they still have the ferocious Diego Simeone at the helm and they are currently top of La Liga having lost once in 28 games.
Given Chelsea’s difficulty in dealing with Everton last weekend, they should be even more wary of Atletico’s uncompromising style of football. Resolute in defence, highly disciplined and organised, they are a side that will use every trick in the book to disrupt and spoil Chelsea’s rhythm and style of play.
If Chelsea struggled against an Everton side using the dark arts, then what hope will they have against Atlético Madrid, the Zen masters? Thankfully, Chelsea have nine weeks to diligently do enough homework and revision to pass these stern tests.
On their way to the first top tier title for 50 years, Chelsea faced Blackburn Rovers away in February 2005. Managed by Mark Hughes and including gnarly assassins Ryan Nelsen, Robbie Savage and Paul Dickov, Blackburn were the dirtiest side in the division with the most fouls, most red cards and most yellow cards. Hughes sent them out to kick Chelsea off the pitch, fully expecting the multi-million-pound team assembled by Roman Abramovich to wilt. But wilt they did not as they toughed it out for 85 minutes, Arjen Robben having put them 1-0 up after five minutes before hobbling off five minutes after that.
It is ugly, stoic, backs to the wall performances like this that win titles. For Blackburn away in 2005, read the last minute 1-0 win at home to Everton in February 2015 and the 1-0 win away to QPR as Chelsea ground their way to the title. These are the kind of games that define Champions and win titles; not the champagne football of 3-0, 4-0 or 5-0.