It is always hard to analyze Chelsea’s games under Frank Lampard in isolation or across the season. You are will scratch your head over basic coaching issues that an outside lover of the game can see. Yet the results will defy your eyes. It is either you are witnessing uncoordinated pressing, ill-timed combinations, or unnecessary overload/underload. There is always something off even when they win. It is a common theme with Chelsea games but somehow Frank Lampard continues to win. These days they are even keeping clean sheets.
Last season, despite the many problems in the team, they ranked third in most of the “good” metrics across the season. They defend the front of their goal reasonably well, but the last line of their defense was not good enough (Kepa Arrizabalaga the main suspect with Willy Caballero his accomplice). The signing of Edouard Mendy makes the side more resolute and the arrival of Thiago Silva makes them even better. Add Ben Chilwell’s speed/dynamism to Reece James’ run of form and you’ll see a very good backline.
The issues were many. Defending set-pieces, attacking set-pieces, pressing issues, formation issues, personnel issues, and tactical issues. The numbers show a team that defends well but concedes a high amount of “good” chances to the opposition. This is due to a lot of irregularity in their play. They still finished 4th and reached the F.A Cup final which is impressive given the context of their season. Chelsea signed a lot of players and they have managed to solve some of those problems. Yet, there is still something. Off.
The Game’s Gone
The game against Rennes died in the 40th minute when Dalbert received a second yellow for a “handball” in the box. Dalbert received the first yellow when his leg tripped the quick Timo Werner in the 9th minute. It was a soft call but a penalty nonetheless. (This writer is a Serie A and English Premier League aficionado so my bar for refereeing is begging to rise from the ground). Referees have ignored calls like that as contact is minimal and Werner makes the most of it before dispatching the kick.
The second one was even worse. He can do nothing about a ball that comes to him. For that, he gets a yellow, concedes a penalty, and gets a sending off? Come on! To make matters worse, there is a Zouma handball situation that VAR fails to check before the 2nd penalty incident. The new handball rule sucks.
Before the first goal, the Rennes players were in charge of the game. Their press was effective, their build-up was crisp with good speed and intent. The very experienced Steven Nzonzi was key to their movement of the ball, dropping to make a back 3 or staying put in the middle to provide a passing option for Nayef Aguerd and Damien Da Silva. Julien Stephan’s side was making the more purposeful combinations. They were moving Chelsea all over the place and finding space between Chelsea due to the English side’s suspect positioning and compactness/spacing (or lack thereof).
Lampard continues to iterate that he does not want his side to be predictable and that is wise. However, it seems his team cannot even predict themselves. Mistimed movements, under-hit passes, overhit passes, puzzling decisions to overload, and indecision in the build-up phase are the sort of things you will find when watching a Chelsea game.
Lack of Organization in the Build-up Phase
Chelsea players decide which form to build-up with during the game and this indecision leads to clunky ball rotation. They change between a 1-2-3, a 1-3-3, a 1-4-2, and all the other shapes their constant changing does not allow one to catch. Even with a man down, Rennes made Chelsea’s build-up play slow and tepid. Jorginho who was once the king at organizing build-up play looks out of sorts without the ordained movements of Maurizio Sarri’s playbook to guide him.
Chelsea players did not use their movements well. Jorginho did not open up angles well enough for the defenders to escape pressure and N’golo Kante/Mason Mount did not utilize the space behind Rennes’ first bank of pressure. Last season, the solution to this issue was a diagonal into a player but Ben Chilwell is good at dribbling out of pressure and Reece James too. This is where quality does the trick.
The Chelsea players also move too eagerly to the ball in the press and it leaves them stretched when transitions start. The players are not maximally spaced due to the freehand coaching of the team and this means the players do not have defined areas to control during the game. Whether this is due to the constant changing of formations, a lack of spatial understanding, or naivety from the players, it eats from their game. 4/5 players rush heedlessly into an area 3 players can cover if they utilize the space better. The London side fails to understand key pressing concepts. These are observations of an onlooker but even professionals have mentioned these issues when speaking on Chelsea.
On his blog, Borussia Monchengladbach coaching prodigy Rene Maric explains better with graphics and a more professional understanding of the pressing issues. Jose Mourinho also mentions the compactness issue after the opening day defeat to Manchester United last season. It was also an issue with Frank’s Derby County team.
Unnecessary Overloading is another problem Chelsea have. Too many players are roaming and this leaves unclear patches of space all over the place for the opposition to utilize. Ziyech drifting to the left where he is ineffective and Werner to the right where he is not used to is an occurrence that should stop as it helps no one. The overloading looks worse when they all drift to the left and still fail to move their opponents out of the space because they do not even understand how to use the space. They fall back to the very predictable option of switching the play, forcing the play or they move the ball behind to restart the process of building.
N’golo Kante comes too narrow for the overload and Jorginho’s askew positioning makes the team incohesive in and out of possession. Even with a man down, Rennes were better playing the ball out of the back and they created some good situations even though they did not find the goal.
Even in Defeat, Rennes Can Hold Their Head High
Before the penalty, Rennes players were all over Chelsea. They were forcing turnovers, forming dangerous combinations in midfield and wide areas but Chelsea’s new resolute backline conceded nothing. After the first penalty, Rennes continued to be all over Chelsea until the second penalty. Chelsea saw out the game till half-time. Early in the second half, Ziyech set James down the right to cross for a Tammy Abraham goal. Game over, but frankly it was over since minute 40.
Rennes with a man down and 3 goals down did not back down. They showed superior organization to the blues and caused them problems especially after Jeremy Doku came on. The former Anderlecht star is a teenage prodigy that we have mentioned on this website as a star of the future. His pace and direct style caused problems for the left side of Chelsea. He was dragging Emerson (subbed on for Chilwell) in and out of his line for runners behind, combinations, crosses, and ill-fated shots. Rennes’ organization is solid even without their superstar Edouardo Camavinga. Julien Stephan is a terrific coach doing a great job with the Brittany side.
Lampard & Chelsea
Chelsea leads the group with a superior goal difference despite being on the same points as Sevilla. Rennes and Krasnodar have the one point they shared when they met. Rennes face Chelsea next in France and they can show us what they would have shown us yesterday with some competent refereeing.
Lampard should be praised for taking a young Chelsea side to the level he took them to. They have 5 clean sheets in their last 6 games now and they have scored 10 in their last 3 games. This is very impressive but the structural issues still bother. They do not have clear ideas when they press or when they build out from the back. Yes, they are less predictable but the individual quality will not always solve situations, or will it?