Wolves 2 vs Chelsea 1
Wolves went up against Chelsea at the Molineux stadium and the pack defeated the pride. Like the Everton game, the Chelsea players were lethargic and lost due to isolated situations. However, some things about Frank Lampard’s football came to the fore again. His lack of clear ideas on the micro-details of his game or rather his ignoring of those details. Yes, Chelsea has signed a lot of players who are yet to integrate but it does not look like this team will have a clear tactical identity anytime soon. The play is too free-willed and there are no clear automated strategies for chance creation. This in turn affects their counter-pressing. The players look like they are expressing their individual ideas while the collective is suffering. We explore these problems in this article.
A Lack of Clear Ideas Tested By Experience
Maurizio Sarri quit banking to focus on coaching in 1990. He started from the bottom, coaching U.S.D Stia before moving to Sansovino and helping them to achieve promotion into Serie D. Sarri moved to Serie C2 side Sangiovannese. The Italian took them to Serie C1 before joining Pescara. He would lead Arezzo, Avelino, Hellas Verona, Perugia, Grosseto, Alessandria, Sorrento, Empoli, and Napoli before taking over at Chelsea. Antonio Conte before him had managed Arezzo, Bari, Atalanta, Siena, Juventus, and the Italian national team before joining Chelsea.
These managers have had their time to experiment and to assess the flaws of their football. They have taken their time to develop playing patterns that they can impress on any team. You know the short circuitry passing that defines Sarri’s football. We know how the attacks will build out, everyone knows where to be and what they should be doing. The same goes for Antonio Conte. You know his methods. There is a lot of off-the-ball-running with compactness to cover spaces. The schemes for building out from the back are tested and trusted. With these coaches, you can see clear ideas that have been tried and tested at different levels of the game.
This is why they are stubborn. They know the flaws of their methods and they can live with them. There is no experimentation because they have spent their earlier years doing that to arrive at these methods.
Frank Lampard is still in his experimentation phase and that is fine. The only problem is that he is leading Chelsea football club of England and this is no place for experimentation. This is a club that needs clear ideas on how to break teams down regardless of the individual quality available. He is yet to understand the tenets of his football and it shows on the pitch. From the continuous changing of shapes to the unstructured attacking patterns, there is no clarity on space and positioning. Chelsea’s unbalanced attacking structure does not allow them to gain the positional advantage when counter-pressing. They cannot appropriately cover space and this means they will produce ineffective counter-pressing. This is not to show that he is a bad coach, he is doing well and progressing but he is making rookie mistakes in the big boy game.
No Structure, No Automatism, No Clear Attacking Scheme
“Forget about structured possession and automatisms: there’s no time in training to teach them. Forget about manic high pressing and complete territorial dominance: players do not have the fitness to enact it” but there is always time Alex Keble of Goal, there is always time.
All the great modern sides rely on structure and automatism. The current European Champions Bayern have many attacking combinations, they almost resemble an NFL side enacting plays from a tactically prepared playbook. Pep Guardiola has developed different schemes in his journey from Barcelona to Manchester. At Barcelona, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets regurgitated the ball, pulling players out of position for the third man runs into the box. At Manchester City, Pep has become notorious for his manipulation of half-spaces. He pins his two attacking midfielders to those half-spaces and from there, they can form combinations with wingers and full-backs. It is common to see Kevin De Bruyne darting in from his right side half-space to put in dangerous crosses. These are the schemes that define a team. They give the team an understanding and clarity of purpose in the attacking phase.
The current Liverpool side has clear schemes and templates they operate from. They build with a 1-2-3-5. They plan to arrive at your box with at least 5 players, you see these patterns in every game and you know that this is a tactically prepared template that the team relies on. Lampard’s side does not have this. An understated aspect of these clear attacking schemes is that because everyone knows where everyone is at each point, it is easier to control transitions and effectively counter-press the opponent. Frank Lampard is yet to show true appreciation for this interconnection in football.
Christian Pulisic’s post-corona form was a huge part of why the team made the top 4 last season. The FA Cup final was an example of why a template is essential. As soon as Pulisic went off, Chelsea did not look like they had a clear attacking plan to break down Arsenal. This season it has been much of the same. Hakim Ziyech’s whipped crosses from anywhere on the pitch is a potent threat and enough to keep opposing teams honest. Since his injury lay-off, they have lacked a spark and while that happens when good players are out, it becomes clearer why teams need a working template for chance creation.
Late Substitutions/Bad Substitutions/Poor Line-ups
Lampard trusts Kai Havertz, despite some shoddy performances from the youngster. But there was no reason for Havertz to start yesterday’s game against Wolves. He was bypassed too easily as he is yet to adapt to the game in England. Mateo Kovacic has put aside his bad form from the end of last season and he is showing the type of form that led to him winning Chelsea’s player of the year award.
Chelsea needed his verve from the start but Lampard failed to see it even when the whole world could see it. He kept Havertz on till the 71st minute before making his change. Against Everton, he waited till the 68th minute to make a change and when he did, it was a change that worsened the already poor show on display. He brought on Tammy Abraham for Kai Havertz and choked up the team’s creativity in front as the pair showed they cannot work together.
It was another puzzling decision. Lampard has shown flexibility using multiple formations across the season and it was obvious that a 4-3-1-2 formation was the way to go against Everton and Wolves especially if he wants Havertz to play. Timo Werner is a secondary striker and played his best football beside a target man. Pair him with Giroud in front. Let Kai play in his number 10 position and roam, this will allow a midfield of Mason Mount, Kovacic, and N’golo Kante. It is a smarter decision than parking Havertz and Werner out wide like he did against Everton. This shape would also have brought the game under control in midfield against Wolves which they needed to control the transitions.
Lampard’s decision to exchange the starting flanks of Pulisic and Werner was also rookie stuff. Werner was inactive on the right while Pulisic was thriving on the left but when he exchanged their positions, both players started struggling. These are the sort of errors of judgment you cannot make at this level.
Nobody is Saying Lampard is a Bad Coach
Far from it. The Chelsea defense has improved from last season and they look better in transitions. However, flaws in the offensive structure of their game continue to impact the team negatively. Lampard is yet to define how exactly he wants his team to play hence the continuous chopping and changing. Chelsea has not shown any clear templates for chance creation, instead of relying on individual brilliance to overcome opponents. Lampard is yet to figure out how to structure his team at this level. As a young coach, it is alright to be figuring these micro-details of his football but Chelsea is not the club for his experimentation and coming-of-age.
He first claimed that he wanted his side to play without structure and be unpredictable but he has succumbed to a few issues and he has structured some aspects of their play this season. Lampard is learning and figuring things out but that is not what Chelsea needs in a coach right now. These details need ironing out if he wants to operate on this level. The coaches he wants to compete against already have these schemes ready in their minds and apply their players to it but Lampard is still figuring his shit out.