A contribution piece by James Smith
It’s no secret that Chelsea have had major issues in defence so far this season, both in pre-season and in the league. In fact, only St Patrick’s have failed to score past us in Frank Lampard’s eleven games as Chelsea Head Coach, which is a seriously worrying statistic.
There are two main reasons for this, the tactics or style of play and the personnel. It’s a fairly even balance between them, with both major reasons as to why Chelsea have no competitive clean sheet under Lampard.
From last season’s regular back four, only César Azpilicueta has remained, and he’s easily been the worst performing player out of all them, despite an improved showing against Norwich. There is something to be said that this defence hasn’t played many games together, and that’s certainly a valid point, but I worry as to how much they can really improve. It all looks a bit disjointed right now.
The returns of Antonio Rüdiger and Reece James will certainly help things, but it won’t plug as many gaps as people are thinking. There’s much more to it than what a couple of additions can fix, although Reece James will be a significant upgrade on Azpilicueta. We’ve been targeted all season down that side and that will at least cease if the Spaniard is dropped.
Emerson is untouchable at left-back and has massively improved this season, but it’s at CB where I worry the most. With Emerson and James starting, we need someone to help lead the defence, and none of our centre backs strike me as the man for the job. Andreas Christensen and Kurt Zouma especially are not leaders, and that’s reiterated with Lampard’s persistent calling for players to step up and lead. Rudiger is the most natural leader out of all of them and even he doesn’t convince me in that regard.
I certainly don’t miss David Luiz’s ‘defending’ after what we saw in the Liverpool vs Arsenal game this past weekend, but his leadership is clearly lacking from our defence. Our centre-backs at the minute, are players that need to very much focus on their own game to perform, and can’t be relied upon to lead the team from the back.
With the players we currently have, the best we can do is James, Rudiger, Christensen, Emerson. I still worry about our centre-backs but that can’t be sorted until next summer at the earliest.
Lampard has implemented his high pressing style to the team this season, with an emphasis on pressing from the front, with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount doing so to great effect. The midfield also pushes up to close the space and make it hard for the opposition to play out of the Chelsea press. However, we’ve seen this create huge open spaces between the base of the midfield and the defence, space that can be exploited.
These problems were from pre-season which have continued into the competitive fixtures, and it certainly needs addressing if we want to improve.
I don’t necessarily disagree with the idea from Lampard, but we just can’t be as open defensively as we have been. We need to be much more compact which requires the defence to push up as a unit when the press is happening at the front, and a leader to implement that. We need to squeeze the pitch more and not leave huge gaps between the lines, gaps that players like David Silva and Eriksen would thrive on if we were playing them. Former Blues manager Jose Mourinho recently said on Sky Sports that Chelsea need to be more compact as a team and it’s showing why in games.
That may come with time, but I’m expecting it to be a long process, perhaps not getting much better until late October time, when Lampard will have had a few months with the squad.
Chelsea’s defensive issues are big and although they may improve as we get further into the season, I’m backing us to still concede a lot and have to outscore teams in order to win. The issues with both personnel and tactics will certainly mean there won’t be many 1-0 or 2-0 wins this season.
Next summer, the ban will be over and a quality and commanding centre-back will very much be at the top of the club’s shopping list. Someone who can lead from the back. That’s the crucial piece we’re missing from this defence, and as long as Lampard can improve us tactically to reduce the spaces between the lines, one defensive signing will be all that we need. I’m a big fan of AC Milan’s Alessio Romagnoli, and he could very well be the signing that stops our defensive woes.