For many Chelsea fans either making the trek home from Manchester down the M6, or to those gazing in through their television screens at home – a similar feeling would’ve sunk in when reflecting on the defeat to Manchester City – we’re going in the right direction.
Its a conclusion that was shared when the Blues narrowly lost on penalties to Liverpool in Istanbul, where the Blues looked to go toe-to-toe with Jurgen Klopp’s men – bettering them at points. And then again – a month later – when the Reds would edge Frank Lampard’s side in a tight game that could’ve swung a different way at Stamford Bridge.
It is a new mindset for Chelsea fans to adopt this season that some are still adjusting to.
A six-game winning run in the Premier League preceding the international break might have lured some into believing that Lampard’s early work had propelled the west Londoners into an unlikely title challenge. The tussle with the Citizens on Saturday evening might have extinguished any whispers of that ilk, allowing the club to retain the healthier mindset that this in only the beginning under Lampard and instead zoom out wider to reflect on how well Chelsea are doing in comparison to pre-season expectations.
There was a lot to like about the performance on Saturday.
Similar to Liverpool, this is a Chelsea side not scared by their opposition’s attacking prowess, instead looking to flex their own muscles in front of goal. An older mindset might have approached with a pragmatic vision for the game. Sit deep, give City the ball and pounce on their mistakes.
However that simply isn’t a viable option anymore in 2019.
Firstly with the personnel Chelsea have and also, regarding the fact that Guardiola – like Klopp’s side are much wiser, far too fluid and intelligent to be nullified by a low block. To get any joy, the modern game demands a braver approach and Chelsea are a side influenced by players who are engineered to attack and a young coach looking to do the same.
The aggressive nature to the way the City were suffocated by a darker shade of Blue in those opening 25 minutes gave a real belief a big night might be on the cards. Chelsea swarmed around the hosts, looking to prey on any fragility and they did when taking the lead through the persistent running of one N’Golo Kante.
Mateo Kovacic’s sublime pass bypassed City’s midfield and found the Frenchman marauding forward, his finish was cool and composed. Kante being “out of position” continues to seem a fallacy as Lampard has picked up where his predesscor left off , utilising more than his defensive output.
The midfield trio of Kante, Kovacic and Jorginho has only been fielded a handful of times this campaign – mostly down to the fitness of Kante, which has only just returned – but also to the emergence of Mason Mount who would’ve felt hard done by to find himself on the bench. The trio offers a lot for Chelsea, especially against top opposition in moving the ball wisely from defence to attack in a quick manner.
All three were involved in the opening goal and looked to have enough space to carve City open all night.
However the pendulum would violently turn in City’s favour as two of that midfield three would be responsible for losing possession in the lead up the two moments that would cost Chelsea the game. Firstly Jorginho – whose bright start would quickly fade, when allowing a turn of possession in a dangerous area.
Chelsea’s inability to deal with transitions became a reoccurring issue in the opening weeks of the season and had been improved upon as Lampard worked with his team and made adjustments. However, there aren’t many sides more deadlier in transition that City and Chelsea were hanging on before half-time.
“In the boxes” was the phrase Chelsea’s Head Coach uttered in his post-match press conference and the finer details that went against Lampard’s Blues was that Riyad Mahrez’s driving effort crept in whilst Willian’s earlier crept wide.
The overriding lesson is City are three years ahead of where Chelsea are now – even if the scoreline didn’t suggest this. The quality of City’s team is hard to escape. Even if Sterling and Aguero were kept relatively quiet, De Bryune and Mahrez’s influence was fatal.
Lampard’s words have always kept a similar tone, no matter what the scoreline. A reasoned take on proceedings shone a light on the proactive start Chelsea made and with a squad filled with youngsters – a lot of whom were playing Championship football last term – a gap is closing, even if there is still a gap.
Looking at this encounter through the lens of the last two trips to the Etihad is an enlightening contrast to be had. Under Antonio Conte in March of 2018, Chelsea set up, resigned to defeat – entirely passive, with no interest in hurting their opponents.
Under Maurizio Sarri Chelsea were knocked out within 25 minutes and went on to be obliterated, sent home with their tails between their legs.
This time, it was a different kind of pain, one that rued missed chances and costly mistakes which can both be rectified over time as Chelsea grow and excite Stamford Bridge.
Its short term pain for long term gain.
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