It was telling that the moment Arsenal allowed Chelsea space, they were killed. A cutting, aggressive and precise counter-attack lead to Tammy Abraham’s swivel and finish through the legs of a bereft Bernd Leno to send the Blues 3,000 away contingent into mass celebration.
Space is a thing all teams adore – but especially this Chelsea side. A week previously when Serge Aurier fell asleep at a corner, Willian capitalised on the error and drilled his effort into the bottom corner leading the way for a wonderful performance.
North London has been very giving to Chelsea over this festive period.
Goalkeeping howlers, defensive lapses, tactical naivety and poor attacking have all aided the Blues in capturing two precious away victories. However, it is hard to forget the sequel to this Christmas trilogy which continued Chelsea’s poor home form against inferior opposition.
Against Southampton on Boxing Day, that space wasn’t afforded and a Chelsea goal never came and the hosts limped to a dispiriting 2-0 defeat.
The season has so far been defined by a tale of two teams.
Chelsea at Stamford Bridge have regularly struggled to break down rigid opposition, the four home victories have been close affairs ending 2-0, 1-0, 2-0 and 2-1. Earlier in the campaign, Chelsea were able to find the right answers, take control, grow in confidence and capitalise on gaps which started to appear. However those answers have started to wonder, the gaps narrowing and confidence dropping have all lead to some pretty dismal encounters.
On the road, Chelsea are a completely different animal. Hungry, fast, aggressive, tenacious and dynamic. All of the best performances have come away from the Bridge. The dazzling 5-2 win at Wolves, the Pulisic masterclass at Turf Moor, the Batshauyi winner in Amsterdam and most recently the bragging rights to turn London blue.
In many ways, Sunday’s clash with Arsenal perfectly encapsulated Chelsea’s issues at home. Jorginho’s introduction helped to turn momentum away from the Gunners and start to assert a semblance of control, which pinned red shirts further back, retreating to a low-block. Although, this gave Chelsea a foothold to finally create opportunities for a leveller, this also meant they were faced with a similar issue.
A congested midfield, little wiggle room for manoeuvre and a deep Arsenal backline out to frustrate. Despite all the passing, Chelsea still were unable to properly test Leno. The German’s howler to gift Jorginho an open net was a moment endemic of Arsenal’s continued struggles with individual errors.
Without that error, it was hard to see Chelsea creating enough to warrant an equaliser. Though for Lampard, it was a moment of fortune and the way in which his side broke with speed going for the throats of Arsenal’s soft underbelly was a sight to behold, creating a goal that will be watched over and over again for many years to come.
It was also the first time Chelsea have come from behind to claim points this season in the Premier League. With 6 of the 7 defeats all coming from a failure to open the scoring, a major chink in the armour. It speaks volumes about Lampard’s approach that his side are rarely content to share the spoils and are determined to claim all three points at every opportunity (Only drawing two, both at home to Leicester and Sheffield United).
The question can be pondered that in the same circumstances at home, would Chelsea have recovered? Based on the evidence of West Ham, Bournemouth and Southampton, resoundingly no – and that is the key issue facing Lampard.
In a recent interview with Gary Lineker for the BBC, Lampard expressed his desire for his teams to be fast and full of pace, an idea to move the ball as quickly as possible. Despite openly speaking about his intention for Chelsea to be “flexible” in formation and approaches to different tests, the core principle of speed is an attribute which has been on show in all of Chelsea’s best moments. The speed of the break for Tammy Abraham’s winner demonstrated this principle – however on the flip-side those intentions have struggled to play-out consistently in front of their own supporters.
The biggest test – apart from the transfer ban, bedding in young players and attempting to retain a top-four place – appears to be replicating the intensity of away performances at home to make the Blues a more reliable and threatening outfit. When Burnley travel down to Stamford Bridge on the 11th January, the question will be posed to Chelsea once more – can they break a stubborn opponents resistance?
However, winning away to Chelsea’s biggest London rivals are memories that make a season for a supporter. Frank Lampard’s two triumphs in North of the Capital have shunned the concept he can’t win the big games and will give his players and himself personal vindication they can get over the line when it matters. Lampard has already bettered the points tally of last season against the “top six” which only garnered one point, whilst Lampard now has six (If you include Wolves away in that conversation, the stat gets even better for Lampard).
Despite inconsistency and flaws to address, the victories either side of Christmas have brought out Lampard’s tactical intelligence and wit to win important games in different manners.
Frank Lampard’s Chelsea are chaotic, frustrating, loveable, expressive, naive, flawed, but ultimately – a squad that is being ushered in a positive direction which can create special memories, even if it does leave supporters mood swings on a knife edge.
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