As the players started to make their way to the tunnel and supporters began to filter out of a buoyant Stamford Bridge, the last man left on the pitch was Frank Lampard.
The Chelsea Head Coach made his way to the Matthew Harding Stand, pumping his first emphatically in their direction, thumping his chest and tapping the club crest on his tracksuit. The most vocal of fans stood in the Harding Lower as passionatley exchanging the gesture of celebration back to their hero.
It was a shared moment of equal joy and relief.
A relief that was much craved after a demorsalizing defeat to Manchester United on Monday night which dragged the Blues further into the scrap for Champions League qualification and continued a downward spiral of results in the Premier League since November.
This felt like a big result, and the manner it was achieved would have pleased Lampard the most thanks to a word he repeats regularly – fight!
The fight of Chelsea was the determining factor which clinched a vital three points against a side unbeaten in four. Unlike the contest in December against Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham – this was less dominant and less about beautiful football. It more a game of attrition with the swelling winds sweeping the Capital on Saturday, the Blues faced those tests bravely and found the right answers.
Fight may sound like a simplistic word in the era of improved tactics, xG and philosophy – but the unmeasurable elements are the clinchers in tight contests.
In regards to tactics, formation and personnel – all of Lampard’s big decisions paid off.
It spoke volumes that Olivier Giroud, Mason Mount, Ross Barkley and Marcus Alonso all connected wonderfully for the second goal just after the interval – the four players Lampard brought into the starting lineup.
The 41-year-old’s decision making has been questioned recently but his judgement on Chelsea’s biggest day of the season needs to applauded under pressure. Reverting to the 3-4-3 which nullified Spurs before, nullified them again. Lampard has fielded a lot of formations this season and the 3-4-3 is one that has looked viable on a number of occasions, able to elevate the games of players like Mason Mount, whose raw and pressing nature is far more effective as an inverted winger.
Ross Barkley – a player who had gone through many false dawns in his time at Chelsea – looked assured in his performance, making correct decisions, looking assertive in possession and collectively having a hand in both goals. The two No.10’s in Mount and Barkley found gaps in Spurs shape and pounced on them to great effect, buzzing around, leaving the Lilywhites chasing shadows.
The fight was optimised most by Olivier Giroud, the forgotten man who infused new life into Chelsea’s frontline. The Frenchman’s physicality bullied Toby Alderweireld and Davinson Sanchez. His masterful link up play allowed Mount, Barkley, Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho to dominate the centre of the pitch.
His thunderous strike set Chelsea’s game alight and the trademark flicks and tricks were a joy to behold. A player who had his bags packed in January is Chelsea’s derby hero in February. Whilst the Blues craved the likes of Edinson Cavani and Dries Mertens in the Transfer Window, most forgot that a World Cup winner was sat right there waiting to be played and might prove to be an unexpected protagonist in the closing months of the campaign.
“I’m bored of saying we played alright and didn’t win a game..” Lampard, speaking brazenly to Chelsea TV following the victory.
“I can’t keep saying that. We had a big meeting and a lot of stuff is mindset and focus in both boxes. Are we going to be confident to believe and keep believing we’re gonna get in there and score more goals and are we going to defend our box for our life?
“All the small details, and the focus and the moments that can change a game, we’ve been a little bit slack at times but today we were absolutely on it.”
It was also a third victory over Mourinho for Lampard as a coach – the first Chelsea manager to do a League double over Spurs since 2006 and more notably, the first to claim six points in a League season over the Portuguese Manager in his whole career – a marvellous stat.
Like the revelations from the match pre-Christmas, it is abundantly clear Mourinho’s tactics look tired and outdated. For all of Chelsea’s flaws, the two encounters with their bitter London rivals have demonstrated why the club’s playing style needs to be modernised and can’t revert to old ways.
For all of the media’s furore over Jose’s return to the Bridge, it went by without much fuss. His name not sung by Chelsea fans in a disrespectful manner like previous returns with Manchester United. Mourinho became an afterthought and Lampard was the star here as a non-plussed Mourinho looked on passively.
The glamour of a tie with Bayern Munich will be a nice escape from the growing intensity of the Premier League with the Blues firmly as underdogs with the first leg at home. Though the big challenge for Lampard will be the next three league fixtures against Bournemouth, Everton and Aston Villa two of the three beat Chelsea in the first half of the season.
How will Lampard approach these games? Is the 3-4-3 the way forward? Will Giroud be the main starter to unravel frustrating low blocks? Will Mount, Barkley and Alonso be key cogs in a starting eleven?
Chelsea have lacked clarity and consistency, words that need to be associated with the West London club if Chelsea are to achieve the main objective of retaining top tier European football.
Lampard being the last to leave the pitch on Saturday afternoon was symbolic of the midfielder’s character during a glorious playing career when he would stay out after training had finished to perfect weaker elements of his game.
It is endemic of the fight within Lampard, the fight he intends to inject into Chelsea to take them back to glorious heights and yesterday was a firm step in the right direction.
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