Since Frank Lampard took the reins at Chelsea at the start of the 19-20 season the west London outfit have generally impressed as an attacking unit however defensively speaking they’ve been far less convincing until now
last season the Englishman’s side conceded 54 goals the most of any team in the top 10 and the blues highest total in the Premier League this century, however in the opening nine games of the 20-21 season it’s been a very different story with a much-improved backline conceding a mere 10 goals second only to Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham although we should caveat this with the fact they’ve only played two of the traditional top six in the league at the time of writing.
What has changed and is it high time we start affording Lampard more credit for the speed in which he’s addressed his defensive woes?
Lampard actually inherited a pretty sound defensive side with Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea only conceding 9.2 shots per 90 in the 18-19 campaign bettered only by Liverpool and Lanchester City, the blues also had the third-best expected goals against that season meaning the quality of chances they conceded was comparatively low to the chasing pack basically Chelsea’s defense was of top four standard
however, the departures of mainstays such as Gary Cahill and David Luiz meant that a new central defensive partnership needed to come to the fore this did not happen individual errors and bouts of inconsistency led to heavy rotation in defense in the 19-20 season with only club captain César Azpilicueta starting over 25 league games in the blues backline
ultimately Chelsea recorded fewer clean sheets than 13th place Newcastle however this obvious weak spot also meant the club had a very clear directive when it came to recruiting in the summer and Marina Granovskaia Chelsea’s director of football plugged the gaps emphatically
So what do these new players need to do?
in order for Chelsea to compete at the top of the table Lampard’s new defensive editions need to improve their team in the following areas
- SET PIECES: Chelsea conceded 14 in 2019-20 more than 13 other sides.
- DEFENSIVE TRANSITION: the blues conceded eight goals in transition last season the worst in the Premier League
- dealing with crosses into the box something that’s plagued aside since Thibaut Courtois sailed to real Madrid
Have the new signings tick the aforementioned boxes?
nowhere was Lampard’s lack of faith more evident than at left-back where Marcos Alonso and Emerson shared 28 starts between them in the Englishman’s first full season the 45 million pound arrival of 23-year-old England international ben Chilwell has at least put an end to this selection headache with Chelsea identifying him as a player that can contribute going forward without being a liability in transition
this was something leveled at Alonso who was nicknamed “Alon slow” by the Chelsea faithful who bemoaned his recovery pace.
despite the Spaniard achieving a top speed of 36.55 kilometers per hour in march of 2020 faster than ben Chilwell’s season-best of 34.7, the pair put up very similar numbers in one-on-one situations too with Alonso beaten by his man 1.2 times per 90 vs Chilwell’s 1.1.
the former Leicester City star’s ability to progress the ball at the pitch at pace and sustained build-up play in the final third is clearly superior in 2019-20 the Englishman carried the ball an extra 67 yards per 90 compared to the Spaniard as well as completing over one extra pass in the final third per game something that no doubt appealed to Chelsea who particularly under Lampard do the overwhelming majority of their progression down the flanks
How is Chilwell taken to his new surrounding?
in his first six Premier League games under Lampard, the left-back has averaged fewer tackles in interceptions per 90 than both his predecessors largely unsurprising given their dominance in those fixtures he has however tightened up in 1v1 situations and proved particularly adept at stopping crosses with 2.8 blocks per 90 the most in the squad, in short the left-back’s best work is being done in the opposition’s
half center-back Kurt Zouma eventually staked his claim as a regular starter midway through the 2019-20 campaign but finding a partner for the Frenchman proved a struggle with Christensen and Rudiger given fewer than 1800 minutes this is no longer an issue with the introduction of 36-year-old Thiago Silva so far this season Chelsea have kept seven clean sheets in all competitions with Zouma and Silva the central defensive partnership in five of them predictably this is already a huge improvement on last season’s showing where the blue’s longest stretch of clean sheets was a paltry two games something they could only replicate three times
in Silva Chelsea get to have their cake and eat it he has the ball-playing ability that Christensen bought to the side and then some but with greater defensiveness, although a small sample size silver is already averaging 100 passes a game with a 93 pass accuracy he’s also playing a team-high 6.4 accurate long balls per 90 giving Chelsea both poise and variety at the back
it’s also worth noting that silver didn’t feature in Chelsea’s second-worst defensive showing of the season a 3-3 draw with Southampton perhaps this is an indication that his best quality is the way that he galvanizes the rest of the backline to Lampard’s credit whether he was playing a four or a three in 20-19-20 they were mostly solid with XG determining that they should have conceded far less ranking them the fifth tightest defense in the division this isn’t exactly title-winning form but it’s a decent enough platform for their substantially better attack to ensure safe passage into the UCL places
however should the chelsea board harbor greater ambitions after a high spending summer the gains need to be more than marginal this brings us nicely to the biggest discrepancy in last season’s underlying numbers.
in 2019-20, Kepa Arrizabalaga the most expensive goalkeeper in football history had a historically bad campaign based on the caliber of chances that he faced XG determined that the former Bill should have conceded around 28 goals instead the Spaniard bereft of confidence after a series of high-profile mistakes conceded 35, unsurprisingly this meant he had the lowest save percentage in the Premier League unlike some of his peers time away from the game during lockdown appeared to do him no favors either and his poor form continued in the opening exchanges of the 20-2021 season
against Brighton on matchday one Leandro Trossard long-range strike meant that Kepa had conceded 9 goals from the last 13 shots that he’d faced on target it also meant he conceded 19 efforts from outside the box since arriving on English shores the most of any goalkeeper in that period
life under Eduard Mendy however Chelsea’s 22 million pounds signing from ren couldn’t have begun in a more positive fashion with the Senegalese international securing three clean sheets in his first three Premier League appearances despite only signing his first professional contract at 24 mandy has been making up for lost time in the last four years culminating in a standout campaign in 2019-20 where his hulking frame kept out almost 80 percent of the shots that he faced as we flagged prior one of Chelsea’s weaknesses last season was dealing with crosses
especially giving kappa’s tendency to stay rooted to his line something that invited undue pressure on his defense at six foot six a whopping five inches taller than Kepa this is less of an issue for Mendy according to Chelsea this was no panic buy either with the technical advisor and former goalkeeping legend Peter Cech scouting Mendy cousin of Real Madrid’s furlong while he was still at Stade de Reims.
just over six years ago the Senegalese stopper was unemployed now he’s successfully keeping the world’s most expensive goalkeeper out of the team.
The most important facet to return to the side could well be an informing N’Golo Kanté in his first two seasons at Stamford Bridge the Frenchman averaged 5.8 tackles in interceptions missing only five league games in the process however the sheer amount of minutes he put up and his combative start of play appeared to be taking its toll by the end of the 2019-20 season where his defensive stats dropped by almost 33 percent missing 14 games in the process owing to a string of muscle injuries
this season the 29-year-old is starting to resemble something close to his best putting up almost six tackles and interceptions while completing a team-high amount of pressures plus with mason mount dropping deeper Chelsea have an energetic midfield capable of winning the ball back quickly after ceding possession that’s not overly dependent on the Frenchman’s superhuman output
Lampard’s men are yet to face some of the more potent attacks in the Premier League but that’s not to say this form is unsustainable are an unfair representation of the fairly substantial progress they’ve made at the start of this season not only were they already relatively solid but they’ve addressed the three key areas with some shrewd recruitments
more importantly, these moving parts have already been successfully embedded into the side the only major concern appears to be an increasing reliance on the fitness of 36-year-old Thiago Silva even then Chelsea have options to bring back into the fold however coaching a good defense and a great defense are two very different things and now Lampard has the tools there’s a pressure to deliver the results