Irrespective of the results and the importance attached to them in a results-based game, Frank Lampard has Chelsea modestly buzzing. In 180 minutes of competitive football, beneath the woes of a 4-0 defeat at Old Trafford and the pain of narrow European final loss, Chelsea have shown in glimpses how the team can develop under their novice coach.
At the weekend, Chelsea were picked off on the counter by a ruthless Manchester United, but, at the same time, the visitors from west London had demonstrated guile, slickness and good interchanges during prolonged spells, suggesting that a lightweight defense led to their downfall. Out of possession, Chelsea didn’t press when Manchester United transitioned and so Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba had license to prance forward whenever they wanted.
On the shores of the Bosporus, Lampard reimagined his team to play European kings Liverpool, fielding a 4-3-3 formation with Pedro and the young American Christian Pulišić flanking lone striker Olivier Giroud in a move to reinforce his midfield from the 4-2-3-1 line-up against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team.
In this shape, Chelsea had more experience and security in the midfield. The returning N’Golo Kanté proved how indispensable he is to his team’s set-up. The Frenchman was so much more than a ball-winner. He anchored Chelsea’s midfield, floated between the lines, distributed possession and picked out players in the final third, terrorising Liverpool.
There was, however, more to Chelsea than their imposing number seven. In the last 20 minutes of the first half, Chelsea played in the image of their coach, threading passes through the axe of the field and popping up in and around the box. This was not a team recovering from the gaping wound left by the sale of Eden Hazard or negotiating a transfer ban imposed by world federation FIFA, but an ensemble that played with confidence and an idea of a nascent playing style – playing out of the back, transitioning quickly, playing through-balls and dropping the ball quickly inside the box in the final third, a feature of Lampard’s coaching style at Derby County.
In May, Kante, Mateo Kovacic and Jorghino – as it was spelled on his shirt – had dominated Arsenal in the Europa League final in Baku and in this European final, the midfield trio were sharper again than their English counterparts. That dominance resulted in a hatful of chances before the interval with Oliver Giroud scoring a deserved goal in the 36th minute from a Pulisic assist. The American also had a beautiful finish negated by a correct offside call, but his move to free himself had been excellent, no doubt pleasing his coach with an impressive performance.
After the break, Chelsea’s positive aptitude evaporated, a tactical problem forcing Lampard’s team on the back foot. Against Manchester United, Chelsea had struggled with transition. In Istanbul, the Londoners didn’t adjust to the introduction of Roberto Firmino, who had replaced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at half-time. The Chelsea rearguard failed to deal with the Brazilian’s all-round play as he sprayed passes around in the final third. Firmino was at the heart of Liverpool’s 47th-minute equalizer, holding off Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa in the box to tee up Sadio Mane for a close-range finish.
The duo were lethal, combining for a beautiful second in extra time. The Brazilian broke down the left, delivered a perfect cutback to Mane who side footed the ball brilliantly with a rising drive into the top corner. It was a reward that Liverpool perhaps didn’t deserve after a lethargic first half that had been reminiscent of their Community Shield performance, but as the slow-burning game briefly turned frantic and intense in overtime Jorginho equalised from the spot, demonstrating Chelsea’s resilience.
Late on, Mason Mount stung Adrian’s palms. He had come on alongside Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori in the second half, highlighting how Chelsea have metamorphosed from the original super club when Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich took over in 2003 to a club that at different levels is now embattled and well below Liverpool and current English champions Manchester City in the pecking order.
Ultimately, Abraham’s fluffed his spot kick and Liverpool triumphed, but Chelsea showed enough to intimate that the reality of a trade ban and the departure of their marquee player won’t paralyse the club. The aggressive pressing and the numbers forward when in attack left the defense vulnerable and exposed, but Chelsea’s future, if complicated, shouldn’t be unmanageable.
Updated Date: Aug 15, 2019 10:47:27 IST