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Chelsea's problems under Frank Lampard: What's going wrong?
Chelsea’s problems in both boxes were evident against Manchester United are undermining their progress under Frank Lampard.
Last Updated: 18/02/20 3:26pm
Back in November, Chelsea had twice as many points as Manchester United and Frank Lampard had taken the team on a run of six consecutive wins for the first time since the club’s title-winning season under Antonio Conte. The transition season in which progress was the watchword looked like it had the potential to become much more.
Following Chelsea's 2-0 home defeat to Manchester United on Monday Night Football, the gap between the two clubs is down to just three points. Lampard's side were unfortunate with a couple of VAR calls that went against them but it is four wins in 14 Premier League games for Chelsea now. Momentum has been lost and confidence is fading fast.
It is not just United who could catch Chelsea. As recently as last month, they were nine points clear of Tottenham. Now that gap is down to one. Sheffield United, Wolves and Everton are within striking distance. Arsenal will fancy their chances too. Chelsea's advantage has been all but surrendered and the race for fourth place is well and truly on.
The worry for Lampard is that naivety is continuing to play its part in undermining his work. The opening goal came after Andreas Christensen had been off the pitch with a head injury and both the defender and the team as a whole were unable to regroup in time. Christensen was beaten in the air by Anthony Martial and suddenly Chelsea found themselves behind.
It is difficult not to hark back to Lampard's first Premier League game in charge when Chelsea were beaten 4-0 by Manchester United at Old Trafford in a match in which they were the better team. The team's high line was blamed back then but ultimately it came down to details. Speaking to Lampard at the time, he was well aware of the problem.
"The reason we lost the game against Manchester United was not because of where our line was on the pitch, it was because of individual mistakes in turning the ball over and not following a runner at the right time. Those are the little details that you have to be on top of constantly. We reflect on it, we watch the videos back and we look to improve."
But Chelsea have regressed of late.
Lampard's team selection on Monday evening was revealing. He went for experience, naming the oldest starting line-up of his Chelsea reign so far. Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and N'Golo Kante started alongside each other for only the second time since November. Willian and Pedro were named as the wide options for only the second time all season.
Kante's early injury robbed Chelsea of some of that experience and presence in midfield, but the biggest problem is in both boxes. Lampard insists he is not the biggest fan of the stats but it cannot have escaped him that when his team shoots the ball does not find the back of the net but when the opponents shoot, the ball seems to beat his goalkeeper.
Chelsea had 17 shots against Manchester United but the only time David de Gea was troubled was when he collided with the post late on after Mason Mount's free-kick had struck it. The best opportunities fell to Michy Batshuayi but there was no conviction to his finishing. Did he believe he was going to score? Few inside Stamford Bridge seemed to.
Chelsea have had more shots than Liverpool this season. They are the only team in the top five who are underperforming their expected-goals total. According to Opta, they are converting fewer than one in three of their clear-cut chances. The finishing has not been good enough.
"You can see the problems there today," Lampard told Sky Sports.
"If you don't have the input of goals, you don't win football matches. If you are not going to have the productivity to score, if we don't feel we are going to score, it is difficult to win games. We have a feeling of Groundhog Day in the stadium. I feel like a broken record, I'm sorry if Chelsea fans keep hearing me saying the same thing."
At the other end, Chelsea conceded from the first two shots on target that they faced but there is nothing new there either. Between them, Willy Caballero and Kepa Arrizabalaga have by far the worst save percentage of any team's goalkeepers this season. Chelsea have faced fewer shots than Liverpool but they have conceded more than twice as many goals.
Struggles in dealing with the counter-attack have been a factor. Only Burnley have conceded more from fast breaks. Against United, the failure to deal with a corner led to Harry Maguire doubling the deficit. That is a familiar failing too. Only Aston Villa have conceded more goals than Chelsea from corners and they have faced almost twice as many of them.
Lampard calls them "silly moments" but this is a huge part of football.
Time will solve some of the problems. The signing of Hakim Ziyech has already been secured. A new goalkeeper would help given that Lampard currently prefers the 38-year-old Caballero to Kepa. Tammy Abraham has exceeded expectations but Lampard is acutely aware of the need for a forward. But he cannot simply wait for the summer.
It would be something of a surprise if Batshuayi remains ahead of Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman's impact was clear even in his brief cameo against United. There was a wonderful touch to put Kovacic through on goal and he also appeared to have pulled a goal back only VAR to rule out his trademark near-post header for offside.
Chelsea need short-term fixes as well as long-term solutions now. Tottenham are the visitors to Stamford Bridge next weekend and they arrive with Chelsea still looking for their first home win over top-half opposition this season. Get that one wrong and Lampard will suddenly find himself behind his old mentor Jose Mourinho in the table.
"We are fourth by a point," he says. "The season starts here."