Frank Lampard’s appointment of defensive coach Anthony Barry is already showing after first clean sheet of the season overshadows scoring four past Crystal Palace.
Just like last week when Chelsea fans threw all their toys out of the pram at half time against West Bromwich Albion, beating Crystal Palace is no reason to decide that the title is rightfully ours.
Even after a determined second half that saw Chelsea come from 3-0 down against West Brom, the Blues fans that were outraged against the Baggies quickly got out of their prams and ran to pick the toys up just to throw them in anger again after the Spurs defeat.
It is fair enough to some extent but, the reactionary nature of modern football fans needs to be cooled down sometimes. Yes, beating Palace is a brilliant way to go into an international break, it’s even better that it was the early kick off so we could all relax onto our sofa’s, fill ourselves with food and drink and watch as all the other teams run around in the pouring rain.
But, despite a first clean sheet of the league season and some brilliant individual performances, even a little cameo from Christian Pulisic, it is not the time to think that any side that comes near Stamford Bridge should be warned off by a firebreathing dragon, we aren’t that good, yet.
This being said, let’s focus on what went right and more importantly why it did because there was a lot of positives.
Firstly, a warm round of applause for Anthony Barry. Chelsea’s new defensive coach has made a huge improvement to the side’s structure when in a low block and also when transitioning into defence. This isn’t an over reaction to one clean sheet but more a recognition of how his changes haven’t had any tangible rewards so far this season. Most of the goals conceded by the Blues so far this season have come from individual errors rather than a structural fault, although the midfield has looked unbalanced, that has been a case of personnel rather than coaching. But, Frank Lampard and his staff have to work with what they are given.
In any case, Eduoard Mendy was allowed a low-key league debut which will undoubtedly settle any nerves regarding the Senegalese’s integration in a new country and team. This was down to three main points: leadership on the pitch, defending as a team and finally, Anthony Barry’s coaching.
Leadership on the pitch
Perhaps the only surprise in Chelsea’s starting 11 was the inclusion of Cesar Azpilicueta, especially after the rapid start to the season that Reece James has had. But, unfortunately on James’ part, Chelsea’s lack of communication and leadership under Lampard has been a serious issue. However, against Palace it looked like a new team.
The Blue’s lined up with captain, vice-captain (Jorginho) and also 36 year-old veteran Thiago Silva all in the line-up. This was a huge reason that the team maintained their positive approach throughout the game and didn’t get frustrated and it’s also a reason that they looked so composed.
Azpilicueta isn’t known for being a loud talker, but his presence in the Chelsea changing room is always felt when he does speak, it was evident that his appearance against West Brom was not only to replace Marcos Alonso but also to perk up the side as a whole, something that Silva struggles with as he is still learning English.
Chelsea had nearly 80% of the ball throughout large periods of the first half and that was in no small part down to the control that Silva and Jorginho’s experience gave the side. The pair knew when to speed up the game, when to punch passes through the lines and how to remain calm against a frustrating low-block.
Defending as a team
Understandably, people have questioned Lampard’s coaching following a below par start to the season for Chelsea however, Lampard himself would probably say he didn’t expect much better following a short pre-season, integrating of new signings, injuries and a disrupted year in general.
One thing to notice is that his team against Palace was the closest to his best side that he has had so far this season, so there shouldn’t be much surprise that it was comfortably their best performance and also result.
His defence was one that, baring Reece James, is his strongest choice and in front of that he deployed two world-class midfielders in N’Golo Kante and Jorginho. But the whole has to be greater than the sum of the parts, which is why the way that Chelsea defended and pressed the opposition with such fluidity was so impressive.
This side hasn’t played together yet so seeing a side understanding each others movements on and off the ball was a huge reason to smile for Lampard. His side finally back up the undoubted individual quality with a team performance.
This wasn’t just Jorginho and Kante working as a double pivot but also the work ethic of Kai Havertz and Timo Werner. The two German signings have been brought in to bolster Chelsea’s attacking presence but against Palace it was arguably their defensive nuice that was noticed and appreciated the most. Not only did they take care of and caress the ball in possession of it, they desperately wanted it back. Werner in particular is no stranger to helping out his full back on either side or dropping in to defend as a 10. This is what Lampard wants from his side, 100% effort and deliberation in anything they do.
His philosophy is to build a side capable of defending as a high-pressing unit or as a low-block and to have a team that can control games but also counter attack as well. He wants his side to be dynamic in everything they do but to make sure that they are fully committed to doing it. The performance against Palace is the closest Chelsea have come to granting Lampard’s wishes.
In the long term though, Chelsea will have to give these performances continuously and prove that they can be adaptable during games as well.