Chelsea's lacklustre performance at Fulham on Saturday evening further proved the issues that the team have suffered from this season are re-occurring, particularly in terms of their league form.
A late Mason Mount strike saved manager Frank Lampard's blushes as Chelsea managed to control the match, albeit in an unconvincing fashion, following Anthonee Robinson's red card in the 45th minute for the home side.
However, from a Chelsea perspective, the most notable point was when Lampard changed from his stubborn 433 formation with second half substitutions that made Chelsea more of an attacking threat.
- Lampard stumbles upon Chelsea's best formation- but will he stick with it?
For the first 60 minutes of the match, the tactics utilised by Chelsea was reminiscent of the poor performances seen recently in defeats against Everton, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Arsenal and Manchester City; slow, boring, and bereft of ideas. Once Lampard used his bench for the first time, bringing on Tammy Abraham for Jorginho, the attempt at trying something different was there but all too predictable. In having both Abraham and Olivier Giroud up front, two strikers that are 6ft4 or taller, it became obvious that Chelsea would rely heavily on balls into the box, that Fulham were more than happy to deal with it.
Once Lampard went to his bench for the second time on 75 minutes, bringing on Callum Hudson-Odoi and Timo Werner for Giroud and the underperforming Hakim Ziyech, the incentive of trying something a bit less predictable and more exciting was apparent. This is something that would please those that have been underwhelmed by the nature of Chelsea's performances in recent weeks. Moving to 442 with Christian Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi as natural wide players, Mateo Kovacic and Mount as box to box central midfielders and Abraham and Werner leading the line in a strike partnership suited Chelsea to a T, and could have scored more than the just the one goal. The central midfielders looked more keen to attack, summarised with Mount's first goal since September; the wingers kept wide and wanted to take players on, and the strikers were getting into the box to try and finish off chances, making the side way more dangerous than in the 433.
The issue with the 433 comes with way Ziyech and Giroud operates. Ziyech, as a left footed right winger, not blessed with blistering pace but has undeniably great technical ability, is primarily an outside the box player. Him not getting into the box makes him less of an option for close link up and takes away an option when attacking. With Giroud as the striker, his strength makes him the perfect link up striker, but it means that the team is reliant on Pulisic getting into the forward positions. In comparison, in the 442, there is now a second striker to go alongside the player holding up the play, natural wingers out wide, and the two number 8s making late runs into the box. All of a sudden, Chelsea seem a lot more dangerous than they have in recent weeks.
- Defensive Issues Starting from the Goalkeeper
In this match, Chelsea were almost the creators of their own downfall due to their struggles at passing out from the back. Using yet another different backline combination, the lack of chemistry between the Chelsea defenders was very apparent, particularly in the first half where Fulham were more dominant.
The main issue came from passing out from the back, where goalkeeper Edouard Mendy was often caught playing dangerous passes from his own 6 yard box, both sideways to centre backs Antonio Rudiger and Thiago Silva, and out wide further up the pitch where they were often intercepted or went straight out of play. This made Fulham's press easy to organise, as they continually put pressure on Chelsea's defenders which got them more possession further up the pitch.
And while Mendy has certainly made Chelsea more solid in terms of defending balls into the box, and protecting his goal from long shots, what he lacks in comparison to backup goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga is his distribution. His range of passing and ability with both feet are inferior to the Spaniard's, and if there is one thing that Mendy can learn if he wants to remain Chelsea number one for the foreseeable future is to improve his passing.
- Timo Werner deserves more credit
Ever since his arrival to the Premier League in the summer, no new signing has faced more criticism than Timo Werner, who once again was the target for abuse after his cameo in this game. And while the German international is clearly struggling in front of goal, and his late miss one on one with Alphonse Areola shows that he is still struggling with his confidence, he still showed that he has a lot to offer this Chelsea side.
Every manager in the Roman Abramovich era has dealt with a striker having a difficult time in front of goal, from Jose Mourinho with Mateja Kezman and Andriy Shevchenko, to Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri with Alvaro Morata. Even though many try to put Werner into that category of struggling striker, the attitude and enthusiasm that Werner shows in his displays has been such that he can be a valuable asset to Lampard.
With Chelsea struggling to get in behind Fulham in the match, facing a brick wall and finding breaking them down a real difficulty, Werner coming on made their defenders have their focus change, with the threat of runs in behind being just as prevalent as crosses into the box. Once Werner finds himself in a system that suits him, and has the right support around him, whether it be under Lampard or a new manager, he will definitely be a success at Stamford Bridge.