• Sat. Oct 22nd, 2022

Summer splurge on attacking talent has not paid off so far this season and the 1-1 draw with Aston Villa — who sit above them at the turn of the year — displayed a lack of invention that needs fixing

Dec 29, 2020

Frank Lampard was forthright. A few weeks ago people were talking about us as title challengers, the Chelsea manager said after watching his team draw 1-1 with Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge. Now its a difficult period.
The 42-year-old has seen his side slump to sixth place in the Premier League after three defeats in December. The club spent more than £220m in the summer and patience is short in this part of west London. Thomas Tuchal was linked with Lampards job as soon as the German parted company with Paris Saint-Germain before Christmas. Pressure is mounting.
A month ago we win that, Lampard said. We have to fight through it.
Certainly, Chelsea battled hard. The manager called his players lazy after the 3-1 defeat by Arsenal at the weekend. They opened the match with a frantic, physical approach. The problem is that much of the transfer budget was spent on talented forwards. Robust endeavour is not enough. The effort might have been pleasing but the lack of invention was disappointing.
READ MORE: Stubborn Villa hold Chelsea to draw
Villa dominated the first half hour. Jack Grealish wanted the ball and had a single intention to hurt the opposition. Dean Smiths men were on top and camped out in Chelsea territory.
Grealish likes to dominate games and revels in his role as a creator. He took it too far when he carved out the best chance of the opening 30 minutes for Chelsea. The Villa talisman wandered into his own half and misplaced a backwards pass. Christian Pulisic latched on to the ball and, with only the goalkeeper to beat, shot into the side netting.
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There was Lampards problem in a nutshell. His team were unable to develop coherent supply lines to the forwards. They could not rely on Grealish to make another gaffe. Chelseas passing lacked zip and their main tactic was to overload the left wing and try to get the overlapping Ben Chilwell into the action.
When they finally brought the left back into the game, the direction of the match changed. In the 34th minute Pulisic, loitering on the edge of the box, played a clever ball to free Chilwell. The Englishman clipped in a fine cross and Olivier Giroud scored a splendid stooping header at the near post.
Momentum changed completely and Chelsea had the majority of the ball for the rest of the game but not in a composed, clinical manner. They never looked like blowing Villa away. The visiting side defended deep but always had an eye for the break.
Time is not something regularly afforded to managers at Stamford Bridge
They drew level five minutes into the second period. Matty Cash was given far too much time on the right and was able to pick out Anwar El Ghazi at the far post. The Dutchman was unmarked and placed the ball through Edouard Mendys legs and into the net.
Grealish, as usual, played a part in the goal, this time indirectly. He ran through a challenge by Andreas Christensen and the Dane seemed to hang out a heel to bring his opponent down. Instead, the defender collapsed as if poleaxed and lay on the turf while Villa developed their attack. Chelsea complained bitterly and Lampard alluded to the incident afterwards. We conceded with a man on the floor, he said. That’s the way it is for us at the moment.
The sense of grievance was palpable but the home side had 40 minutes to rectify the situation. For all their possession, they were reduced mainly to shots from distance. Pulisic was bright but lacked an end product. Lampard sent on Timo Werner and Kai Havertz almost £120ms worth of creative talent but Villa came closest to snatching the game when John McGinn powered a shot against the bar. Chelsea lacked guile and precision. We pushed but couldn’t break the deadlock, Lampard said. Attitude-wise, effort-wise, some of the play was very good against a really good team.
I can’t ask for more from the players today. No-one let me down, everyone worked hard, we didn’t get the rub of the green.
Good teams make their own luck. It was a stretch to blame fortune. Chelseas control of the game was always tenuous.
Lampard has a £120m problem in out-of-form Timo Werner (pictured) and Kai Havertz
They will be better when Hakim Ziyech returns. The midfielder is close to fitness and could be available for Manchester City on Sunday if Covid protocols allow the fixture to take place. He was very effective for us, Lampard said. The slump has coincided with his absence. The Dutchmans intelligence and ability to set the tempo for the team should make a huge difference.
Smith was delighted with the point. I was thinking whether to go with fresh legs or with momentum and confidence, the Villa manager said. He decided on the latter. I looked the players in the eye and they looked ready to start the game. Youve got to find a balance between defending and attacking and I thought we did that really well.
Villa, in fifth place in the Premier League, are enjoying the season and are doing better than expected. Chelsea did not anticipate being below their opponents going into the new year. They simply must do better or things will get much more difficult for Lampard.