Chelsea lost 3-0 to Sheffield United on Saturday.
Chelsea, as they so often do when presented with the chance to make life easy, vanished off the face of the earth and put in one of the worst performances of the season.
Losing the game isn’t the biggest concern. Every team loses games at some point. Sometimes, you’ve just got to hold your hands up and admit the other team were better. However, Chelsea have a habit of rolling over and accepting defeat far too easily.
After the game, Frank Lampard confessed to Sky Sports that he had learned some things and he wouldn’t forget them. Now, what could that mean?
It’s feasible that, on a personal level, he has learned more about himself and his management style. He took too long to make substitutions and perhaps got the personnel wrong. He needs to improve that.
However, what seems more likely is that Lampard has figured out which players are worth keeping and which are worth selling. He’s figured out which players are ready to give it all and which are just taking home a weekly wage.
The issue with Chelsea is that this concept of a ‘poor mentality’ isn’t new this season. You can go back to José Mourinho’s second spell at Stamford Bridge to find examples of the Portuguese boss questioning whether Chelsea actually want to win.
In 2015, Mourinho said (via The Guardian): “Last year we were champions, but the point for me is are we serial champions? Of course it’s very difficult to win every season, but you can be a serial champion in your approach and your attitude.
“Mentally I can say I am a serial champion. I can be five or 10 years without winning a title, but I will still be a serial champion in my approach and my attitude. This is the problem we have at this moment. We have champions, but not serial champions.”
Antonio Conte echoed that sentiment when asked about Chelsea’s struggles in 2018, saying (via ESPN): “To play football in a great club, it means you must have a personality because it’s simple to play when there is the confidence. Especially in this type of moment, you can see who is (ready to play) for a great club. To play with personality and also to risk something.”
Just one year later, Maurizio Sarri famously said that Chelsea are ‘extremely difficult to motivate’, and now we’ve got Lampard suggesting the same thing. This isn’t a new issue.
When you can’t rely on players, you can’t pick a regular spine of the team. Look at Liverpool, who know they can depend on Alisson, Virgil van Dijk, Jordan Henderson and the front three week in, week out. Chelsea don’t have that.
Even in July, the Blues don’t have a preferred centre-back pairing. They don’t have a settled midfield. They don’t have a reliable striker. The days of Petr Čech, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Didier Drogba and Lampard himself are long gone. Eden Hazard isn’t here to save the day anymore.
To fix that – to build that spine – Chelsea need wholesale changes.
By signing Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner, Chelsea have already started making those changes. Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell and Declan Rice could follow suit, with several unwanted players being sold to make space. Judging by Lampard’s latest comments, it seems like he knows who he wants gone and he knows which players can appreciate what it means to play for Chelsea.
What sets Lampard apart from the rest is that he appears to have the backing of owner Roman Abramovich. He’s already spent £80m and could realistically spend nearly £200m more (assuming players are sold). The Russian has often seen Chelsea’s other bosses as short-term projects – hired guns to win the title immediately – but not this time.
Around Stamford Bridge, there’s an awareness that this might take a little while to figure out. The Athletic revealed that Chelsea have a three-year plan to get back to the top, and that plan has already been put into action.
There’s reason to be confident, but the fear now is that missing out on the Champions League could slow that down. Chelsea have three games to limp over the finish line, and then it’s go time.
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