Sports Lampard's excuses for Chelsea defensive failings are becoming harder to accept
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The left-back delivered an extraordinarily assured performance on his league debut for his new club following on from a £50m move from LeicesterFollowing on from an assist on his debut against Barnsley, and an accomplished 60-minute display in the EFL Cup penalty shootout defeat against Tottenham, the full-back was the best player on the pitch at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday.
The expensive array of attacking talent that Chelsea amassed in the summer transfer window should have been the focus of the headlines following this game against Southampton.
Timo Werner scored his first two Premier League goals for the club, and Kai Havertz his first, but
The Chelsea manager is again, justifiably, facing questions about his side’s ability to defend.
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Nothing in this Chelsea backline is working as it should.
Alongside the German international duo Werner and Havertz, Christian Pulisic started his first game of the season following a hamstring injury while Hakim Ziyech was summoned from the bench for his debut. But it was Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men chasing the fourth goal come the final whistle.
Any sense of composure in the Chelsea ranks had long since ebbed away due to the pressure of the Saints’ aggressive pressing game.
Southampton's first two goals came from turnovers with the ball in the Chelsea half following errors by Havertz and Kurt Zouma, who handed clear-cut chances to Danny Ings and Che Adams.
The last-gasp equaliser came from a set-piece when Vestergaard headed home past Kepa Arrizabalaga,
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. In this match, a mid-table team looked capable of scoring at will against a team who spent £220 million ($275m) this summer. In the market, at least, Chelsea are showing the ambition of future champions. But that is not currently being matched on the pitch.
As good as the forwards were with the ball, they were too easily bypassed in the press, a failing which gave Southampton's midfield all the time they needed to pick out the right balls for their attackers.
Jorginho and N'Golo Kante were both lost at sea trying to cover defensive lapses from the front four, who all lost their way in the second half. The 4-2-3-1 formation is limiting; it only features two midfielders who try to stop counter-attacks and Lampard looked to nullify the problems caused by the adventurous shape by adding Reece James to his midfield late on.
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Aside from Thiago Silva, Chelsea had their strongest back four out there but they looked uncomfortable dealing with the pressing of Southampton’s forwards. They are playing with a formation that gets the best out of their attacking players, but not in defence.
“I don’t think [we're] conceding goals due to the shape of the team,” Lampard said afterwards at Stamford Bridge. “Of course, we have changed the shape and I have to make those decisions with the personnel we have and getting the best out of them.
“That is something I have to think about, but it doesn’t mean I am dead set on sticking with that formation and there can be changes and tweaks to it as we go along. It’s something we need to continue working on. It is a change.
“Change needs work on the training ground, we haven’t had much of that so sometimes the work in progress is in games and today there were loads of great things from the 4-2-3-1, particularly in the first half.
“In the second half I wouldn’t blame the shape of the team, more that we didn’t deal with the fact that Southampton were really keen to put us under pressure in their own half.
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“We wanted to miss out their press, we didn’t do enough and that meant we turned the ball over in our own half, which irrespective of shape is always a problem.”
But as the quality grows in the squad, the excuses for the defensive failings become harder to accept. Chelsea conceded 54 goals in the league last season and Lampard's second year in charge might follow the same trend.
Extending into this season, Lampard has now conceded an average of 1.5 goals a game in the Premier League - the worst numbers for a Chelsea manager who has overseen more than one game in the competition.
This was a complete defensive failing yet again. This expensively assembled and undoubtedly talented group needs the deficiencies coached out of them – both structural and mental.
For Lampard, proving himself as a defensively capable coach is a step he needs to take. With matches against Sevilla at home in the Champions League, followed by Manchester United away in the league, there are stern tests to come.
The chemistry at the back has to come after this, their second 3-3 draw of the season. These games are entertaining but they won't win you titles.
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