Chelsea’s loss to Manchester United really was a nightmare start – but Frank Lampard needs time

Chelsea’s 4-0 defeat at Old Trafford will be demoralising for such a young team in such an important game. But at least Lampard’s words are already said to have worked well in the dressing room afterwards

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Monday 12 August 2019 07:22
Frank Lampard on Chelsea's harsh lesson

One of the starkest questions for Frank Lampard – after a start like that – is exactly how bad a 4-0 defeat actually is.

“Not great” – obviously – and the fact this is even being discussed is in itself galling enough. But what is really relevant to Chelsea is not so much the result, but how ruinous it is, as well as what it reflects and says about the team.

The worst aspect is that this really was a nightmare start for a team like this. It’s not just that it was Lampard’s first game, or that it sets the wrong tone.

It’s that a very young side suffered a beating as demoralising as this, when even the moral victory of a narrow defeat would have been such a help. This is already a team that is not just going to need patience, but also encouragement and nurturing and cohesion. It is going to need building up.

But this was quite a levelling.

The good part is that Lampard’s words are already said to have worked well in the dressing room afterwards. He reassured the team that this wasn’t really a 4-0 game, and that a few individual moments going a different way could have seen the game itself go a very different way. Two of those moments were Tammy Abraham and Emerson Palmeri hitting the woodwork in the first half.

It was something Lampard repeated in the press conference afterwards.

“Had we gone in at half-time 2-1 or 3-1 up, which we should have done, the game would have been completely different,” he insisted. “It’s quite hard to talk about that after 4-0. I know it sounds stupid.”

It also looked some way true.

The most encouraging aspects for Chelsea were that the gameplan and pattern of the play generally looked fine. The basic idea is there, and has been developed. They had more control of the ball and space, and – reflecting what Lampard said – it could be fairly argued to have been the better team in general play.

It’s just that, to paraphrase that great boxing line: everyone has a plan until they're punched in the face. Or have someone race right through your defence.

A Chelsea backline still getting to know each other were admittedly facing two of the swiftest attackers in the league in Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, but what was concerning was how soft they were in the face of it. Kurt Zouma simply buckled under the force of it.

At the other end, meanwhile, there just wasn’t enough force of their own.

Kurt Zouma had an afternoon to forget

Tammy Abraham got into the kind of good positions that suggested a young forward with a lot of potential – but the struggles to impose himself also displayed the kind of physical and technical immaturity that comes with youth. There were just so many frustrating moments when the forward impressively found himself at the centre of an attack, only to just fudge the touch.

That of course doesn’t mean this match should be any kind of concern about him. But it won’t exactly help the team right now.

And it feels like this is going to be a pattern for some time: Chelsea actually performing quite well, and showing a good general plan, only to get cut open on the counter and not quite have enough incision in attack themselves.

The wonder will be over the extent of it.

In fairness, the extent of Chelsea’s injuries cannot be overlooked.

They were missing by far their best midfielder in N’Golo Kante, arguably the only truly world-class player in this squad. Maybe even the only one even close to world-class right now.

The reality is that, if he is on the pitch, United just don’t cut through Chelsea that often or that easily. He would have just swept so many counters up. That’s what he’s best at. It is not a stretch to say it might even have been a goalless draw with Kante on the pitch.

The return of Antonio Rudiger will also help in this regard, especially since he is one of only a few senior defenders, especially after the sale of David Luiz.

It similarly doesn’t help that, in terms of the youth, Chelsea’s most tried and tested – Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi – were also out.

Both would add so much more bite to the attack and it shouldn’t be forgotten that there was more impetus to Jorginho’s play.

Chelsea do look good in midfield.

It’s just that it was not seen on the scoreboard.

Frank Lampard must quickly bounce back

Afterwards, looking to encourage his team in another way, Lampard referenced some of the routs he suffered at Old Trafford as a player.

More instructive, however, might be another Manchester United result and another famous reality check.

That, of course, was 19 August 1995 and a 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa.

Alan Hansen’s conclusion after that game has gone down in history, but the reality is that the team didn’t win with kids alone. They had a lot of men to come back.

In that defeat to Villa, they were missing the suspended Eric Cantona, a top-form Ryan Giggs who by then had four years of senior football, captain Steve Bruce, and David May, who would be the starting centre-half by the end of the season.

It was a good chunk of the team’s senior influences, and their return did change United.

This obviously isn’t to say that Chelsea are going to do anything close to what United 1995-96 did - they don’t have anything near the quality - but it should reassure everyone that this 4-0 isn’t as bad as it looks.

There is an idea in place. There are good players to return, including their best player.

There is also, undeniably, a lot of necessary development.

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