Frank Lampard buys himself some time to build something more than Chelsea’s collection of individuals

Chelsea have been struggling for results of late in large part because Frank Lampard hasn’t yet worked out a system for his many new attackers, let alone his best XI

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Monday 18 January 2021 07:39
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At an early point in Saturday’s second half, Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic was looking to pick out a pass, but resorted to what had routinely been doing for the previous 10 minutes. The midfielder played it wide, for the ball to be played wide again, so that it eventually found its way to Ben Chilwell. He crossed, for Fulham to clear, and the pattern to be played out again.

The only real change was when the ball was played out towards Cesar Azpilicueta rather than Chilwell, but there would still be a cross.

To cut Frank Lampard some slack, that was as much an indication of how withdrawn Fulham were playing as it was how unimaginative Chelsea were, but it is still the reality of the modern game that endless crossing has become a sign of something else.

It lays bare a team out of ideas.

• Read more: Mount scores late winner to give Lampard a lift

• Read more: Five things we learned from Chelsea’s win over Fulham

What it does is reveal a team who are not at that moment playing to a plan, and just do what comes automatically when gaps don’t present automatically.

Which brings us to the current Chelsea.

Lampard has been struggling for results of late, but that is in large part because he hasn’t yet worked out a system for these many new attackers, let alone his best XI. The chopping and changing is another indication. Unfortunately for Chelsea, such variety hasn’t really brought any more variety to their play.

It has been largely predictable, as became a problem against Fulham, until one of those crosses eventually produced a loose ball the 10 men couldn’t cover for Mason Mount to finish.

That is a sign of something else. The club have spent £250m in the summer but, bar the mercurial Hakim Ziyech, the most influential players remain those who were already there.

Lampard might well argue that is just a question of time and development, as he also learns more about the many signings, and they all get up to speed.

He might even say Mount himself personifies that, as he lavished praise on the attacker, and drew some parallels with his own career.

“I understand clearly where we are as a team,” the Chelsea manager said. “That’s with a lot of young players in this group.

“Mason was fantastic, but he’s a big example when I mention youth. Mason turned 22 last week, I came to Chelsea at 22, and I wasn’t blowing the world away. I look across the squad, and it’s a similar age bracket. They’re all young.”

Mount nevertheless showed a maturity – and composure – when it mattered most, and Lampard expects even more of that to come.

“He can get more goals from midfield. I’m always on at him on that. My serious goalscoring came in at 25, 26. I’m not trying to measure Mason against myself, I just know when you’re developing and adding to your game.

“When he’s mature, I’d like to think he’s a player of the highest level.”

This week, as happened a few times last season, Mount has bailed Chelsea out when they have been at a lower level as a team. This is another issue for Lampard, connected to all of those crosses. They remain a team relying on individuals to produce magic, rather than yet being a collective that works openings in concert.

That matters over the long term. Lampard has bought himself a bit more time for that, thanks to the most short-term solution in football.

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