At the end of Frank Lampard’s first season in charge at Stamford Bridge, in which fourth was viewed as a success through the prism of a transfer ban and the exit of Eden Hazard, there was a statistic that could not be sugar-coated. Chelsea had conceded 54 goals in the league, the club’s worst record in 23 years.
Much of the blame for that deficiency was pinned on goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who remained a scapegoat at the start of the current campaign. Lampard’s men were too easily done on the counter and via set-plays, which pointed to a greater issue than simply one player shorn of confidence and forgetting the basics in-between the sticks.
Without the ball, Chelsea were consistently vulnerable. By the point of Lampard’s axing, they had made more errors leading to goals than any other team in the division this season. No Chelsea manager since Ruud Gullit, who departed in February 1998, had overseen a worse record of successful efforts conceded per game.
These defensive frailties were most obvious against fellow Big Six opposition. Since August 2019 under Lampard, Chelsea had secured just 15 points from 15 games against their rivals, a joint-low alongside Arsenal – scoring 17 goals and conceding 28 times. Chelsea’s inability to impose themselves let alone overcome anyone in the top half of the table prior to Thomas Tuchel’s arrival was largely on account of not having a steely defensive framework.
The German’s first directive upon replacing Lampard was to make the team difficult to beat, which they now are.
At Stamford Bridge on Sunday evening, Manchester United were restricted to just two shots from inside the box. They did not create a big chance and only sparked in the final, more open minutes of the encounter with the hosts pressing for a decisive goal.
Tuchel, who has already navigated narrow victories over Tottenham and Atletico Madrid, has quite instructively fortified Chelsea in the area they most needed it.
Takumi Minamino remains the only opposition player to score against Chelsea since Tuchel succeeded Lampard. The sole other goal the club have let in under his tenure was courtesy of an Antonio Rudiger brain fart. Chelsea have not yet fully clicked offensively, but seven clean sheets in nine fixtures is a brilliant foundation for a manager – arriving in the middle of the most congested campaign going – to build a formidable structure from.
The attacking cohesion will come. As Tuchel analysed: “We were not good enough in the first half to attack the space, we had too many easy ball losses. We lost a little bit of confidence because of that, which can happen.
“We said that at half-time – ‘don’t worry’ – and we changed the structure to 5-3-2 to have higher ball recoveries and put the pressure up high to regain confidence. The boys did that very well and we dominated the second half.
“In the second half I felt we were very strong – many high recoveries, good chances and half-chances. Performance-wise I am very satisfied. We defended very high, very brave, and I am very happy with that.”
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