It was the 92nd minute at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea had just conceded a free kick against Southampton. As James Ward-Prowse stood over the set-piece, the tension amongst Chelsea fans was palpable. A lapse in concentration and another lead would be surrendered.
In came the free kick, the ball found its way to Theo Walcott whose volley bounced off the ground where Jannik Vestergaard was lurking to plant a header past a hapless Kepa Arrizabalaga. 3-3. Another set-piece, another goal. For the umpteenth time under Lampard’s tutelage, the Blues had dropped points from a winning position.
That goal was the ninth Chelsea had conceded in just five premier league games this season, and tenth in all competitons. Expectedly, Kepa was made the easy scape goat. The Blues have always looked shaky with him in goal, and the Saints’ second goal – scored by Che Adams, admittedly after an error by Kourt Zouma, but Kepa could have done better – was the third error leading to goal the Spaniard has made this season, at least two more than any other player in the competition.
The arrival of the then 23-year-old on a record £72m move from Athletic Bilbao in the summer of 2018 raised quite a few eyebrows, largely because of his hefty transfer fee. The Blues were breaking the bank to make the young Spaniard the most expensive goalkeeper in history, but given he had already amassed 53 La Liga appearances, had been heavily linked to Real Madrid, and was already a full international, his potentials were quite exciting.
While Kepa had his flaws in his first season under Sarri, the Blues still had the third best defence in the league while making the league cup final and winning the Europa League. However, since club legend, Frank Lampard was appointed manager of the Blues, the defence has gone from bad to worse with Kepa at the centre of the implosion.
Chelsea had the worst defensive record of any top-half side in the league last season conceding 54 goals. Interestingly, Lampard’s exciting Derby team who missed out on promotion to the premier league by just whiskers also conceded 54 goals the previous season in the Championship. Once may be tagged an accident; twice, a coincidence but when it’s beginning to happen for a third straight season, then it becomes a pattern.
Lampard needs to take a second look at his coaching methods and find a way to fix the team’s leaky defence. His focus is more on a gung-ho all attack approach – not surprising considering his playing days as a goalscoring midfielder – with little care about what happens to his defence.
The glaring evidence of this is his summer recruitments with left back, Ben Chilwell and 36-year-old Thiago Silva, the only defensive arrivals brought in. Lampard is yet to find a reliable pairing at centre back with Antonio Rudiger dropping out of the picture, while Zouma and Christensen continue to look vulnerable.
While the need for a defensive midfielder has been further highlighted, with N’golo Kante yet to return to his peak and Jorginho not quite the fix, Lampard must quickly find a short term solution even if it means adopting a more conservative approach, that may see him sacrifice a bit of the attacking talent in his team for some defensive stability.
Edouard Mendy may have been brought in to replace the error prone Kepa, however, while the Senegalese is out injured, it doesn’t matter who starts in goal against Sevilla between the under pressure Spaniard or veteran Argentine, Willy Caballero, if Lampard doesn’t begin to address the defensive woes in his team, it wouldn’t be long before the wheels fall of the exciting project he’s building at the Bridge.
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By Moshood Hassan