Frank Lampard – Chelsea – Tactical Analysis (2020-21 Edition)

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Frank Lampard enjoyed a successful first season with Chelsea F.C., despite no new summer signings coming through the door. The Blues hovered around 4th for the majority of the season in behind Leicester City, and eventually secured 4th behind Manchester United. Lampard relied heavily on young talent in 2019-20 and the club were rewarded with fantastic performances from the likes of Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori and Reece James. However, this past summer, Chelsea spent millions to secure the signatures of some of the best players around the world. It has taken a bit of time for some of their new signings to gel together, but nine games in, Chelsea are showing great signs of promise as they currently sit 2nd in the table. Along the way, Frank Lampard has made some low-key, subtle changes that have helped to propel Chelsea back toward the top of the table. Here is our Tactical Analysis of Frank Lampard’s Chelsea after nine games in the 2020-21 Premier League season.

system of play: 4-3-3

Chelsea look a very different side from last season, with the exclusions of players like Marcos Alonso, Emerson and Kepa. But they’ve even gone several steps further than that to exclude their legendary captain Cesar Azpilicueta and one of their star performers from seasons past, Jorginho. That said, Frank Lampard’s achieved great success back in his preferred 4-3-3 formation and has his team firing on all cylinders. The British manager’s returned N’Golo Kante to a defensive midfield role, allowing Mason Mount to fulfill a position deeper in midfield than he did the majority of time last season. He’s also, interestingly enough, moved Kurt Zouma to a right-centre-back position to accommodate Thiago Silva’s arrival at the club. Similarly, Kovacic has adopted a position on the right of central midfield after playing the entirety of last season on the left. With the quality of players at Lampard’s disposal, it’s no surprise that these professionals have made such seamless transitions to these ever so slight changes. But it does represent Lampard to be a flexible manager, with an intriguing outlook on his team. He seems to fully trust every single member of his squad to do a job. With the likes of Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz also involved, Chelsea’s ability to shift around the starting lineup and deploy players in different positions on a game-by-game basis will almost certainly continue. Werner for example has proven to be capable of playing both on the left and through the middle both in a pair or all on his own (which readers argued against me on last year). The worry might be that Werner’s numbers in front of goal suffer long-term, but he offers so much for his team on the left-side that it has to be the correct decision in the short-term at the very least. Havertz has found life in the Premier League a little tougher, but has been able to adapt to positions on the right, in central midfielder or as a ‘number 10’. In the future, Hakim Ziyech might do the exact same thing if Lampard opts for greater pace and power down the wing in future matches.

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Before moving on, we have to give credit to Mason Mount, Reece James and Tammy Abraham for holding down a place in the starting 11 despite all the new arrivals. It would have been very easy for Ben Chilwell, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner to completely knock them out of the side. Instead, it’s been more experienced players who have made way. Other youngsters were not as lucky to keep their place in the side, and both Edouard Mendy and Thiago Silva have come seamlessly into the eleven and performed well in the process.

It also has to be noted that although Lampard seems to prefer the 4-3-3 formation, he has remained flexible with his system of play. The former Derby manager’s utilized Jorginho and N’Golo Kante as a double-pivot in a 4-2-3-1, switched to an Antonio Conte styled 3-4-2-1, and perhaps most surprisingly, the formation on opening day looked rather like a Ralph Hassenhuttl 4-2-2-2. However, their form since switching back to a more standard 4-3-3 has been impeccable, and they’ve won all six of their most recent matches in all competitions. How a player like Jorginho or Azpilicueta gets back into the side now will be very difficult, but both remain extraordinarily useful players and probably will have a major role to play as the season goes on. If it’s Jorginho who gets back in, Chelsea may very well switch to a 4-2-3-1, as N’Golo Kante appears to be Lampard’s first choice defensive midfielder, if not player, at this point in the season.

JORGINHO NO LONGER A FOCAL POINT?

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It would be easy to dismiss Jorginho’s decrease in passes per game as a fixture of his decrease in playing time. However, even when the Italian was a crucial figure of Chelsea’s midfield this season, his numbers were way down. Jorginho completed nearly 86 passes per 90 minutes in 2019-20, which is now down all the way to 67. In Chelsea’s roster, he’s gone from first to eleventh in that category. Therefore, it appears the Brazilian born midfielder is no longer a key mechanism for Chelsea in their build-up to the same extent that he was before. The Blues pass out of the back through their centre-backs far more often now, particularly when Thiago Silva is on the field, who is a standalone in the entire Premier League when it comes to passes per 90 or passes per game. Having Thiago Silva involved with Kurt Zouma, who himself is a very comfortable passer of the ball, has been one reason for Jorginho’s decreased importance. Another is the fact that N’Golo Kante has also been asked to drop deeper, whether it be as a double-pivot or with the Frenchman as the deepest lying playmaker. Kante’s numbers by comparison are up, whereas Kovacic has remained relatively consistent from last year. By Kante’s increased presence in areas Jorginho would normally occupy, the reliance of Jorginho as Chelsea’s key player in the build-up is no longer to the same extent that it was even just last season. This is unfortunate, given that we devoted an entire section to Jorginho and his role in our pre-season analysis. But it’s also genuinely intriguing as Chelsea have basically stripped away the one thing Jorginho was most exceptional at. In the process, he’s been making more forward runs, popping up in more dangerous areas and creating more chances.

chemistry of the front three

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Before the season began, I questioned Timo Werner’s ability to fulfill the same “target man” role that Tammy Abraham had done such a wonderful job fulfilling last season. Those doubts have been proven to be correct, but it hasn’t really mattered as Werner’s link-up play and chemistry with the players around him, such as Ziyech and Abraham, has proven to be incredibly effective. With Ziyech cutting in from the right onto his left foot and Werner cutting in from the left onto his right foot, Chelsea have exceptional balance in the 4-3-3 formation that allows for all kinds of variation. The two wide men are playing almost like inverted wingers, but not in a way where it’s more 4-3-2-1, because they look to get as close to Tammy Abraham as possible to further Chelsea’s combination play. Ziyech’s role in attack appears to be particularly frightening, given that he can both cross and shoot from distance. Simultaneously, he possesses excellent ball control and dribbling skills, and can just as easily pick out a pass from anywhere on the field instead of carrying it further. With all of these skillsets in place, it’s unsurprising that the Morrocan’s been deployed alongside Tammy Abraham so often. The British striker thrives off of crosses and longer passes, and possesses both the pace and power to comfortably handle both. When you add Werner to the mix, Chelsea have another forward-thinking player in attack who is both incredibly mobile and a great chance-creator. Unlike Ziyech, Werner loves to carry the ball for longer periods of time and drive it forward, something that Abraham can also thrive off of with his timing of the runs in behind opposition defenses.

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The chemistry between these three players has perhaps worked to such a great extent because of the fact that Ziyech is such a reliable chance creator, and the other two are impeccable goal-scorers. For all the energy and desire Mason Mount gives Chelsea in midfield, his role has always been more as a goal-scorer than chance-creator. So in Ziyech, Lampard’s side have something they haven’t really had since Eden Hazard. Hazard created chances through dribbling and running power before picking out a pass, while Ziyech is more of a flair player with loads of quality in the pass. Regardless, the balance of the front three hasn’t been lost and it is certainly a lot to do with the fact that Ziyech offers something different than a player like Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic or Callum Hudson-Odoi might have done. All three of those players would have operated very similarly to Timo Werner, but in Werner, Chelsea have a player who can do all of the running, dribbling and goal-scoring to a much greater effect. So Ziyech’s inclusion in the side has certainly been a key reason for Chelsea’s recent success.

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But it’s not just Ziyech. Timo Werner’s also added a new dimension to Chelsea’s attack. The German’s immense quality would allow him to play in a front two or as an out and out number 9, but because he does so much for the team beyond just one-time finishes in the box, a move to the left was very natural. Due to his natural ball carrying ability, he’s been crucial for Chelsea in counter attacking situations and skillfully unlocking the opposition’s block when the Blues are forced into a slower approach. His role on the left has also allowed Tammy Abraham to remain in the side as a “target man”, holding up the ball for those slightly more talented than him. This level of unselfishness and playing to each other’s strengths has meant that Chelsea’s front three have been in full flow in recent matches and look nearly unstoppable going forward.

Against sides that remain a bit deeper in a low to mid-block, Chelsea’s attack goes from three to five, with overlapping centre-back’s often making it six or seven when necessary. Mason Mount in particular plays very high for a central midfielder, but Kovacic also isn’t afraid to engage higher up the pitch and engage in the combination play with Ziyech and Abraham. As such, the attacking shape can almost look like a 2-3-5 at times, with N’Golo Kante sweeping up all of the messes in behind. For those that don’t like those kind of outrageous numbers, you could also call it a 4-1-4-1, with Mount and Kovacic pushing well ahead of Kante. It is perhaps the chemistry of the front three in that five that have been the most crucial in helping Lampard to the success he’s had so far in 2020-21.

defensive issues…solved?

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In my pre-season tactical analysis of Chelsea, I discussed whether or not Frank Lampard had resolved their defensive woes of 2019-20. In the end, I ultimately decided that the answer was no. My reasoning for this was the fact that they still had Kepa in goal, and the fact that they relied so heavily on Jorginho for all he does in possession. For all the Italian does going forward (he can be an absolute game changer), he is not able to cover the space in behind as well as others in Chelsea’s roster. Last season, this was further compounded by Chelsea’s attacking shape (4-1-4-1 or 2-3-5) and their desire to play N’Golo Kante higher up the field, just as they did under Maurizio Sarri. Kante was often too high up the field to respond adequately enough in defensive transitions. Chelsea’s fullbacks couldn’t stop this from happening by inverting themselves, as opposition teams were often very good at spreading the ball wide and exploiting Chelsea’s weaker left-hand-side. It’s now obvious to point out that Chelsea’s left side last year was further away for the Frenchman, who was deployed on the right, and their reliable Spanish fullback, who was also predominantly deployed on the same side. However, Lampard clearly read our Tactical Analysis (what a dream that would be), and made an adjustment that suited his team’s needs in 2020-21.

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Chelsea have resolved both of the defensive issues I pointed out before the season began through two key changes in personnel – the obvious omission of Kepa, and the more surprising exclusion of Jorginho. Perhaps even more surprisingly, they’ve done this without changing shape. Quite simply, N’Golo Kante is back in the position that Chelsea fans have been crying out for these past two years. Immaculate at covering space in behind and mopping up all the messes, Kante’s looked right where he belongs back at the heart of the midfield three. Unsurprisingly, his numbers in both tackles and interceptions have gone right back up to where they were at Leicester and in his first season at Chelsea under Antonio Conte. The Frenchman’s made 2.8 tackles and 3 interceptions per game. When combining the two together, that’s equaled only by Villa’s Matty Cash (2.9 of each). The likes of Allan, Hojbjerg, and Phillips do a similar job for their teams and offer perhaps even greater strengths in possession, but Kante truly is unrivalled when it comes to the defensive side of the game from midfield. I would posit that only Wilfred Ndidi, who came into Leicester to be Kante’s replacement, would be able to match the Frenchman had the Nigerian remained fit to start this season. 

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Edouard Mendy has also performed exceptionally well in goal, keeping 4 clean sheets and conceding just 1 goal in 5 league matches since coming into the side. When you add the quality and experience of Thiago Silva to the mix, it’s an incredible back-line. Both Ben Chilwell and Reece James have improved their defensive numbers this season, and Kurt Zouma has been just as good as he was last season, which was pretty darn good. Finally, Mason Mount’s positional change to a deeper role has been not only positive for the Blues in attack, but also in defense. The British midfielder is an underrated presser, tackler and often kick-starts Chelsea’s press from the front alongside the mobile Timo Werner. In central midfield, he offers more defensive stability and aggression than both Kovacic and Havertz. Mount’s inclusion in the side is therefore not only positive from an attacking standpoint, but a defensive one as well. 

This increased defensive and goalkeeping prowess has been another major key to success for the Blues this season, but it’s taken several changes for it to be this way. In all of that, we barely even mentioned just how good Reece James and Ben Chilwell have been. Edouard Mendy might just end up breaking some kind of clean sheet record if he continues on at this rate. So to answer the question once and for all…yes. Chelsea’s defensive problems have officially been solved (for the meantime). Frank Lampard deserves an immense amount of credit for this in recognizing a problem and responding in exactly the right ways to fix it.  

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

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Chelsea might not win the Premier League this season, but there is no reason why they can’t at least challenge for the title to a greater extent than they managed last season. When all the new signings came into the mix, many feared that the young guns who had done so well in 2019-20 would simply be pushed to the side. Instead, it’s been some of the older heads in the club like Azpilicueta and Jorginho to lose their place. Those two players would have possibly been the two key players that I would have done everything in my power to keep in the side if I was Lampard; but you can’t argue with the results. Chelsea have won the last six games and appear to be clicking on every level. With greater defensive stability and chemistry going forward, their impressive streak could very well end up going much, much longer. Or, it could all come crashing down and come to an end at the hands of Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur this weekend.


So there it is! A Tactical Analysis of Frank Lampard’s Chelsea! Be sure to check out more of our Tactical Analyses, including where we left off the last time we spoke about Lampard’s Chelsea. Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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