Bernstein: Chelsea's major weakness is a failure to win big games

Chelsea have dazzled at times this season but their major weakness is a failure to win the big games… it could be what derails their Premier League title challenge

  • Chelsea have looked like title contenders under Frank Lampard this season 
  • But they have struggled in big games and that could prove pivotal to their hopes 
  • Lampard’s men have no trouble against teams in the bottom half of the table
  • He called his side ‘a work in progress’ and they need to open organised defences
  • A 1-0 defeat to Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton gave his Blues outfit a reality check 

There is one obvious pattern to Chelsea’s topsy-turvy season. Against teams currently in the bottom half of the table, Frank Lampard’s men have collected 19 points from a possible 21 – all victories except the thrilling 3-3 draw at West Brom.

But against the top half, Chelsea haven’t yet won, earning three points from 15. While Lampard will hope the trend continues on Tuesday evening as their opponents Wolves are 13th, the contrast is so stark something needs to change if they are going to be challengers at the top of the table this season.

So far, the individual quality at Stamford Bridge is good enough to see off weaker teams but they are not yet cohesive enough as a unit to threaten the best.

Chelsea’s failure to beat the big teams could be their undoing in the Premier League title race

Lampard would probably agree. After Saturday night’s 1-0 defeat at Everton in which Chelsea didn’t manage a shot on target in the second half, he said: ‘I keep reading how we have the strongest squad in the league but I don’t understand it.

‘There are teams around us that have won titles and have players littered through their squad with 20 or 30 goals a year.

‘We clearly haven’t got that. We have young players, some who have won titles, but some players new to the league.

‘We are a work in progress. We have players who were in the Championship or on loan in the last two years.’

Frank Lampard’s men have no issue beating teams in the bottom half with 19 points from 21

The problem for Chelsea is high expectations following a £220million spend in the last transfer window on Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell, Hakim Ziyech, a new goalkeeper Eduoard Mendy and world-class defender Thiago Silva.

Ironically, the defence has been sorted out quickest. Mendy, Reece James, Kurt Zouma, Silva and Chilwell have become Lampard’s established back line and consistency in selection has given Chelsea the foundations to avoid being surprised as favourites, particularly with N’golo Kante back to his best in midfield.

The early West Brom result apart, Chelsea have conceded only three times in six games against bottom-half teams.

But in midfield and attack, Lampard has been spoilt for choice with 10 top-class players fighting for five spots.

But against teams closer to the top they have struggled to open up their organised defences 

Lampard will be pleased that he has sorted out his defence with the clean sheets rolling in  

They have struggled to find right combinations to trouble organised defences and failed to score against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea or Tottenham.

Injuries to Christian Pulisic and Ziyech haven’t helped and both were absent at Everton on Saturday, denying Chelsea craft in wide positions.

Havertz, the most expensive acquisition at £72million, has had his season interrupted by a positive Covid test and struggled throughout the season. ‘When you do nothing for two and half weeks and then you start training again, you feel like you have never played football before,’ he admitted.

The balance in the Chelsea side, particularly up front, hasn’t looked right in the most important games. Roman Abramovich will want to see his costly signings Ziyech, Pulisic, Havertz and Werner assimilated but Lampard is also keen not to discard Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Callum-Hudson Odoi who have come through the Chelsea academy and did very well last season.

The balance hasn’t been quite right up front and Kai Havertz (L) is yet to find his feet at the club

He also has a World Cup-winning centre-forward Olivier Grioud on the books who recently scored four against Sevilla in the Champions League.

Fitting everyone in is impossible and so far Lampard hasn’t made the tough calls Jose Mourinho has done at Spurs in ditching Dele Alli and Harry Winks so he can use a system designed to get the best out of Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min.

Havertz has played centrally and wide to try and get his Mojo back but nothing has worked to date. He hasn’t scored for 10 games and his confidence looked dented against Everton when he was substituted early. In other games, he’s looked a passenger, and given possession away.

Lampard won’t lose faith. He’ll remember Didier Drogba having teething problems in his first season and Havertz has admitted the Premier League has been a tough school.

‘The intensity in the duels and the runs is much higher. I noticed that right away. The games are very exhausting,’ he said.

Timo Werner has looked the more promising forward, but is on something of a drought himself

Lampard should stay patient and remember club legend Didier Drogba took time to adjust 

The 21-year-old’s technical quality is obvious and a hat-trick in the EFL Cup against Barnsley underlines he can punish teams who give him time and space. But it’s not so easy against the Big Six, or even Everton.

Werner’s statistics are better than Havertz, with eight goals in total for Chelsea, four in the Premier League. But the German flying machine, signed to a great deal of hype from RB Leipzig, is also on a little drought with seven games without a goal. His miss against Leeds from a yard will be replayed for years.

Werner’s speed is a useful weapon but he’s not as comfortable in tight spaces and hasn’t impacted Chelsea’s most important games that often play out like chess matches.

None of this will surprise Lampard who expected some inconsistency from his new-look team. But there is a time when he has to settle on his best front five as he’s obviously already done with his back six (including Kante).

Chelsea have played wonderful football under Lampard but the boss has questions to answer 

He seems to prefer having Abraham or Giroud as a physical presence at the top of the pitch but once Pulisic is fit and firing, how does that work with Werner who has been largely used on the left so far.

They are tough questions but ones Lampard will have to figure out over the season.

There is no need to be negative at the moment. Chelsea played some wonderful football in putting 14 goals past Crystal Palace, Burnley, Sheffield United and Leeds.

The problem is none of those teams will be competing for Champions League spots. Against the big boys, they have to become more of an attacking threat and find the right chemistry up front and Lampard will be aware they begin 2021 against Manchester City and Leicester.

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