Chelsea’s 4-3 win over Reading at the Madejski Stadium may have been a fun way to spend 90 minutes on a sunny Sunday afternoon, morning, evening, wherever you may be, but for Frank Lampard, it was a less entertaining affair.
And certainly, there were major issues in multiple phases of the game, especially early on in both halves. We may get away with sloppy defending and cheap giveaways in a preseason friendly against mid-table Championship opposition, but we’re unlikely to get such luck consistently during the season.
“Typically with preseason, there’s things that are good and things we can improve. I was pleased with the good stuff. I suppose it’s not bad to throw up things in preseason, things to address in training and the two very tough games coming up this week. It was good opposition for us, to get more minutes in the legs for the players, who have been working hard. I’ve been very happy with preseason and their work as a whole.
“Now the clock starts to tick [on the season], so it’s very important we address things that I didn’t like today: conceding from a set piece, conceding sloppy goals when we turn over the ball, that we need to tighten up on for sure. Lots of signs that we can play, that we can create, but now we have to be more clinical around the box because that’s what’s going to win us games.”
As has been the case frequently during preseason, Lampard not only switched out all ten outfields at the half, he switched tactics and formation as well. That sort of flexibility was a feature of his first season in management last year with Derby and he’s spoken repeatedly about the team’s need to be adaptable.
While the 4-2-3-1 system seems to be the preferred one at this time, Lampard has been trying a 4-4-2 formation as well, usually with a midfield diamond, and that was the case again in the second-half. Two-striker formations are a rarity in the modern game, which does mean that many of the players have to learn some new things.
“It’s important for us going into the season [to be flexible], and this is the time to work [on them] and test the players. We have three recognized strikers and other players who can play in certain attacking roles, so I want to see [what they can do]. We’ve got midfield players who can move the ball — imperative when you have a diamond that you’re comfortable on the ball, and you want to move it. We could’ve been better in the second half in terms of testing their line, and not just standing. In preseason you can sometimes take the relatively easy option to stand and expect the ball. We also have to run behind. So there were great little lessons for all us.
Much has been made of Sarri’s tactical rigidity, and while some of the nuance has been lost in the narrative — as narratives are wont to do — Lampard’s emphasis on adaptability has been a breath of fresh air. It’s all in service to finding something that works the best for us.
“My idea isn’t always to change the system, sometimes it’s to change players, sometimes it’s to change elements of the way we want to play. What I’ve found with the players is that they have a real ability and mindset to take all these challenges on. We show video, we watch things back — we want to find something we’re comfortable with. We’re not going to change for change’s sake.”
In exactly two weeks, Chelsea will begin the season at Old Trafford and Lampard will have to name his first official Chelsea starting lineup. Before that, he also has to whittle down the squad that still has a few too many players, especially when we consider that 5 players who are expected to be part of the team are still injured (Kanté, Willian, Loftus-Cheek, Hudson-Odoi, Reece James).
“I’m getting closer. These two weeks, and the two [remaining] games this week will be very important. I’ve tried to mix minutes up and get everyone to a good level — I think it’s important for competition — and now we’re actually starting to hone down on more minutes for certain players and we’ll works towards a team.”
Lampard certainly has some big decisions to make. And some smaller ones as well, like which of Mason Mount and Ross Barkley is ahead in the pecking order.
“It’s great to have Mason back, bringing his qualities; it’s great to see Ross in there, scoring an incredible free kick. Top players playing at their best. It’s a nice problem to have, but it doesn’t mean they can’t [also] play in the same team.”
-Frank Lampard; source: Chelsea TV
Next up will be a daytrip to Austria to take on RB Salzburg, then a trip to Germany to finish out the preseaon schedule at Borussia Mönchengladbach. And then, before you know it, the fun and games will be over, replaced by the existential dread of a Premier League top four race.