Chelsea needed at least a draw on Wednesday night, which in years past would’ve meant shutting up shop, spoiling the game, and boring everyone to tears in a 0-0. After all, Liverpool had absolutely nothing to play for, they just wanted to lift their trophy. Fans were lighting off fireworks outside the stadium halfway through the second-half in non-socially distanced anticipation already.
But playing for an uneventful 0-0 is about the least likely thing to happen with Lampard’s Blues, and that’s down to not just the team’s shortcomings, but the manager himself. Lampard may have become the world’s best midfielder under José Mourinho, but his management style is drastically different from The Special One — and that’s both good and bad.
Last night, it was mostly bad.
The tactics were all wrong — not for the first time, simply sticking with a winning formation and lineup regardless of circumstance or opponent didn’t produce the hoped for outcome — and not rotating at all after the exertions of Sunday night and after a month of extreme fixture congestion was foolishly naive as well. Leaving Christian Pulisic on the bench was an especially hilarious choice, especially given his jaw-dropping impact when introduced on the hour-mark.
And then, there’s Kepa Arrizabalaga, who’s once again the lightning rod for all the criticism because he doesn’t dive helplessly and instead just stares helplessly. People of course appreciate effort.
But the one thing we should appreciate more than just raw effort is actually good defending, strong midfield play, and not making stupid mistakes. Firmino getting between Zouma and Azpilicueta for a free header is not on Kepa. Willian turning the ball over to Keïta, with Jorginho and Kovačić both ahead of the ball already and Rüdiger not stepping up to give a free shot from 20 yards is not on Kepa — we seemingly can’t play Liverpool without someone scoring a worldie. Speaking of which, Trent Alexander-Arnold producing a world class free kick from what was, at best a questionable foul, is not on Kepa. Jorginho handling a Giroud clearing header on a corner and the ball falling to Wijnaldum for a snap-shot is not on Kepa.
And so on.
Kepa’s of course not faultless, and certainly not flawless. He’s a non-presence in the six-yard box and on crosses and he has this amazing ability to make himself seem smaller than his nearly six-foot frame. His statistics are trash, and it’s been decided that he’s the worst. At this point, the narrative’s set to hound him out even if he improves, just like Courtois and his open wickets.
But Kepa’s far from the team’s only problem, and maybe not even the biggest problem, despite the deluge of criticism and constant overdue attention on him from all quarters, online and off, fans, media, Twitter, everyone.
Lampard recognizes that, at least in public.
Conceding five goals is a collective failing. Finding someone to blame might make it easier to handle things, but it’s far too narrow a view to be actually useful.
“No, I wouldn’t talk about individuals in a game where we have conceded those goals. Some were real quality Liverpool finishes, particularly the free kick.
“There were some collective and individual errors [and] we know if we make mistakes like that against a team of the quality of Liverpool, this is what can happen. But there were a lot of good things in the game so I certainly don’t want to get into an individual conversation about players.”
It would be amazing and rather convenient if all we needed to do was change the goalkeeper to suddenly turn Chelsea into a title-contending team, consistent, confident, mistake-free.
But that’s going to take time. It might of course involve jettisoning Kepa — if we can work that out somehow — but he probably should have company as we light that one-way rocket into the Sun.
However, that’s not the focus right now and nor should it be. We have two games left, with two goals to accomplish: finishing in the top four and winning the FA Cup.
“I don’t want to dwell on how many goals we have conceded now. I want to concentrate on where we are at where we have got a game to go and we want to win that game to get into the top four. You can reflect on a season and how many goals you have scored, how many chances you have created and what was our chance conversion. We know we have to improve on different elements of our game.
“At the same time, with the challenges that were put on us all at the start of the season, we have it in our hands to try to win one more game. Now, in the big picture, do we want to improve on how we defend. Of course we want to improve, that’s part of the process but what we have now is that we have to be very positive in all sense about the game that’s in front of us.”
Kepa or not Kepa, Chelsea will have to do a lot better the next two weekends to finish the season in the top-four and with the FA Cup trophy as well.
“We’ve now got two big domestic games to play this week. It’s important we go together as players, fans, everybody, to finish the season how we want.”
-Frank Lampard; source: Football.London