When Chelsea first played Crystal Palace this season, back in early November, Tammy Abraham opened the scoring Chelsea’s 2-0 win with his 10th goal of the Premier League season (in just 10 games!). It had made him the league’s joint-top goalscorer at the time.
Fast forward seven months (including a three-month break), and Abraham is still looking for goal No. 14. That’s 3 goals in his last 17 Premier League appearances (13 starts), including none in his last eight. Four of his last five appearances have come off the bench, commensurate with his drop in form and the habitual re-emergence of Olivier Giroud.
With an unsigned contract and Timo Werner looming, questions are being asked about the 22-year-old’s future, which in itself is a drastic narrative shift from the early season when we’re all celebrating the Chelsea Academy graduate breaking the “Curse of the No.9 Shirt”.
So, is the Curse back?
Head coach Frank Lampard doesn’t think so, but he certainly has a few words of public advice for the youngster.
“What needs to be in his mind now is these games we have coming up and how much he can give us on the pitch, whether he’s coming on as sub or starting games.
“He has had a really good season. He hasn’t scored so much in the second half of the season and, as a young player, it’s always clear when you have those periods there’s only one way out of it. That’s work and repetition in training – every moment you get trying to make the most out of it.
“I just think that’s where Tammy’s at. The contract will hopefully look after itself between him and the club.
“He just needs to focus on giving us that Tammy that we had earlier in the season, who was giving defenders so much of a problem during games and scoring regularly. It all came form how he was training and working through the week. You could see it in his demeanour, which meant he performed on the match days. That’s what he just has to sustain all the time.”
Abraham has two years left on his contract, but unlike most of his fellow Academy graduates in the team, he’s yet to agree a long-term extension. Reports continue to claim that he’s looking for pay-parity with Callum Hudson-Odoi, which certainly makes sense, but progress on the deal has been slow, to say the least. And now the situation has only gotten more complicated.
While Lampard doesn’t believe the contract situation is weighing on Tammy’s mind, the head coach’s words certainly give the impression that the youngster isn’t fully focused on the task at hand. This has become an emerging theme for Lampard during these games behind closed doors, where outside motivation (i.e. fans) is lacking and players have to get up for games among themselves.
It’s also important to remember that Tammy is still young. He may be confident and ambitious, but he’s still just 22. Frank Lampard wasn’t even a Chelsea player at age 22.
“We get very excited with young talent and young players, and rightly so. We’ve seen it this season and that’s why I try to stay pretty grounded when I get asked a lot about the youth, particularly earlier in the season. It’s really hard to come into this Premier League with the level that it’s at and sustain performances or be in the side all the time. There’s competition, games are hard.
“So whether its Tammy, whether it’s Mason, whether it’s Fikayo – they’ll all have periods of real input, playing regularly, and periods when they’re not so much. That’s something that we all have to be a bit calm with from the outside and expect that. The main thing for me, working behind the scenes with them all is they understand that and understand they will have those little moments and not lose confidence – I’m always there to support them on that one.
“But they also need to continue the work and never think they’ve cracked it. That’s a message for all the young players, not just mine.”
“I’ve been there, I know how hard it is to break through. But once you break through it’s possibly harder to sustain it and move on to the different level, which top players do – sustaining great performances for years. All these younger players here potentially have it. A lot of it is in their hands at this point.”
-Frank Lampard; source: Yahoo! Sports
Giroud may be playing well and scoring regularly, but given the congested fixture list, Abraham will have his chances yet this season, perhaps as soon as today.
Maybe in that most cliched way, all he needs is one goal to get things rolling again, on the pitch and at the negotiating table.