There are very clearly multiple facets to the dysfunctionality of this squad right now, and rightly so considering what has happened in the past year. Those who aren’t recent arrivals likely know they’re potentially on the chopping block and that the manager making team selections right now is not going to be the one determining their ultimate fate at the club. The new players are likely feeling deprived of valuable minutes to help them acclimate to the Premier League, as even Enzo Fernández looked incredulously towards the bench after being subbed off for three games running.
Those and other factors mean the morale cannot be anywhere near where it should be for a squad of such potential. While these are not tactics on the field of play, they are tactically applicable - man management is certainly a tactic, and some are better than others at it - and also certainly affect the quality of the job getting done on the field, or lack thereof at the current moment. At 350 to 1, there are far too reasonably available betting options to see us relegated.
And Frank Lampard must proceed with caution if he is expecting to continue to endear himself to the club (ignoring his managerial results) and deem himself Premier League employable for some other club. The possibility of finishing out the season without a win is becoming a very real and sad potentiality.
I honestly question what our expectations are with so few attackers on the pitch and zero focal point - there is no way that Conor Gallagher (1,82 metres) and N’Golo Kanté (1,71 metres) flanking Raheem Sterling (1,7 metres) were expected to bag a goal via our incessant wide play (78% of our attack - 38% left and 40% right) or via our 28 crosses, which connected with someone in the box a grand total of three times. Their three centre backs totaled 5,75 metres cumulative in height while our attacking trio was 5,23 metres (18 feet, 10.3 inches vs 17 feet, 1.8 inches Imperial.) Expecting them to win more crosses than that would have been unreasonable, and the tactic is what needed changed.
However, this all stems back from a Thomas Tuchel tactic and specific passing pattern that seems to be our main reliable way of moving the ball up the pitch, but also does so by keeping it in wide areas and overloading the ball-side flank while having very little central presence. Tell me how many times you have seen this passing pattern play out in this exact sequence.
Recycled across the back line to Kepa, a withdrawn midfielder, this time Enzo Fernández, takes it wide, stretching the opposition well and finding the space and open man to move the ball forward.
Wesley Fofana obliges and takes the ball down the line to a retreated César Azpilicueta, who already knows he is laying the ball off for N’Golo Kanté and then pancaking right back down that flank into the offense. Kanté and Fofana come out with the ball and progress it into a more threatening area of the pitch and still with decent pace to our attack.
At this point below, after Fofana deftly finds the runs of Mateo Kovačić and Conor Gallagher in the middle of the park, our attack is exactly how we have done it since Tuchel’s era, with an overload in a specific area of the pitch, numbers barreling forward, all against a defense and midfield that have been stretched. In fact, if Fofana continues into the attack, we have a 6v5 break against only two central defenders properly positioned and their midfield in disarray on the recovery. Kovačić leaves it for Gallagher who continues to move the ball forward to Sterling.
Sterling slows the play down, much like we always do in the final third, and their defense is able to completely set up, taking away the impetus of our attack and forcing Sterling into a terrible decision to shoot from outside the box over the net. In that sequence, Gallagher gives the ball to Sterling at 32:52, but it isn’t until 32:58 that Sterling takes the ill-advised shot. Each pass/touch in the buildup to that had been one or two touch and move it on, while Sterling literally stands still upon first receiving the ball because he does not know what he is going to do with it. And in analysing the image below, while Kovačić certainly has a better angle and is seemingly calling for the ball, the fact that we went from a 6v5 with a poorly positioned defense to what is seen below, the pace of our final third play is simply far too slow. Defenses know that if they collapse centrally, we have no strikers that feed off crosses, and with the overload on the flank and no central presence in the build-up, it’s almost as though Chelsea have given up the idea of attacking the opposition’s box.
Only moments later, our indecisiveness would gift them the lead, after they once again scored from a set piece (15 on the season), even if this was an own-goal via Azpilicueta’s deflection (our 12th goal against via a set piece.) Even without a shot on target in the first half, the visitors had gotten a goal - though they did have more than twice our xG in the first half alone.
Lampard would add more direct attacking players and a better focal point in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (and Mikhailo Mudryk) at the half, and we would indeed have over 90% possession and some of our best chances in those first 10 minutes of the second half. Azpilicueta and Gallagher made way for the substitutes and the formation was shifted to a 4-3-3, with Sterling shifting into a wide role.
The focal point of Aubameyang was the most directly influential change made, and before the hour mark he would accumulate .79 xG from 4 separate chances. Thomas Frank was reactive to this and made a triple change to help secure more possession, specifically higher up the pitch. And one of those changes would add the dagger to our hearts late on in the match, and that second goal means that we have now conceded more than in last year’s Premier League campaign with 6 games still to go.
But Bryan Mbeumo changed the complexion of the game when he came on, with he and Ivan Toney harassing our back line much more efficiently, and thereby allowing Brentford to grow back into the game via possession. Any penetrating runs or passes that we made into the final third were snuffed out sufficiently enough and the game, and David Raya was able to pad more stats, already having made the most saves in the Premier League this season.
And so this abysmal spell continues and has left us both longing for the past (Tuchel in fact earned a third (13) of our 39 points this season in only 6 games at the helm) or longing for the future and a new season without the
distraction luxury of European football and a new manager leading the charge. This is now the seventh match played at the Bridge where we have failed to score, and our form in all of the tables above continues to dive towards the depths of those teams bound for relegation. With only one win from our last 7 against Arsenal, it might get worse before it gets better.