Frank Lampard is acutely aware of the difficulties he now faces at Chelsea after West Ham left him exasperated and now three games without a win. Deprived of the injured Tammy Abraham his side looked a shadow of themselves, the young striker quickly emerging as this team’s most indispensable player, a baffling scenario a few short months ago.
The England international, who hopes to be in contention for Aston Villa on Wednesday, provides an underappreciated presence, which has been downplayed due to the key aspect of his role: goals. Abraham, already with 11 goals this season, has been much more than that, meaning he has helped disguise the inadequacies of an inconsistent attack. The Hammers left Lampard befuddled on the touchline, with Olivier Giroud rusty and unable to replicate Abraham’s dynamic ability to carve out openings for his speedy onrushing teammates.
“It’s not one player,” Lampard snapped when asked whether his side’s problems stemmed from Abraham’s absence alone. “It’s the team. We didn’t do enough in the final third. It’s been a story of the three games in the last week. Against Man City we got into the final third a lot but didn’t do enough. We had the choice of pass, cross or shot. It was similar in Valencia. Today we didn’t do that quite as much, we need to be more inventive. My main gripe is we’re not converting enough. Today we didn’t create quite as much.
“It felt to me the way the game was, with West Ham defending deeper, we needed some mobility, another player to go by one v one and take people out of the game and create something. The crosses they were defending very well.”
Lampard is searching though, with the mercurial Callum Hudson-Odoi introduced late on, leading to the experiment of Christian Pulisic as a false No 9, an option the Blues boss could return to in the weeks ahead.
“We’ll see,” Lampard remarked. “He has got an ability to run behind the line and be sharp in central areas, which will naturally get him more goals. We’ll see moving forward.”
Chelsea’s attacking issues and the pressing nature of solving them, given Jose Mourinho has extracted the desired reaction from Tottenham, to sit just six points back, requires attention elsewhere. The emergence of Reece James offers more composure in the final third from deep, especially in contrast to the poor service from Willian late on against West Ham.
That should match up nicely with Hudson-Odoi, who provided a similar threat from the opposite flank on Saturday. Cesar Azpilicueta’s presence and leadership is undeniably key for Lampard, but his attacking limitations are equally apparent. Yet neither Emerson or Marcos Alonso, two contrasting left-backs, are ideal for Lampard. The Italy international weaves his way neatly down the flank but lacks penetration when it truly matters, while the Spaniard has a clunky aspect when in possession, but has proven to be a real wildcard when desperately searching for a breakthrough.
The peculiar aspect to the full-backs slinging in crosses late on against West Ham was the diminutive presence of Pulisic in the box, further emphasising Abraham’s importance during both Plan A and contingencies.
Lampard’s job now is to solve the puzzle adequately before potential reinforcements come in January should their ban be lifted. There will be more pressure now on Giroud and Pedro to freshen up a side clearly weary from the midweek trip to Valencia. A demanding Lampard almost appeared irked by the suggestion that a lack of match practice contributed to their inability to prove decisive.
“I don’t want to talk about match fitness and sharpness, because we train hard here,” Lampard insisted. “I get it, I was a player, when you’re not playing regularly, the need for games is big.
“But we have to be ready to try and come in. You shouldn’t isolate individuals who haven’t played, then you could talk about a player who has been playing every game and wasn’t quite sharp. The reasons aren’t always as simple as they seem.”