Chelsea travelled to recently promoted WBA to take on the Baggies, with many expecting a comfortable result for the Blues. Following the loss to Liverpool at the Bridge, it was crucial for the Blues to earn 3 points from this match and jump-start their league title challenge.
However, this was hardly the case. West Brom showed up to prove a point, while the Chelsea squad instead proved to Frank Lampard that deep-seated issues still exist within the squad. Money cannot fix every issue, and fans saw this on Saturday.
The match was a tale of two halves. One half was beyond abject, but the other displayed key moments of inspiration, resiliency, and grit to earn a point. Despite the grit, it would be hard to argue that Chelsea deserved the full 3 points from this match. It was simply too mistake-prone for a top club to stroll to a win.
This draw left me with swirling thoughts about the team and managerial decisions. Key issues were on display yet again throughout the first half, buy other key moments and substitutes also changed this match for the better. However, this still was collectively not good enough from those who represented the club on Saturday. A squad of Chelsea’s quality and financial input should not be struggling against clubs who are favored for relegation. This match has left many fans chattering about the players and managerial decisions, and here are my 5 key talking points after the West Brom match.
1. A Collection of Individual Mistakes
It is tough to get 3 points when nearly everyone on defense is committing team and individual errors. Chelsea showed that they are no exception to this on Saturday. The first goal was a terrible individual error from Marcos Alonso, who headed the ball straight to an opponent.
I also am critical of the positioning of the other defenders once the squad was caught in transition from Alonso’s misplaced header. It seemed as if Silva, Christensen, and Reece James were all slow to react and close down the space between the goal and marauding opponents in attack, and this gave Callum Robinson a chance to pick his spot and power it past the flapping Willy Caballero. 1-0 WBA.
It did not get any better in this regard. The 2nd goal was another calamitous, individual mistake from a veteran defender. Around the 25th minute, Thiago Silva, despite all of his experience, leadership, and career achievements, committed a terrible error.
The ball was calmly played to Silva and as he went to get his foot to the top of the ball to control it, he missed. Next, Silva slipped/dived at the ball, completely missed, and watched from the turf as Callum Robinson raced through on goal to make it 2-0 to WBA. Simply put, these individual mistakes are not allowable when playing for Chelsea Football Club. More effort and concentration are needed in future matches.
2. Death, Taxes, and Lampard’s Defensive Set Piece Deficiencies
Some things are assured in life: death, taxes…and Lampard’s Chelsea side displaying poor defensive set-ups from set pieces? Perhaps it is time to admit the glaringly obvious: Lampard has been criticized as a manager (even since the Derby County days) for poor defensive tactics and results from defending set pieces. Last season saw many goals come against the squad from set pieces, and against WBA, this all-too-common issue reared its ugly head once again for the 3rd goal. West Brom were given a corner, and unsurprisingly, scored.
It was a lovely initial ball into the box that was clipped on for Kyle Bartley at the far post, who calmly slotted it past Caballero to make it 3-0 West Brom. This is clearly a trend now in Lampard’s career as a manager, and this must be rectified. A top club cannot dominate games, only to be scored on from poor set piece defending, especially against lesser competition or clubs, such as West Bromich Albion. Unfortunately, I am not overly hopeful this long-term deficiency will be alleviated quickly. The challenge is on Lampard to figure this out in training. I hope he can pass the test.
3. The Integral Cog: Mason Mount
Love him, hate him, fear him, try to run away from him. But he is not going anywhere. Mason Mount is here to stay in this squad for a long time, and the myriad of reasons were on full display against WBA. The first half saw Mount playing on the wing in the 4-2-3-1 formation. In this role, Mount still played decently enough. His key contribution as a winger came in the first half when Mount received the ball with a defender at this back, and he took a skillful turn-and-go of the ball and was clear through on WBA’s goal. He intelligently fizzed the ball across the box towards the top of the 18-yard line, and picked out Timo Werner, who unfortunately hit the crossbar with his first-time shot from Mount’s wonderful low cross.
Mason Mount did even more to inspire the squad and fans with his 2nd half performance. Mount was moved into a CM role within a 4-3-3 formation, and the results were devastating. Mount single-handedly willed the squad into the comeback spirit by blasting a goal from long-range that left the WBA goalkeeper completely flat-footed. Chelsea were granted a lifeline by Mount’s goal. But Mason was not done yet. Aside from his overall presence and influence on the game, he had a crucial involvement for the final goal to make it 3-3. Mount found space and was able to rifle a shot across goal, and the WBA GK spilled the shot, and it was an easy tap-in for Tammy. Mount deserves a lot of praise for his efforts, and he is integral to the Chelsea squad, no matter his position or role.
4. Callum Hudson-Odoi Changed the Game
Although Mason Mount was crucial for the comeback, CHO was just as – if not more – influential to the match than Mount. CHO was introduced at the start of the second half when he replaced Mateo Kovacic. CHO immediately responded by having some lively movements and dribbles with the ball and seemed to be a player who wanted to get involved in the attack. He looked as if he was playing with something to prove, and he proved his point.
CHO was active in getting crosses and dangerous balls to attackers throughout the second half, and his flick into the box eventually led to the 3rd goal scored by Tammy Abraham. CHO also had a sublime linkup play to find space and finish off the 2nd Chelsea goal with a highly composed piece of shooting. This was the performance everyone has been waiting to see out of CHO, and this surely should change some of the narrative currently surrounding the player. Big praise should be given to the young man after the WBA game. Congrats, Callum.
5. Cannot Lose Context
Despite the amazing comeback, this was collectively not good enough from the Chelsea squad and manager. This Chelsea squad, with the players, investments, and manager, should not be struggling to against a side that is favored for relegation. It is easy to be excited after the amazing comeback, but let us not forget the context that got the squad into the 3-0 deficit in the first place. There are concerns that the backline will continue to have issues, as the squad have already conceded 6 goals in the Premier League. Last season, Chelsea conceded a record number of goals against since Roman Abramovich purchased the club, and this must fixed. This is a key issue to monitor for the rest of the season.
Chelsea have only accrued 4 points from three matches in the Premier League, and this slow start is not ideal. The context is that the new, expensive signings to the squad need time, and the manager needs time to make it all work cohesively. Although I agree with time is required, this is Chelsea Football Club. The pressure will begin to pile on the manager and players if the issues are not quickly resolved and if the performances do not quickly improve. The comeback displayed grit within the squad, and I suspect the same grit will be what helps to alleviate these issues in the future.
Written by Travis Flock (@Crossroads_CFC)
Edited by Rob Pratley