Lampard out. Tuchel in. Welcome to Chelsea Football Club. While the Blues continued to be hot and cold throughout January 2021, and which continued on from their disappointing December form, there was a great sense of shock and sadness when living legend Frank Lampard was sacked from the Blues. Some will say he had it coming, whereas others will argue he was badly mistreated. Either way, his reign as Chelsea manager is over (for now). His replacement, the well known German tactician Thomas Tuchel, to his credit has come in and had a reasonably strong start to life at SW6 during his first two games in charge. The below outlines the key themes of January 2021 and examines the road ahead in February.
The below is intended to capture a monthly snapshot of Chelsea’s key themes in January 2021. Overall the big ticket themes observed in the past month are vastly different to that of October and November but similar to December. In a nutshell, it’s been an emotionally draining mixed bag.
To recap, Chelsea had the following results:
- January 4 – Chelsea 1 – 3 Manchester City
- January 11 – Chelsea 4 – 0 Morecambe
- January 17 – Fulham 0 – 1 Chelsea
- January 20 – Leicester 2 – 0 Chelsea
- January 24 – Chelsea 3 – 1 Luton Town
- January 28 – Chelsea 0 – 0 Wolves
- January 31 – Chelsea 2 – 0 Burnley
As outlined above, the Blues continued their December trend of being good one match and then look a shadow of themselves the next. While not as bad as the previous month, this flip-flopping in form and results ultimately saw the departure of club legend Frank Lampard from the Chelsea dugout. That said, despite the departure there is a sense that Lampard did have a successful stint at the club and will go on from here, learn from this experience, and become a great manager.
While the brutal axing of Lampard is still raw for many fans across the world, the appointment of German mastermind Thomas Tuchel has eased some of this tension and anxiety following two reasonably strong performances against Wolves and Burnley respectively in just over a week in the Blues hot seat.
Although it’s early days for ‘Lil Tuchy’, the signs are positive. He looks genuinely enthusiastic and willing to experiment with the entire squad so as to work out the best fit for his defined style of play. Importantly, his introduction has reinvigorated a squad devoid of confidence and motivation, and, has allowed the opportunity for the squad to put their best foot (head) forward to make a spot their own. Will be interesting to see who boards the Tuchel train!
So without further ado, let’s delve into the key themes of Chelsea’s performances during January 2021 and look to the road ahead.
Lampard out, Tuchel in
Since mid-Deccember, Chelsea had played 8 Premier League matches and won 2 of these, including picking up 5 losses along the way. There’s no sugar-coating that this was a truly dismal month for Lampard and Blues fans worldwide. A side of this calibre and star-studded talent simply should not be putting up those kinds of stats, irrespective of the circumstances. While the players are also accountable for these dire performances and results, ultimately the buck stops with the manager as it is (rightly or wrongly) up to him to help the team get back on track. As January 2021 continued, Lampard looked frustrated, and often found lost on the touchline when the team produced yet another unconvincing display. Following the 2-0 Leicester debacle, this ultimately sealed the fate of Frank, even though he was given a farewell gift of seeing his side progress to the 5th round of the FA Cup via the club’s next generation. In many ways this was the long-lasting legacy of Frank Lampard (bringing the youth throught). Despite his departure, Club owner Roman Abramovich was quick to release a statement (first time he’s done so when a a manager has been let go) to pay tribute to Frank and remind the world that he will forever remain a club legend.
Thomas Tuchel was then ushered in a couple of days before the crunch clash against Wolves and despite the solitary training session, the team put in an admirable effort to secure a well-earned 0-0 draw against the team that upset them a month or so ago. This was then followed up by a comfortable 2-0 win against Burnley. So far it’s been a bright and positive start for Tuchel, here’s hoping he continues to bring those good vibes and results back to Chelsea Football Club!
Hudson-Odoi and Mount remain bright
Despite the disappointing performances from the Blues for the most part of January 2021, both Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi (CHO) were bright sparks for Chelsea. Both players looked confident and assured, injected themselves with purpose and energy, and, look to be the two in-form players within the squad (along with the ever-present and experienced Thiago Silva who has been sensational).
Further, both players have shown their versatility in recent times, particularly CHO since his last two outings in the RWB position which is proving to be a master stroke from Tuchel. Blues fans will also be impressed with the link-up play between the two academy products and will want to see them maintain their positive impact on the squad for the remainder of the season (and beyond). Tuchel would have been pleased with what he saw from both of these players during his first two games in charge and will be hoping they maintain their intensity both on and off the ball.
The ‘big’ teams continue to be a problem
In January 2021 we suffered two comprehensive losses to two ‘big’ clubs. Firstly, Manchester City totally and utterly dominated the Blues to win 3-1. In truth, the consolation goal for Chelsea at the end made the score line look a lot more respectable than what actually transpired. Secondly, and the game that reportedly sealed Lampard’s fate, was the 2-0 loss against the Foxes. Again, this was a game which could’ve been uglier than the scoreboard suggested. The truly sad aspect in both of these games is that we never looked close to dishing up a competitive match. On both occasions we consistently looked flat, short of inspiration and of course, we failed to tactically out-muscle or even respond against these two superior opponents. These matches were red flags that something was critically wrong at Cobham.
These losses maintained a similar trend for Chelsea during the 2020-21 season, that is, the Blues continue to struggle against opponents that are close to the Premier League summit. The only top 6 side Chelsea have beaten this season is West Ham 3-0 back in mid-late December. Even during that game it wasn’t an overly convincing display but two late, quick-fire strikes from Tammy Abraham sealed the win. Thomas Tuchel will be aware of this unflattering statistic and will look to change this pattern starting against Tottenham this week.
Squad depth being utilised and formation fluidity
Not so long ago there was a certain familiarity (and perhaps predictability) with Chelsea that was emerging. The Blues identified the 4-3-3 as being the preferred system, and the players featuring in that system, by and large, were pretty consistent. This meant that, given the inflated squad that had lots of seasoned campaigners and internationals, there would be some unhappy campers sitting in the background not feeling too good about themselves, especially as the younger stars were shining brightly while they faded into obscurity. It was reported that Lampard had a core set of players that he trusted and spoke with regularly while the remaining players felt marginalised.
With that, as the losses and poor form started to unfold, the pressure from the fringe players grew and then the inevitable happened. Then, in comes the new German boss and all of a sudden he has seemingly created a clean slate for everyone to prove themselves which has already started to pay dividends. Squad players such as Marcos Alonso and Jorginho have been performing strongly since being called upon by Tuchel. Further, Tuchel has decided to adopt a hybrid 3 at the back approach and deployed the likes of CHO and Alonso in those wing-back positions which appears to be a working formula at the minute. Whether or not this system, or players featuring in it, over the past two games is indicative of his preferred line-up and style is to be determined. What is clear though is that Tuchel is already looking to shake things up and experiment based on what he knows works for him. Given his comments recently and previous patterns, I suspect he will give everyone an opportunity to stake their claim and that he will adjust his tactics based on the opponent i.e. be flexible as required.
Tuchel Train gets Blues back on track
As mentioned above, prior to Tuchel coming to Chelsea, the Blues had been going through a topsy-turvy January 2021 and continued to have the shackles hanging on from the dreadful December period. However, once joining, it was clear from his very first press conference, and subsequent first training session, that this was a manager who has a clear set of principles and philosophy about how he wants to approach things.
He appears to be honest, respectful, considered, enthusiastic, passionate and most importantly, well aware of the big expectations that come with managing a club like Chelsea. In particular, Tuchel did not shy away from the fact that he is expected to bring success in the form of trophies, and that begins with reversing the club’s recent form slump. To his credit, during his very brief time in charge, the profound positive effect he has had on the club, and the way he has conducted himself in the various interviews, has been exceptional. While the heartache and pain of Lampard’s departure will take a long time to fully heal, as a Chelsea fan first and foremost, watching the way Tuchel has gone about his business to date (including his personality), has been first class. Further, watching his first two performances and listening to the way he presents his ideas for the squad, it’s hard not to get excited as a Blues fan. Here’s hoping he can quickly convert his vision into reality!
The road ahead (February 2021)
Chelsea had a bumpy and painful road in January 2021, but towards the end there was cause for optimism. During February, the Blues play 4 matches in the Premier League against Spurs first up, then followed up by Sheffield United, Newcastle, and Southampton. Adding to this list of fixtures is a 5th round FA Cup clash on the 12th February, and, the blockbuster Champions League clash (1st leg) against Spanish giants and current La Liga leaders Athletico Madrid (great prize for topping our group!) on February 24.
Tuchel will be hoping that he can conjur up a vital victory against London rivals Spurs to kick-off the month, which in turn can help the team then string up a series of wins against some teams outside the top 6, as well as progress through to quarter finals of the FA Cup. If this goes as planned, this will help the Blues build up some positive steam as they approach the monster clash against Simeone’s men.
All in all, an exciting yet challenging month for Lampard’s, I mean Tuchel’s Chelsea (still getting used to that). Should they continue to grow and rack up the wins following their recent good performances against Wolves and Burnley, this could be the month they look back on as the one that resurrected their season. As a passionate Blue, I certainly hope this is the case!
Tune into next month’s edition to see what were the key themes present in Chelsea’s performances during that period, and the road ahead for March.
Written and edited by Ross-John (RJ) Bonaccorsi (@RJ_Goodthings)