Chelsea 2020/21 Revisited: December 2020

Lampard watches on in frustration as the good runs come crashing to an end. (Photo by Jon Super - Pool/Getty Images)
Lampard watches on in frustration as the good runs come crashing to an end. (Photo by Jon Super – Pool/Getty Images)

Game 18/60: Sevilla vs Chelsea

Owing to the later season start, games were more congested than ever before, something that was talked about repeatedly, by some managers more than others. But for every team December was undoubtedly the month of hell for the pure number of games being played in the space of just one month. With a game on average every three or four days for Chelsea, this would be the month that could make or break a season. Sadly for Frank Lampard, we all know what happened here. Still, for the first game things went better than anyone could’ve expected – it was the toughest game of the group, an away match against Sevilla.

The Blues went into it knowing that a win would secure knockout qualification – and boy did they deliver. There was one man who deserves all the credit after the performance he put in however, and that’s Olivier Giroud. The striker didn’t have the opportunities to play the most amount of games during the season, but when he did he took his chances just as you would want an ever-prolific striker to do. Just seven minutes in, the Frenchman cleverly cut onto his left foot and flicked a shot past the keeper and from then on it truly was all about him. In the second half he scored again in the opening ten minutes, tucking away a delightful right-footed chip but that was nowhere near him done for the night. A cross from N’Golo Kante of all people was met with a perfect header and Giroud had his hat trick which was absolutely deserved.

Not only had he scored three goals, it was a ‘perfect’ set too, with one from either foot and his head. Even after his hat trick, he was hungry for more and he fulfilled this desire by scoring a penalty which he had won himself to add a cherry on top of the world-class cake he had baked in Seville. It was moments like that, from players like that, which were instrumental in Chelsea’s European run and, while nobody could’ve known the heights that would go on to be reached, it certainly provided the groundwork for the potential for such a run.

Game 18/60: Sevilla 0-4 Chelsea
Giroud celebrates his perfect hat-trick as Chelsea destroy Sevilla. Credit | Getty Images
Giroud celebrates his perfect hat-trick as Chelsea destroy Sevilla. Credit | Getty Images

Game 19/60: Chelsea vs Leeds

A few days later, it was back at the Bridge but this time there was something extra special about the game because for the first time in almost nine months, there were fans back in stadiums, albeit in much smaller numbers than we were used to. 2,000 lucky supporters, selected via a ballot, were spaced out in the lower tier for a clash against old rivals Leeds United and, despite the noise not being quite as loud as usual, it was truly awe-inspiring to hear simple chants, cheers and even boos back in a live setting.

The game itself actually got off to a bad start for the home team as former striker Patrick Bamford struck early, dampening spirits briefly for those who had been allowed in. Somehow, and I genuinely still have no idea how even after watching highlights countless times, Timo Werner managed to block a Chelsea header from going in by attempting to tap it in himself, before hitting the spinning ball onto the crossbar which was eventually cleared away by Leeds’ defenders. Half an hour in though, Chelsea did get the equaliser and it was courtesy of the red-hot Olivier Giroud who expertly guided a Reece James cross into the back of the net, and the roar from the crowd, even if it was reduced, was wonderfully palpable.

Werner had two more shots saved by Illan Meslier but from the resulting corner Kurt Zouma rose highest and, now familiar to many, he fired the ball home to put the Blues ahead, much to the delight of the players and staff, as well as the fans right around the stadium. Werner did finally make a tangible impact on the game in injury time as he used his blistering pace to carry the ball into a position where he could cut back for Christian Pulisic to finish it off and secure a win. Chants of ‘We’re top of the league’ rang around Stamford Bridge and, courtesy of the result, the Blues would stay there for another few hours yet. Of all the games when fans could’ve returned, this one felt most appropriate – old rivals, a plethora of chances and going top of the league. What more could you want?

Game 19/60: Chelsea 3-1 Leeds

Game 20/60: Chelsea vs Krasnodar

Fans were once again present for the home game against Krasnodar and, while it meant very little because the Blues had virtually already guaranteed first place, it was still a competitive game for supporters to be in-person for. Little did they know, this would also be the last game for some time as just a few days later further restrictions would be reapplied in the country, dooming fans to exile for at least the next few months.

Regardless, this was also a pivotal game for the fact it was the final one in the long unbeaten run that had been going on since September, with the games afterwards setting the precedent for the demise of the head coach at the time. It is quite fitting though that the final game with fans for Frank Lampard was the game which extended his longest unbeaten run as manager. Speaking of the game, it was a chance for youngsters to show their worth primarily, with Billy Gilmour being the particular star of the show as he always seems to be when he plays. The young Scot looked right at home in a European tie, albeit meaningless, as he controlled the midfield for the best part of 90 minutes.

Krasnodar did take the lead via some sloppy defending but the Blues hit back, with Jorginho scoring a penalty won by Tammy Abraham. The remainder of the game was relatively quiet, with the main chance falling to the aforementioned English striker as he pounced on a moment of mis-control and saw his effort saved well by Gorodov. There was an appearance for Tino Anjorin who, like Gilmour, certainly didn’t look out of place and while his moments were far more sporadic throughout the season, he will feel that he has a chance of breaking through just like those who have starred for the club in recent times, something that truly is the defining legacy of one man only in Frank Lampard.

Game 20/60: Chelsea 1-1 Krasnodar

Game 21/60: Everton vs Chelsea

On the 12th December 2020, Frank Lampard’s time as Chelsea coach changed drastically, in irreversible fashion. It seemed routine enough – an away trip to Everton who had Ancelotti at the helm. Of course it was by no means an easy game – the Toffees had had a brilliant start to the season and they had fans back at Goodison Park – but on recent form few would’ve betted against Chelsea at least getting a point. As it turned out, this was a miserable Saturday evening for the Blues as things simply never went right. It was a familiar tale of a vast amount of possession never capitalised upon and ultimately the game was decided by a poor decision from Edouard Mendy.

He came clattering into Dominic Calvert-Lewin, misjudging his timing and Gylfi Sigurdsson rolled his penalty past the keeper as cool as ice. Perhaps, as mentioned, if there were no fans inside the ground the Blues would’ve been motivated enough between themselves to fashion up a comeback, but the exuberance of those supporting the home side appeared to diminish any hopes of that happening. Reece James came the closest for the visitors, forcing a save from a free kick and lashing a shot against the post but in truth Lampard’s side did not deserve anything from their performance.

As a solitary result, this was by no means the worst of the season (that’s to come in a couple of weeks), but it was the catalyst for a run that meant the end of the tenure of Chelsea’s well-loved head coach and it begs the question – could things have gone differently? It seems futile to question it now as things cannot be altered, but had just one of the two shots that hit the post found their way in, who knows what may have occurred in the rest of the season. Yet, equally, without the loss of a streak, players may have become overconfident and lost it later on, when it really mattered. That’s the thing about football – one game can change everything.

Game 21/60: Everton 1-0 Chelsea

Game 22/60: Wolves vs Chelsea

There was little time to dwell on the result in Merseyside when there was another game just three days later, this time in the Midlands against Wolves. A team who had exceeded many people’s expectations in their first two seasons back in the top flight, they were underperforming by their own standards this season, though admittedly it was in large part due to the loss of their main goalscorer Raul Jimenez. The fact it was an underperforming team, combined with the previous result for Chelsea may have led you to believe that a bounce back was on the cards, and for a while it seemed as if that was going to be the case.

After a first half which saw two missed headers for the away side, it was Giroud who got the opener with a stunning volley from a Ben Chilwell cross that somehow made its way through Rui Patricio’s grasp, likely as a result of the sheer power on the shot. It took confirmation from the referee’s watch, but when he got the buzz on his wrist he confirmed that Chelsea were one up and it looked as though team spirit had not been affected by the loss just days earlier. That was until Daniel Podence showed exquisite footwork to dummy multiple shots and fire an unstoppable strike past Mendy. While the goal itself was a thing of beauty, the defending prior to it was certainly not something to behold – failure to clear the ball on more than one occasion left Chelsea open to exploitation from a little bit of magic, and that’s exactly what happened.

By the fifth minute of added time, with chances few and far between for either side, it seemed that a point would be shared, something that Chelsea could hope to build on. In a gut-wrenching moment though, Wolves launched a rapid counter attack and Pedro Neto delivered the knockout blow for the Blues and as far as Lampard was concerned, he would never truly get back up off the canvas.

Game 22/60: Wolves 2-1 Chelsea

Game 23/60: Chelsea vs West Ham

The next result was, in all honesty, a pure anomaly with regards to what happened before it and the games which came after it. West Ham were the surprise team of the season, with David Moyes doing an absolutely brilliant job to lead his side to a Europa League finish following their relegation battle just one year before. Around this time they were fighting for the top four and would do so to almost the final day so many expected this to be yet another difficult match that the Blues would struggle immensely to get any sort of result from. While it wasn’t the easiest game, the scoreline suggests otherwise and, in football, that is effectively all that matters.

Thiago Silva headed in a Mason Mount corner for his second goal for Chelsea and, bar a cross-shot from Aaron Cresswell, the Hammers rarely threatened at the other end, being more concerned with protecting their own net than attacking their opposition’s. Yet, for the majority of the game, they did stand firm and there were more than a few worried faces as the game neared its final quarter and commentators began to talk of potentially dropping points with a counter attack on the break. Thankfully for those supporting the home side, such a goal never came and instead there were two more from the team playing in royal blue, both scored by Tammy Abraham.

Both were simple tap-ins but, as the old saying goes, he had to be there to score them, something a certain Timo Werner would’ve liked to have been able to reflect on after the match. He squandered another two one on ones, with the second crashing against the crossbar and it’s impossible not to feel sorry for him at times as his luck appeared to be against him in phenomenal proportion. Missed chances aside, this was a good victory for Chelsea as they nullified virtually all attacking threat from Moyes’ side, but alas it was not to last and this ended up being just a brief moment of optimism among an overall wave of negativity that had already started to build up both behind the scenes and in public too.

Game 23/60: Chelsea 3-0 West Ham
Abraham celebrates helping Chelsea to a much needed victory over West Ham. (Photo by CLIVE ROSE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Abraham celebrates helping Chelsea to a much needed victory over West Ham. (Photo by CLIVE ROSE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Game 24/60: Arsenal vs Chelsea

Allow me to set the scene for this next game, if you will, as I believe it’s important to have context when talking about what was not only the most frustrating but also the single worst result of Chelsea’s 2020/21 season. It was Boxing Day, things had taken a slight turn for the worse at Chelsea but a recent win against top four rivals West Ham had reboosted their confidence once again, or so it seemed. Their opponents were London rivals again, this time away from home at the Emirates – it was Arsenal. The Gunners, under the leadership of Mikel Arteta, had endured one of their worst starts to a season ever. They hadn’t won a game in the league nearly two months  – a run of eight games – and had an absolutely woeful disciplinary record.

Effectively, while it was a derby, there looked to be only one team who even had a chance of winning. As these things so often seem to turn out however, the narrative was flipped on its head entirely and Chelsea fans could do nothing but watch from home as their team spectacularly fell apart against such poor opposition. A debatable penalty call started the chain reaction of destruction among Chelsea ranks, with Reece James being adjudged to have fouled Kieran Tierney in the box. Alexandre Lacazette was put in charge of dispatching the gift they had been given and he duly did so. As if things couldn’t get any worse though, one minute before the break Arsenal found themselves with a free kick around 30 yards out.

In truth, most probably turned away from their screens at this point, half expecting to be able to get straight up and leave the room for 15 minutes – especially if they were Chelsea fans. Ironically, that’s probably exactly what many did, but it wasn’t because the half was over. Instead, they witnessed Granit Xhaka curl an absolute gem of a set piece into the top right corner, crushing hopes of an easy comeback in the second half. Still, following the interval there were still hopes that the Blues could regain the confidence they had before the game and pull it back to at least gain a point despite the dismal performance. It was not to be though, as just 10 minutes into the second half, Bukayo Saka mishit a cross which looped over Mendy and bounced in off the post, firmly ending any hope of Lampard’s side gaining anything out of this game.

Speaking of the head coach, he was clearly just as frustrated with the result as any fan watching, but it did begin to feel as though the same messages were repeated time and time again, yet there was no manifestation of genuine change occurring with the performances. It’s worth mentioning that Abraham did get one back with a smart chest finish and Jorginho had the chance from the spot to make it 3-2, at which point who knows what would’ve happened, but he failed to capitalise and saw his spot kick saved by Leno. To be frank, it wouldn’t have been fair on Arsenal for them to see their lead destroyed, however much it might’ve been their own undoing – they were by far the better side and anything less than a win would’ve been extremely cruel on them.

For Chelsea, it was the most dispiriting, depressing and discouraging performance of the entire season – the entire team had a severe lack of motivation and failing to regain that was what ultimately cost Lampard his job.

Game 24/60: Arsenal 3-1 Chelsea

Game 25/60: Chelsea vs Aston Villa

Just 48 hours after the London derby loss, the Blues were back in action again in a sign of the sevre fixture congestion in between Christmas and New Year. It was a home game against Aston Villa and, with the Blues languishing in 8th place, a chance to move back up the table. As seemed to be the case in virtually all games at this point though, it ended up being a story of missed opportunities and two points dropped was certainly far more appropriate than one point gained in the end.

A visit from Villa of course meant John Terry returning to the club where he had so much success and the Chelsea inside of him might’ve been smiling 34 minutes in when Giroud netted the first goal of the game. A low header was placed with perfection past Emi Martinez and the team (which was fairly different to the eleven who played Arsenal, owing to the tight turnaround), huddled around him to celebrate. The Blues made it to half time 1-0 up, but once again the second half saw issues arise. An Aston Villa attack saw Andreas Christensen go down after a collision with Jack Grealish, but the referee chose to wave play on.

Around 20 seconds later though, El Ghazi fired an equaliser through the legs of Mendy and, to Chelsea’s annoyance, no sympathy was given to the injury for Andreas Christensen, with the goal allowed to stand. John McGinn then saw his long range effort cannon off of the crossbar, before Chilwell smashed a volley across the face of goal, flying whiskers wide of the post. In all fairness, a draw was relatively fair based on the balance of the game, but for Lampard it was another example of a lack of determination and resilience when it was needed the most.

Game 25/60: Chelsea 1-1 Aston Villa

Month Statistics:
Games Played: 8
Games Won: 3
Games Drawn: 2
Games Lost: 3

Month in three words: Crashing Back Down.

Written by Noah Robson (@noahr24_)

Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)

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