Frank Lampard’s inescapable problem will be a useful benefit for Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea
Chelsea’s business in the summer transfer window resulted in the club possessing the strongest first-team squad in the Premier League.
However, that wasn’t entirely achieved by design.
While the Blues spent heavily to bring in the likes of Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and more, the club were unable to move on fringe players and those not in the plans of Frank Lampard.
It left Chelsea with a bloated squad come the end of the summer transfer window. There were five centre-backs for two positions, three left-backs, and too many midfielders, especially with Mason Mount and Kai Havertz often used as number eights.
Lampard was never going to find it easy to keep every player involved in his side on a regular basis. So it proved.
Antonio Rudiger and then Fikayo Tomori had spells outside the match-day squads. Marcos Alonso, meanwhile, was dropped entirely after a rather calamitous evening against West Bromwich Albion in September.
Jorginho rarely featured in the Premier League during the final weeks of Lampard’s reign. Callum Hudson-Odoi couldn’t shake his tag as an impact substitute. And it took Didier Deschamps to question Olivier Giroud’s future at Stamford Bridge for him to be given game time.
These examples aren’t to criticise Lampard. They merely highlight the reality of the situation he was in. If the likes of Rudiger, Jorginho and Hudson-Odoi were starting every game, other players would’ve been on the periphery.
Chelsea’s large squad, which currently contains 23 senior internationals, wasn’t the reason for Lampard’s downfall at Stamford Bridge. But it was undoubtedly a factor as to why things went wrong.
Yet in a curious twist of fate, what proved such an issue for Lampard is likely to be of huge benefit to Thomas Tuchel for the remainder of the campaign.
The German’s arrival at Stamford Bridge saw him give every member of the first-team squad a clean slate. Tuchel wasn’t interested in what had come before, he was only focused on what players could do going forward.
For his first game in charge against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Tuchel put his trust in several players who were not regulars under Lampard.
Cesar Azpilicueta started, Rudiger too. Jorginho was restored to the midfield alongside Mateo Kovacic. And Hudson-Odoi was used as a wing-back.
It felt fresher – at least in the context of this season – and although a victory wasn’t secured, the match ended 0-0, Tuchel has kept faith in that quintet since and been rewarded. He has also brought Alonso back into the side; the Spaniard scoring on his return against Burnley.
The inclusion of these players is important for Tuchel. The German wants Chelsea to press high up the pitch, to move the ball quickly, to attack with energy and intensity. That is not easy to achieve in this of all seasons.
Almost every Premier League side is pressing less this term, a consequence of the relentless fixture schedule. And as witnessed throughout the campaign, sustaining form over a prolonged period is far from easy due to physical and mental fatigue.
However, what Tuchel inherited from Lampard, admittedly due to good fortune, are several players who haven’t been run into the ground.
Alonso, for instance, has played only 405 minutes in all competitions, per Transfermarkt. That’s the equivalent of just four-and-a-half matches. Rudiger’s game time stands at 1,012 minutes. Hudson-Odoi’s total is 1,170. And Giroud has only racked up 782.
Hakim Ziyech, meanwhile, has played just 1,001 minutes, although that is because of injuries rather than selection decisions.
But those five and others such as Christian Pulisic and Tammy Abraham should be fresh enough in the coming weeks to have a telling impact under Tuchel.
And if they do step into the side and perform, that in turn gives the workhorses of the team – think Timo Werner and Mason Mount – a much-needed chance to recuperate ahead of the run-in.
This is an advantage Chelsea have very much stumbled into, and one that wouldn’t have occurred if the club had stuck by Lampard in truth. Tuchel must now make the most of it if he is to guide the Blues into the top four positions.