Alarm bells should be ringing incessantly at Chelsea following their 2-0 home loss to Manchester United on Monday night. Yes, Harry Maguire should have received a straight red for kicking out at Michy Batshuay 20 minutes into the match. And yes, VAR stole at least one goal from the Blues in the second half; Kurt Zouma’s thunderous strike would have equalized the match.
However, those aren’t the reasons for Chelsea’s loss or concern. Having won only one of their previous six Premier League games, the Blues find themselves in real danger of missing the top four. Or five, with Manchester City’s recent UEFA ban.
Alarm Bells Ringing For Chelsea After Recent Loss
Past Ills Re-emerge
Everything that has plagued the Blues throughout the season reared its ugly head in this match as well. Like so many other occasions this year, Chelsea couldn’t finish. Michy Batshuayi, starting in place of the injured Tammy Abraham, missed two golden chances in front of the net.
Substitute Mason Mount banged a free-kick off the post, and that sums it up as Chelsea managed one shot on target out of 17.
Mount wasn’t even supposed to play. He started on the bench, maybe trying to extend his winter break a by a couple of days after playing all previous 25 Premier League games. With N’Golo Kante getting injured in the opening ten minutes, Mount found his day-off cut short early.
Kante’s newest setback only adds to the injury-riddled season he’s had so far. Abraham missed the match as well with an injury. Callum Hudson-Odoi was not available for selection for the same reason. Christian Pulisic still finds himself in the trainer’s room every day as well.
With that much attacking talent unavailable, it’s no wonder Chelsea have seen the goals and points dry up recently. But other previous problems, like set pieces, hampered them again. Maguire, although he shouldn’t have been on the pitch in the first place, headed home the second goal from a Bruno Fernandes corner.
It may feel cathartic to blame VAR for Chelsea’s dropped points at home to United. Speaking frankly, VAR was not the cause of Chelsea’s misery. It certainly didn’t help, but it didn’t cause it either.
Goalkeeper Situation Detrimental to the Team?
After the loss to United, manager Frank Lampard spoke critically of VAR, saying it “didn’t do it’s job.” And while he’s right to do so, he may be naively shooting himself in the foot in the first place.
In Chelsea’s draw against Leicester City before the winter break, back-up goalkeeper Willy Caballero started in place of club-record signing and most expensive keeper in the world Kepa Arrizabalaga. While Caballero did make some key saves against the Foxes, he didn’t really cover himself in glory for most of the 90 minutes.
Against United, he started again and it was more of the same. Granted, he wasn’t responsible for either goal – Anthony Martial’s header into the far corner from an Aaron Wan-Bissaka cross or Maguire’s header. However, the question, of course, is whether Arrizabalaga would’ve saved those.
Lampard clearly views playing the Spaniard as a liability even though his only alternative is maybe marginally less error-prone. Moreover, the manager is blatantly intent on sending a message to the board that he wants a new goalkeeper this summer, and he’s sending this message even at the risk of dropping out of the top four, or five, and missing the Champions League.
Lampard’s Long Leash
It’s a gamble, that’s for sure. It’s one that Lampard is taking because of his history with the club. If Maurizio Sarri had won one in six, he would have people calling for his head, his own fans openly mocking him and jeering him. Of course, that’s exactly what did happen to Sarri, and after far fewer drab performances.
Antonio Conte got the Blues to the Champions League last 16 and won the FA Cup in this second year. It was also his final year.
Lampard doesn’t have to worry about getting fired though. He’s Frank Lampard, a club legend. He’s a proper Chelsea man. He gets the benefit of the doubt. In a lot of ways, he gets absolved of blame as well, even with some circumstantial evidence like the transfer ban cause for cutting him slack.
And Lampard knows it. He’s taking advantage of his stature at the club knowing he has a longer leash than most would. He can push the envelope and get away with it more than someone who isn’t connected to the club like he is.
He’s dropped Fikayo Tomori, Chelsea’s best defensive player this year, after a string of mediocre performances in December. Two of three in which Chelsea won, beating Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. Mateo Kovacic, Chelsea’s likely player of the season, missed a few games recently, maybe for rest and rotation or maybe because he lost his spot. And of course, now the keeper situation.
Lampard’s matchday squads, bewildering rotation policy, and beef with Kepa have come under scrutiny recently. And rightly so as his decisions have coincided with all the top four rivals gaining significant ground on Chelsea in fourth.
Top Four in Doubt
With Chelsea on a slide and Tottenham, who come to Stamford Bridge Saturday, on a roll, the Blues could drop out of the top four by the end of this week. Even with Man City’s ban possibly giving a UCL spot to fifth place, Chelsea may still fail to qualify.
After signing Hakim Ziyech and reportedly still showing interest in Jadon Sancho, Chelsea need the revenue needed to cover these moves, especially after missing Europe’s top club competition more than once in recent seasons.
After losing to United, with Tottenham coming, and Everton not far down the road either, fourth place and that Champions League revenue is in doubt. Due to that, Chelsea should be worried. They should be ringing the alarm bells, getting prepared to send an SOS message.
As for Lampard, he may not want to take his job security for granted too much. His seat could get hotter than expected.