Lampard stung by transfer ban at Old Trafford
Background photo: Anthony Parkes, CC BY-SA 2.0
The Premier League’s Matchday One is in the books and there are several things to take away from it even though judging a full season based on one round is foolhardy.
You can be certain some teams were ready for the season while others weren’t. Look at the number of blowouts over the weekend. Of the ten matches, five were won by three goals or more. As well, Tottenham defeated Aston Villa by a pair with new midfield man Tanguy Ndombele making the scoresheet.
The multiple-goal winners included two surprising names in Brighton and Burnley. You might expect Graham Potter’s Seagulls to score goals but such a complete performance over FA Cup finalists Watford is a shock. On the other hand, you just don’t expect Sean Dyche’s Clarets to romp over anyone. If the result against Southampton were reversed, you probably wouldn’t bat an eye. The question then is whether Ralph Hasenhuttl is overlooking his defence in the same way Daniel Farke appeared to at Norwich?
Perhaps the most surprising rout came at Old Trafford, however. After a shaky start, Manchester United absolutely had their way with Chelsea. Marcus Rashford struck twice, Anthony Martial once and newcomer Daniel James came on to sew up the match with a deflected goal. The young Welshman may have an exciting phone chat with his boss at Swansea last season, Graham Potter. Both enjoyed thrilling starts to the season in their new homes.
The two most noticeable players on the pitch were centre-halves, though. Harry Maguire was efficient and professional in his debut. The former Leicester man locked down the right side of the Blues attack throughout the match. At the other end, Kurt Zouma had a day for the sports psychologist. He nearly gave away the opener with a poor lateral pass at the top of the box, allowing Anthony Martial to force a save from Kepa Arrizabalaga. Shortly thereafter, his stab at the ball caught Marcus Rashford’s shin for a penalty. Later he would draw a yellow card for another clumsy challenge.
From Frank Lampard’s perspective, Zouma’s day rained on Chelsea’s parade.
There are loads of lessons for us. We can’t make unforced errors at this level.
They controlled the midfield early in the match, pressing United and containing them in their defensive third. While Aaron Wan-Bissaka was occupied with either Ross Barkley, Pedro or, in the final half-hour, Christian Pulisic, Emerson came forward from left-back to wreak havoc. Save for Tammy Abraham’s early shot that rang off the far post, the Brazilian-born Italian international was the only man to test David de Gea, ringing another early effort off the near post and forcing three saves from the Spaniard.
Had either ball off the woodwork [or both] gone in, I might be writing about United’s struggles in the defensive midfield. They didn’t, however, and Zouma panicked at the other end. Once the penalty was won, United’s midfielders came to life, turned the pressure on Chelsea and never looked back. Paul Pogba had two assists in the match, more than compensating for two or three occasions where his ball work bogged down United’s attack. Scott McTominay forgot his early uncertainty to make several confident interventions. A quick pair of goals shortly after the hour stunned Chelsea and allowed United to play with increasing freedom.
Maguire and Zouma’s contrasting performances illustrated the different situations in which their clubs find themselves. United spent most of the transfer window pursuing the competent, stabilizing central defender they so desperately needed. Under a transfer ban, Chelsea could not.
The Blues knew Eden Hazard was leaving and displayed the foresight to sign Pulisic in January. Whether the option to buy in Mateo Kovacic’s loan from Real Madrid was further prescience or simply good fortune, it allowed them to maintain their midfield depth. They could not predict the injuries that kept Antonio Rudiger and N’Golo Kante from starting the match, however.
Andreas Christensen returned from his Premier League exile under Maurizio Sarri to partner Zouma. The Dane was everything the Frenchman wasn’t. Cool, calm, well-positioned to stop United attacks. Whether Tiemoue Bakayoko would have been the better choice to start the match, rather than Zouma, is a matter of hindsight and speculation. Lampard probably lost sleep over the question last night, especially after allowing David Luiz to leave for Arsenal.
Chelsea face a busy August. They fly to Istanbul to face Liverpool in the UEFA Supercup on Wednesday evening then return to Stamford Bridge for a testy home opener against Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City. The clouds part somewhat with promoted sides Norwich and Sheffield United rounding out the month’s action.
Lampard must decide whether to give Zouma another chance in Turkey or go with a less-fit Rudiger who might also be needed for Sunday’s action.
We have Rudiger and Willian not far away; Callum and Ruben will be a bit longer than that. I don’t want that excuse, though.
One thing is clear. Chelsea’s backline is their Achilles’ heel this term. Had the Blues been able to do business in the transfer window, one solid centre-back signing would have made them a more imposing proposition for opponents in 2019/20.