In what was a shortened transfer window this summer, the undoubted big-time spenders were Chelsea. No longer restricted by a transfer ban, the Blues did not hold back, spending over £240 million on Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Ben Chilwell, Hakim Ziyech and Edouard Mendy, along with the additions of Thiago Silva and Malang Sarr on free transfers.
After a season in which Chelsea, and manager Frank Lampard, were applauded for finishing in the top four with a squad that mostly depended on its academy graduates, the huge summer squad investment meant that this was now the time for the rebuild project to go to the next level. Yet another title challenge was supposed to be on the horizon.
Chelsea’s Defensive Problems Threaten To Derail Their Rebuild
Worrying Display at West Bromwich Albion for Chelsea
Yet three games into this Premier League season and we are already seeing that Chelsea’s business in the summer may not have been as smart as it first seems. The forward line has undoubtedly been improved – Werner looks a dangerous prospect, Ziyech has proven quality and Havertz is one of Europe’s finest young talents. However, Chelsea’s backline remains a huge concern and Saturday’s 3-3 draw at West Bromwich Albion confirmed those fears, if they were not already there beforehand.
While Lampard will have been impressed with the desire of his side to come back from 3-0 down in the second half, along with goals from academy graduates Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Tammy Abraham showing the depth at his disposal, he will have been majorly concerned with a first-half display that left them with a mountain to climb against a club tipped to be in a relegation battle this season.
Chelsea were torn apart, and quite easily at that. While Kepa Arizabalaga has taken immense criticism for his poor displays in goal, his replacement, Willy Caballero, let in all three of the shots he faced at the Hawthorns. In front of him, Marcos Alonso’s poor headed clearance started West Brom’s attack for the opening goal, while debutant Silva’s woeful touch allowed Callum Robinson to fire home the second. The Brazilian may have been brought in to solidify Chelsea’s defence but he seemed to only add more issues to it.
Two unforced errors and before they knew it, Lampard’s side were 2-0 down. Then, from a corner, almost non-existent marking allowed Kyle Bartley to steer home Darnell Furlong’s flick-on. Again, Alonso was at fault, losing his man and then appealing to the linesman in desperation. It summed up Chelsea’s first-half display – lazy, careless, ill-disciplined, and lacking in concentration.
The Blues’ weaknesses were not just exposed by the goals, either. Alonso, who had a poor game throughout, was given a torrid time by winger Matheus Pereira and was constantly being beaten for pace and athleticism, even when he was given a head starts. There were also times when Alonso was playing so high up the field that he seemed to be positioning himself as a wing-back in a four-man defence. As a result, the space in behind gave West Brom plenty of encouragement. He was not the only one, though, Andreas Christensen looked slow and lethargic, while right-back Reece James was also leaving spaces in behind.
Saturday’s encounter was just an example of a problem that has been occurring throughout Lampard’s time as manager, so far. Chelsea conceded 54 league goals last season, more than any club in the top ten, including Sheffield United, Burnley, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City – clubs they are expected to leave behind this season. In addition, Chelsea have conceded 42 league goals away from home since the start of last season – four more than any other side – and have also conceded the most goals from set-pieces (11) during this period.
So while Chelsea improved their attack even more with big money additions, questions will be raised about why improving defence and goalkeeper situations were not prioritised during the summer spree. Both Silva and new keeper Mendy accounted for only £20 million of the £240 million spent and arrived in the second half of the window. The decision to strengthen an already strong area and almost ignore a weakness seems strange for a club usually smart when it comes to player recruitment.
Chelsea managed to nick a point at the Hawthorns on Saturday but there will be better sides than West Brom who won’t fail to see out such a commanding lead. The concern for Lampard is how his side can turn this around. Antonio Rudiger, once considered the best defender at the club, now finds himself out of the matchday squad entirely and could leave before the end of the window and Ben Chilwell, while likely to be an upgrade on Alonso, will take time to settle. The signing of 36-year-old Silva also does not seem to be a long-term solution.
This season, expectations at Chelsea have increased and with a vast amount of money invested in the squad, the pressure will now be on Lampard to take his side even closer to being title contenders. Yet their defensive issues refuse to go away and the rebuilding project which at one point looked so promising is now threatening to topple because of it.