Within six months a lot can happen in football and, in retrospect, the Chelsea Manchester United 4-0 routine on the opening day makes it more abnormal than at the time.
“It wasn’t a 4-0 game,” Chelsea manager Frank Lampard reflected prior to Monday night’s rematch at Stamford Bridge, following his thoughts and the thoughts of many on that August afternoon.
And in the context of what has happened since, with Chelsea in fourth place and about six points ahead of United in ninth place, it was clearly premature to draw too many conclusions from what seemed like an emphatic score.
Frank Lampard fired while his Chelsea-side was beaten 4-0 in August by Man United
Nothing went well for Chelsea in Old Trafford when United punished them during the counterattack
As Lampard said Friday, he was struggling to make too many mistakes with the performance of Chelsea in his first Premier League match.
“I’d be the first to criticize myself or us, or ask us to look at ourselves, and then I was honest with the players,” Lampard recalled.
“I said,” Let’s not run away from the little details that made it a 4-0. But don’t consider this a big kick in the teeth, because it shouldn’t be that in terms of performance.
‘So I didn’t find the United result for a moment or I thought’ wow, we lost 4-0 ‘. It didn’t feel fun on the day and it would be great to correct it on Monday, but at the same time I didn’t consider it a hugely painful thing. “
It was an afternoon to forget Kurt Zouma and his Chelsea teammates when United revolted
Emerson Palmieri hits the post with David de Gea beaten as Chelsea sadly comes close
The feeling that Lampard could very quickly help Chelsea advance was confirmed by another good performance in a losing cause a few days later against Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup in Istanbul.
It took a while for the results to be consistent, but the position of Chelsea in the top four is by no means a coincidence, even though Tottenham and others have eroded their safety margin lately.
They remain in the FA Cup and have a Champions League final-16 confrontation with Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich to look forward to.
So what would Lampard have learned that afternoon at Old Trafford and how has it affected the season since then?
Don’t be so open
The reason Lampard did not believe the 4-0 defeat was “a big kick in the teeth” was because Chelsea played well and controlled the game for large parts of the game.
They enjoyed much of the property and created some excellent opportunities that they didn’t take before they were repeatedly picked for the counterattack.
It would have been a different story if Tammy Abraham and Emerson had scored with efforts that could reduce the woodwork, while David de Gea made an important rescue from Ross Barkley.
Tammy Abraham rattled the post with this shot in the first half when United earned a delay
In the end, Chelsea’s openness was exacerbated by the fact that they were chasing the game after Marcus Rashford converted an 18th minute penalty.
Once they had taken the lead, United fell back and tried to pick Chelsea on the counter, which they did clinically after the break.
When Chelsea pushed Barkley, Mason Mount and Pedro that afternoon and turned their 4-2-3-1 into a 4-2-4, United had a lot of room to exploit with just a quick pass or two out of defense.
Lampard has learned a tough lesson, but Chelsea has been guilty of being open in other games this season, such as West Ham’s 1-0 win over Stamford Bridge in November.
Or when Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli was allowed to run right through their defense last month to score in the 2-2 tie.
Aaron Cresswell scores West Ham’s winning goal at Stamford Bridge in November
Gabriel Martinelli ran through the Chelsea defense last month to score for Arsenal
LACK OF SPEED IN THE TRANSITION
While United was able to break at lightning speed to kill Chelsea’s chances with goals from Rashford, Anthony Martial and Dan James in the second half, Chelsea was slow in the same process.
In the future, they tried to blow out to stretch United, for whom Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka made a league debut, but United was organized and good at covering players from position.
Chelsea just didn’t have the chance to move the ball quickly with Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic at the base of their midfield disconnected from Mount and the others farther forward.
Jorginho is running around by Paul Pogba during United’s 4-0 win over Old Trafford
They managed to create their first half opportunities due to the weight of possession and pressure, but they had nothing on the counter compared to the way United worked the ball.
How Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should wish that he could bottle this performance, because it is very much the template for how he would like to play his United team and the reality has often been very different this season.
Chelsea has improved, but cannot really be considered as a brilliant counterattack.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was delighted, but his team has rarely equaled those heights ever since
N’Golo Kante has been encouraged to take a more advanced position from time to time this season, causing slow Jorginho to act as the man responsible for changing defense into attack.
Jorginho has been associated with a summer move back to Italy, giving Lampard the opportunity to draw a more dynamic midfield player.
Chelsea could do with finding a solution to the transition problem on Monday night, because the game could very easily fall in the same pattern as August, with United happy to lean back and fall on the counter.
CHAOS AT THE BACK
There is no doubt that Chelsea was shabby in Old Trafford’s defense when United kicked in the second half.
Kurt Zouma looked like a rabbit in the headlights when Rashford ran him up to the second goal and Martial came for Cesar Azpilicueta to score from close range.
Azpilicueta and Andreas Christensen were separated by a simple long ball over the top before Rashford effortlessly made the 3-0.
Kurt Zouma thinks after Marcus Rashford United scored his third goal on August 11
And while James benefited from a happy deflection for the fourth, the ease with which Kante was sucked out of position and Azpilicueta got out of step by Pogba was scary.
Lampard wanted Zouma and Azpilicueta to form an effective central defensive combination, at least until Antonio Rudiger returned from an injury.
But in the beginning there were not many clean sheets and Chelsea developed an unwanted habit of admitting late equalizers.
Cesar Azpilicueta was poor and struggled to keep pace with United’s fleet-footed attackers
It was no coincidence that the positive results started to come more regularly when Lampard put more faith in 22-year-old Fikayo Tomori in the fall.
Christensen has been standing next to Rudiger again lately and you wonder if Lampard is getting closer if he knows who his best combination is.
What is clear is that Lampard, now unlimited due to a transfer embargo as he was last summer, is definitely looking for a new center half this summer.
Anthony Martial comes to Azpilicueta to score United’s second goal of the afternoon
TAKING YOUR OPPORTUNITIES
Lampard already knew this, but during his season with Derby County before coming to Chelsea, you might get away with missing a few chances in the championship and not get punished. It is another matter in the Premier League.
That is why the missed opportunities in the game at Old Trafford and their timing were so frustrating. They had a total of 17 shots that day, with seven on target, and yet they couldn’t score.
It has become a well-known story as the season starts – Chelsea is eighth in the Premier League when it comes to converting their chances, with 43 goals out of 188 attempts or a 22.9 percent ratio.
Chelsea’s dependence on Tammy Abraham to achieve their goals has put the striker under pressure
There is also legitimate concern that too much of the scoring burden lies with Tammy Abraham, who scored 15 of their 68 goals in all competitions this season. Jorginho is the second highest with seven.
It has been particularly acute in recent weeks, with Abraham struggling with an ankle problem but still unable to rest because Lampard does not trust Olivier Giroud or Michy Batshuayi to take the lead.
Tiredness begins to affect even the younger player and creativity dries up, with Chelsea not scoring from open play in their last three league games.
Abraham cannot convert a chance during the Chelsea draw with Leicester prior to the winter break
Chelsea also failed to give someone on loan in January, despite Lampard requesting a new striker, even on loan, and so the problem is still not resolved.
Lampard even went so far as to say that their lack of business last month made them ‘underdogs’ in the top four race.
We will certainly have a clearer picture if they played United on Monday evening.