FRANK Lampard’s greatest task this season – the key to whether Chelsea would be able to build on last term’s fourth-place finish and emerge as title challengers once again – was always going to centre around how he balanced his side amid an embarrassment of attacking riches.
In an off-season when many club’s felt the pandemic pinch and girded their spending ever so slightly, the Roman Abramovich-backed Blues spent big. Around £220m was lavished on seven first-team incomings.
In the early weeks of 2020-21, a 2-0 loss to champions Liverpool and points dropped against the likes of West Brom and Southampton suggested Lampard was struggling to strike upon a solution for how best to arrange his side.
But the recent integration of playmaker Hakim Ziyech and goalkeeper Edouard Mendy – Chelsea’s first and last signings of the summer window respectively – seem to have knitted Lampard’s oscillating stars together.
Most consecutive clean sheets for Chelsea
♂️ Kepa Arrizabalaga – 3 (from 98 apps)
Edouard Mendy – 5 (from 6 apps) pic.twitter.com/TGN4Pe5gO6
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) October 31, 2020
Were it not for the Spaniard’s continued dismal form at the beginning of the new campaign, Chelsea likely wouldn’t have moved to replace Kepa Arrizabalaga between the Stamford Bridge sticks this year, with Mendy’s £21.6m arrival from Rennes not wrapped up until late September.
There will be no regrets about the last-ditch addition of the Senegalese keeper, though. In six starts so far for his new club, Mendy has conceded just one goal, a late Erik Lamela strike in his debut, a 1-1 EFL Cup draw with Tottenham.
Arrizabalaga’s rate of keeping out 57 per cent of the on-target shots he’s faced this season ranks him 18th among Premier League goalkeepers. Mendy, with only three league starts to his name thus far, has faced only four shots on target, but he’s saved them all. Factoring in his Champions League and EFL Cup minutes for a more instructive sample size, Mendy has faced 13 on-target efforts, for a 92 per cent save rate.
Mendy’s dependability, certainly as compared with Arrizabalaga’s, looks to have had the desired calming effect on the Chelsea backline. The Blues’ rear guard, so shaky just weeks earlier, didn’t concede a single shot on target in last weekend’s 3-0 win over Burnley at Turf Moor.
“Edouard has come in from the first game he played, against Tottenham in the League Cup, and shown he can give us the security we’re striving for,” Lampard said of Mendy’s fine start to life with Chelsea.
“We brought him in for competition and it’s up to the players then to show their own qualities. He’s shown them.”
At the other end of the pitch, Chelsea can be a frightening proposition, especially now that striker Timo Werner, a £47m signing from RB Leipzig, has found his scoring rhythm, with five goals and three assists in his last nine games.
But it is Ziyech who is eliciting the most excitement at Stamford Bridge for his recent displays.
The Moroccan’s £37m capture from Ajax was agreed way back in February and rubber-stamped as soon as the transfer window opened. But Chelsea fans were made to wait for their first glimpse of the gifted 27-year-old midfielder, a knee injury delaying his first start until a Champions League trip to face Krasnodar on October 28.
A well-taken goal capped an impressive full debut, and Ziyech followed that up with another goal and an assist against Burnley. For all Chelsea’s vast attacking talent, Ziyech has a degree of versatility, deftness, lithe creativity beyond anything Lampard’s other offensive options offer.
“He can find a pass and sometimes last season I felt we lacked that when we were playing against low-block defences,” the Chelsea manager said. “We saw a bit of his quality and personality against Krasnodar. The idea of receiving the ball and turning, facing forward and finding that pass before teams are set, that is what I’m excited about to see from Hakim.
“I really like him as a personality. I had conversations with him very early when we signed him and was struck by his confidence. There is an inner confidence which I love. We need players with confidence and personality who believe they should be here. He has been an absolute dream to work with.”
It may remain the case that Lampard is yet to figure out his strongest line-up, or how best to cram his array of expensive new recruits in alongside homegrown stars Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
But in Ziyech and Mendy, he’s at least found the glue to bind the disparate talents together.