Chelsea thump Palace to ease pressure on Lampard, but rebuilt Blues need to find fluency

LONDON — Saturday’s emphatic win over Crystal Palace should dispel any premature suggestions that Frank Lampard is under immediate pressure at Chelsea, but the performance didn’t disprove any of the reasons behind that speculation either. This was ultimately a comfortable afternoon for the Blues as they ran out 4-0 winners against a Crystal Palace club well-organised to defend a 0-0 scoreline but bereft of ideas and belief to recover once falling behind.

Ben Chilwell excelled on his full Premier League debut for Chelsea, scoring the opening goal five minutes into the second half and providing a pinpoint cross for Kurt Zouma to double the home side’s advantage 16 minutes later.

Chilwell revealed earlier this week that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of legendary left-back Ashley Cole, having consulted the former England international and current Chelsea academy coach prior to his £50 million move from Leicester. This was a fine way to start, not least because Cole only managed seven goals in eight seasons at Stamford Bridge — Chilwell is already 12.5% of the way to matching that achievement. He was a constant threat down the left flank, producing five “good crosses” as defined by Opta, the most by anyone on the pitch and four more than any other Chelsea player.

The 23-year-old had endured a delayed start to life at his new club following a heel injury sustained at the end of last season, but he appears primed to make up for lost time and ready to make the left-back berth his own. The changing of the guard has seemingly already taken place, with Marcus Alonso left out of the matchday squad after a reported bust-up with Lampard during last Saturday’s 3-3 draw at West Brom. Monday’s transfer deadline offers the Spain international a narrow window of escape.

Jorginho has been linked with a move away, too — specifically, to Arsenal — but his importance to the cause was underlined with an intelligent display in midfield, moving the ball quickly to unsettle Palace from their defensive shape, before dispatching two near-identical penalties with that languid run, punctuated by a hop that bamboozles goalkeepers time and again.

There were starts elsewhere for Edouard Mendy (another Premier League debutant) and Callum Hudson-Odoi, who will spend the final 48 hours of this transfer window pondering a move to Bayern Munich. His inclusion on Saturday brought to mind Maurizio Sarri’s attempts to keep Hudson-Odoi out of the clutches of Bayern in January 2019, selecting him in a strong line-up for Chelsea’s EFL Cup semifinal, first-leg clash at Tottenham on the same day the Bundesliga giants submitted an improved £35m bid.

Hudson-Odoi was ultimately convinced to stay on that occasion, signing a new five-year contract last September, but the dynamic is different now following the arrivals of Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech, in addition to the strides made by Christian Pulisic, who came on for the final seven minutes here in his first appearance of the season.

Lampard made an interesting admission on Friday when discussing Pulisic’s and Ziyech’s imminent returns, saying that although Werner and Havertz did not have preferred positions, he had a clear idea of how he wanted Chelsea to play when everybody is fit. That time is fast approaching. Ziyech is in the final stages of his recovery from a knee problem, and it seems fair to assume that Hudson-Odoi will be one of those to make way should the picture not change during the international break.

Lampard was pleased at how Chelsea battled to victory against Palace in the second half, but he was also honest about the improved sharpness that will be needed from his squad. Neil Hall – Pool/Getty Images

Hudson-Odoi started on the right, switched to the left, went back to the right and although he was impressive, particularly in the second half, the wider situation may mean he doesn’t feel entirely comfortable unless he ends up at Bayern, whose manager Hans-Dieter Flick earlier today confirmed the club’s interest in the England winger.

“There is no definitive answer — by Monday we will know,” said Lampard. “If they have declared their interest, that is one thing, but in terms of the squad, everything that happens will be firstly good for us as a club because Callum is our player. What Callum wants will come into consideration, but it has to be right for everybody.

“At the minute, I want Callum as part of my squad, especially when he is offering up what he did in the second half today and when he came on against West Brom, and that’s where I’m at.”

Similarly, central defender Antonio Rudiger was another notable omission from the squad, with Tottenham and Paris Saint-Germain among those circling.

Lampard’s squad is still taking shape, and he should therefore not be judged until his preferred line-up is given an extended run to find the attacking cohesion they lacked on Saturday. The good news is it did not impact on the result, providing a timely boost heading into the international break.

“We wanted to win the game, first and foremost,” said Lampard. “At half-time, we had a lot of control, but our final-third play, to be expected at the moment given the period we are in, was maybe not as bright as I wanted it. Not as much movement, not as much penetration, but in the second half that changed and we got a very good win.”

Chelsea’s determination threatened to spill over when Werner argued he should take the first spot-kick, folding more cheaply than the second time when he stood over the penalty spot, Tammy Abraham kept hold of the ball and captain Cesar Azpilicueta intervened to give it to Jorginho. The Blues have had penalty disputes before — Ross Barkley missed a penalty against Valencia in the Champions League 13 months ago following an argument with Willian and Abraham — but Jorginho’s composure made a potentially unsavoury moment a mere footnote.

Mendy had little to do in goal, but was composed throughout, conversing in French with Thiago Silva, Zouma and Cesar Azpilicueta. This was theoretically the type of game in which 36-year-old Thiago may struggle given the pace Palace possess on the break, but he was a commanding presence, bullying Jordan Ayew and preventing the visitors building counter-attacks.

It was Chelsea’s first clean sheet of the season and an afternoon to steady the ship after the chastening experience at West Brom. However, the £220m summer outlay will demand more vibrancy going forward in the weeks and months ahead.

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