Photo via Sports Illustrated
Heading into Championship Sunday, Chelsea had destiny in their own hands.
Win, and they are in the 2020-21 UEFA Champions League.
Seemed pretty straightforward. If only it was that simple, however.
While they were going against Wolverhampton, Chelsea had a much better attack (Chelsea possessed 67 goals compared to Wolverhampton’s 52) than them. However, Chelsea was unpredictable. They had a new manager in his first Premier League season and had two clubs hot on their tails vying for that precious top-four finish (Manchester United and Leicester City).
Chelsea would push through the inconsistencies in scoring, defensive play and goalkeeping to beat Wolves 2-0 and secure their spot in competing in the 2020-21 UCL.
Although Chelsea would prevail to a 20-6-12 Premier League final record and collect an UCL berth in the process, their success would not be the central theme to the season. Instead, it would be their inconsistency.
In fact, that inconsistency would stem into an even more central theme. A theme of adjustment to a new offensive style to a newly minted manager in Frank Lampard.
A theme of transformation.
A theme of potential.
They started off the season 0-1-1, against, ironically, the two clubs they were attempting to fend off on Championship Sunday (Chelsea lost 4-0 in their season-opener against Man U and drew 1-1 against Leicester). The Blues then streaked to an 8-1-1 record over their next 10 matches. After scoring 27 goals and allowing 17 goals during the stretch, the Blues would only go 5-3-7 over their next 15 matches, scoring 18 goals and allowing 21. Over their final 11 matches, Chelsea would go 7-1-3, scoring 24 goals and allowing 17.
The record and goal numbers, in and of itself, would show the roller-coaster ride South West London was locked in for. When looking at their top goal scorer in Tammy Abraham (15 goals in 34 appearances), the 22-year-old only scored two goals after their January 18 against Newcastle United. Willian, meanwhile, scored five goals in a span of five matches (March 8 versus Everton to July 4 against Watford) but was blanked in all other matches but three. While Pulisic was explosive in his speed and scoring capabilities, the 21-year-old was out of action due to a combination of injuries and the pause of the season due to COVID-19.
Goalkeeping was not immune to inconsistencies either, as Kepa Arrizabalaga, the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, went 18-4-11 and allowed 47 goals in 33 matches started. To make matters worse, the 25-year-old Spaniard collected only eight clean sheets and allowed at least two goals in 14 matches.
When combined with a porous backline (tied for 11th with Brighton & Hove Albion in goals conceded with 54) and an injury that kept hard-hitting N’Golo Kante out of action (hamstring) for the final five matches, Chelsea almost missed out on a top-four spot.
However, they prevailed.
Lampard, who implemented a more invigorated attack philosophy that revolved around multiple formations, was able to transition to Premier League managing action and excel in it despite being hamstrung from improving the club after a transfer ban last summer. Despite the road block, the 42-year-old was able to begin the transformation of a vanilla Blues’ attack into a three-dimensional passing behemoth that could utilize speed from one side of the pitch to the other.
Even with the growing pains on the attack to the defensive warts in the goalkeeping and backline, Lampard, and his club came out victorious.
The reward of overcoming all of the obstacles to achieving a top-four Premier League finish resonates both short-term and long-term. In the short-term, they get another crack of the whip in showing their merit against the top clubs in all of Europe.
Long-term, the Blues have an opportunity to recruit new players to only improve their chances at becoming the next English superpower. With the transfer ban lifted, they have already reeled in German star striker Timo Werner and AFC Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech. Potentially, German attacking midfielder Kai Havertz will also join Chelsea’s growing youth movement. Perhaps Lampard brings in another goalkeeper. Backline help could also be sought after.
Whatever course the club decides to go in, though, the theme of future seasons might be born from Chelsea’s 2019-20 Premier League season.
Inconsistency? Sure. That could be a word to describe it.
Transformation for the better, though?
That would be a better way to define it.