Frank Lampard and Chelsea should not lose faith in youth of Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham despite Old Trafford woe
Encouraging elements to display at Manchester United, even if it ended in defeat
The diversionary tactic plays a prominent part in Jose Mourinho’s handbook, a way of seizing control of the agenda while distracting attention from the real issues.
It is a ploy he seems to have taken from the dugout to the punditry studio.
After his bow as Chelsea manager ended in a 4-0 reverse, Frank Lampard was bemused to be confronted by his former mentor’s suggestions on British television that Mason Mount had not played well.
Lampard was not alone in disagreeing. Statistics can be deceptive, and if it feels strange to see that Mount’s Chelsea teammate Pedro played the most of what were deemed key passes in the Premier League this weekend, the 20-year-old was tied in second place.
More obviously, as a pragmatist like Mourinho should recognise, the concession of four goals is rarely the fault of a youthful No 10.
Mourinho’s finest sides, including the Chelsea team Lampard powered to glory with his goals, rarely had a soft underbelly.
Lampard’s first group did: young centre-backs, though still experienced enough to have done better, in Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen, were partly culpable for the first two goals. The captain Cesar Azpilicueta, 30 later this month, ought to have done better for the fourth.
Lampard has made a faith in youth a flagship policy. It is one that feels anathema to the increasingly conservative Mourinho, a manager who, with the exception of Scott McTominay, scarcely seemed to like or trust United’s younger players, especially to play in the spine of his side.
Lampard named Chelsea’s youngest top-flight team for almost seven years.
The scoreline led to suggestions of naivety. It was, in Lampard’s own words, a reality check, yet it highlighted underlying issues.
One is the relative lack of quality that reflects Chelsea’s decline.
Last season, there was a case for saying they only had two players who would get in virtually every elite side: now Eden Hazard is gone and N’Golo Kante was not deemed fit enough to start at Old Trafford.
The Frenchman is not merely irrepressible, but indispensable. Perhaps it was their transfer ban that persuaded Chelsea to buy the loanee Mateo Kovacic, one of the few they were allowed to sign, but £40 million (Dh177.2m) always appeared an inflated fee for an ineffectual figure.
He and Jorginho offered the defence no protection when Chelsea were repeatedly caught on the counter-attack.
In 2017, Chelsea bought two others who could be deemed defensive midfielders for a combined £75m but Danny Drinkwater, an unmitigated disaster, was loaned out last week and Tiemoue Bakayoko, whose sole year in the side was unhappy, could follow.
Lampard’s inheritance has been compounded by ill-timed injuries. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi showed promise last season, but both are sidelined.
Kante apart, Antonio Rudiger may be the Chelsea player who would get in most top teams, but their best defender is out.
David Luiz can veer from talismanic to terrible, but his sudden sale came at a point when Chelsea cannot buy. Lampard is suffering because of past mistakes.
His futuristic project represents a philosophical reboot, but also a necessity. If the majority of players peak between 26 and 30, Chelsea only had two starters, Jorginho and Azpilicueta, on Sunday in that bracket.
The age profile is skewed, with a welcome injection of emerging talent, several in decline, but too few high-class performers in between.
Mourinho was right to suggest Chelsea lacked knowhow. Yet the fact they had 18 shots, seven of them on target, and 54 per cent of possession, coupled with the evidence of their progressive play, sometimes involving the rookies Tammy Abraham and Mount, should offer encouragement, even if the result does not.
Not for the first time, Mourinho picked on both the easiest target and the wrong one.
Lampard’s Chelsea may well have a mountain to climb. But not, on Sunday’s evidence, because of Mount.
Updated: August 12, 2019 12:14 PM