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Can Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham prove he’s more than a flat-track bully?

13:56 BST 21/09/2019
Tammy Abraham Chelsea 2019-20
Will the in-form striker get the nod against Liverpool when Frank Lampard's side face another stern test on Sunday?

The repertoire of finishes the 21-year-old has amassed already in the Premier League this season is impressive. There has been a half-volley swept home, a shot from outside the box, a rebound, headers, and a shimmy preceding a lashed strike into the bottom corner.

His rise been proclaimed, and only this week, he went one step further by starting in the Uefa Champions League in midweek against Valencia.

So ends the curse of the Stamford Bridge 9 shirt then, that peculiar numerical hoodoo that quite a few clubs seem to appropriate. 

Or does it?

For all that he now sits in exalted places where the goalscoring chart is concerned, there is a quirk that provokes a pause. His haul – seven, to date – has been achieved against the might of... Norwich, Sheffield United and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

There is a commonality to these three sides: 18 months ago, they were all playing in the Championship, the same division Abraham rode roughshod over. 

A hat-trick against Wolves, on the surface, seems impressive until one considers that both Willy Boly and Ryan Bennett were not in the side for the Blues' visit to Molineux. That's two of Nuno Espirito Santo's regular back three. 

Faced with top (eight) opposition, the former Aston Villa man's record is rather more modest: aside smacking the upright early on, he cut a lightweight figure against a Manchester United side with a cheesecloth backline, was left out from the start against Leicester, and looked less than rapier-sharp against Los Che in the week. 

This, understandably, leads one to wonder whether Abraham's form is really instructive, or merely the product of a kind fixture list. He can, after all, only dispatch what is placed before him, but it is impossible to argue he has come up against a truly elite defensive team. 

This coming weekend will go some way toward answering those doubts, as reigning European Champions and runaway league leaders Liverpool visit Stamford Bridge.

Beyond the reality and sheer presence of the Virgil Van Dijk-Joel Matip tandem, there is also a very recent precedent that Abraham will have to battle against in order to establish his own place within the team.

It was in the aftermath of that watery display at Old Trafford on the opening day of the season that the Blues last faced the Reds, the setting being the Uefa Super Cup. 

For that, Frank Lampard reverted to the 4-3-3 system which Chelsea used almost exclusively last season, and was rewarded with an effervescent first-half display, during which Liverpool were thoroughly outplayed.

Interestingly, there was no place within the starting 11 for Abraham, and Olivier Giroud, into the side in his stead, scored and had a thoroughly effective showing.

Abraham would enter the fray late on, winning a penalty before then fluffing his lines in the decisive shootout, shooting straight at Adrian's legs.

While he is young enough that the psychological baggage of the miss need not be terminal, it was telling that he was left out from the start, almost as though Lampard had doubts as to his ability to hold his own against that back line. 

Entirely natural, of course, but crucially Abraham now has so much more going for him: rhythm, for one thing; and that release of pressure that comes with sticking the ball in the back of the net consistently.

So, does, Lampard stick or twist? 

If he once again elect to drop the youngster, it will invariably be read as a vote of no confidence in his ability to handle the occasion. If he keeps him in the team, it will be an affirmation of his status. 

Yet, the simple, do-not-change-a-winning-team approach is arguably the harder, more fraught road to negotiate. There is no shame in being unable to best Van Dijk, and so if Abraham starts and is ineffective, he need not beat himself up over it. 

However, does it really give Lampard the best chance of success? 

There is, after all, a micro and macro element to management. Perhaps the biggest marker of Abraham's development will be whether what's best for him is now also (and always) what is best for the team.

Whatever decision Lampard comes to on Sunday, he will first have to answer this precise question.