By James O'Conners
On Saturday, Tammy Abraham got his critics off his back with his first senior goals for Chelsea, the club he joined 15 years ago as an U-8 academy player.
After a relatively good start to the season, despite criticism and even despicable racist abuse, Abraham was handed his second start for Chelsea having been used from the bench in the previous two matches.
Coming up against an attacking Norwich City side with very adventurous full-backs, Frank Lampard went for Abraham’s greater mobility and ability to stretch teams over target man, Olivier Giroud.
By full-time, he had former England striker, Peter Crouch, speaking on BT Sport, praising his display.
“The reason he was playing today was because he was pulling Norwich into areas they didn’t want to go. That’s his strength, but on the flip side I thought he held the ball very, very well."
It took under three minutes for the 21-year-old to open his account in blue.
With Kurt Zouma being aggressively pressed, Abraham moved out to the left to be an out-ball. His excellent backheel sent Mason Mount away into space, and when the ball was switch over to the right, Abraham had burst into the box and isolated himself against Norwich’s 19-year-old right back, Max Aarons.
When the cross came in, Abraham dropped into space and finished first-time with his right foot.
Every single one of those goals has come from inside the box.
When Norwich equalised soon after though, it came after Abraham lost the ball in his own half. However, replays showed a certain foul on him by Ben Godfrey which was missed by referee Martin Atkinson.
Many of Chelsea’s best moments in the first half had Abraham strongly involved in the play. His lay-off set up Mount for a shot from range, then his ball around the corner set Mateo Kovacic away into space before the latter was pulled back.
Later on, there was another flick to Mount, who then tried a ball up the side of the defence which Abraham had not read.
That was the only moment where the duo weren't on the same page.
Another strong piece of play with his back-to-goal saw him tee up Mount to have a shot blocked, and Abraham’s follow-up effort was also charged down.
Once Norwich had levelled though, they became much more aggressive in their defending against Chelsea’s number nine. On a couple of occasions, he lost the ball under pressure although one was a risky tackle on him inside the box having initially fought well against both centre backs to hold the ball from Jorginho’s longer pass.
In the second half, Abraham was less involved in the play. He did manage one fine around-the-corner pass into Christian Pulisic’s path, but the American was muscled off the ball in a good position inside the box.
The game’s deciding moment was provided by the striker in the 68th minute.
As Chelsea counter-attacked, Abraham showed excellent movement to first stretch Norwich’s defence by motioning to run in-behind, then coming short to receive, cutting inside both centre-backs and firing in from 20 yards.
That was his first goal in senior football outside the 18 yard area.
62 career goals and the first one from outside the box for Tammy Abraham. https://t.co/4cRenHSal8— Grant James (@grantdesmidt) August 24, 2019
In the 1-1 draw with Leicester last weekend, Abraham had blasted a shot from a similar position into the stands in the second half. Trying to improve his ability to score the occasional strike from longer range is something that is needed to round out his game.
In his punditry on Premier League TV, Tim Sherwood effusively praised the all-round quality of Abraham’s winning strike.
“When you take it across the centre of the goal,” the former Tottenham Hotspur coach began, “you can put it both sides. It’s his movement.
“Abraham says: ‘I’m going to stretch you, I’m going to run you in-behind’. He scares the life out of Hanley. That is exactly why he is playing.
“If that was Giroud, they’re not worried about him in-behind. He’s got no pace so they would just defend high. It’s absolutely fantastic movement and a wonderful calm finish at the end of it. It’s great play.”
So far, Abraham has shown occasional immaturity in how he competes in duels, but many target-men-type strikers only mature later once they gain muscle and experience of how to use their body.
Some of his quicker one-touch link play in this game was very impressive though, especially when bringing Mount into the game.
What Abraham visibly does have are excellent fundamentals of forward movement, both inside and outside the box.
Adding finishing from longer range is new and shows what everyone should already have realised – Abraham is not the finished article and is still improving.
With good coaching and opportunities, it will be intriguing to see how far he can go.
In Lampard, he certainly has a coach who believes in him.