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New year, same Chelsea: Lampard's side are impossible to predict

09:00 SAST 2020/01/02
Frank Lampard Brighton vs Chelsea 2019-20
Beat Tottenham away, lose at home to Southampton, beat Arsenal away, draw at Brighton; there is no rhythm to the results being obtained by the Blues

Alireza Jahanbakhsh flew through the air, reminding a previously-dominant Chelsea side that 2020 will be exactly like 2019 if they don't learn to kill teams off.

Beat Tottenham and then lose to Southampton. Beat Arsenal and draw away at Brighton. Chelsea are failing to gather the necessary momentum to ensure Champions League football for next season. As good as it feels to beat a big London rival, these games against relegation-threatened clubs count the same.

"Tottenham was a fantastic all-round performance," manager Frank Lampard said. "[At] Arsenal [we] showed great spirit and fight for a young group. Southampton, we struggled to break a team down and lost at home.

"Then today where we should have the mindset to kill it, because the opportunity was there in the first half, and we don’t. It shows the good and the bad of us. That shows we must remain humble. We must work hard. We’ve had two great results over Christmas but there’s a lot of work to do."

There will be no great New Year celebrations in west London after squandering a 1-0 lead to draw 1-1 at the Amex Stadium. It should have been the perfect start to the new decade with Chelsea overcoming their tiredness to play 80 minutes of controlled football despite playing - and winning - just 66 hours prior to kick off.

They pressed well, created chances and overpowered Graham Potter's possession-based team from the outset but were left asking the one big difficult question of themselves come the end; why can't we finish sides off?

Lampard will be frustrated after forcing his opposite number's hand into a half-time substitution, such was his side's superiority in the opening 45 minutes, as he only had a one goal lead to show for it.

Tammy Abraham's sharp strike play at a corner saw his shot cleared off the line by Aaron Mooy, Cesar Azpilicueta turned it home to get the first 2020 goal in the league.

Brighton couldn't escape the press for much of the match and kept presenting opportunities for Chelsea to find the final ball and score. They couldn’t.

Potter would react by bringing on Aaron Connolly and Jahanbakhsh to gradually turn the tide but it was only after 80 minutes when the screw was turned. Seven of Brighton's 16 shots on the day came after the Iranian was introduced, with Kepa forced into two big saves before the equaliser. In truth, the last 10 minutes was such a struggle that Chelsea could even have lost the game.

Lampard’s substitutions, by contrast, again failed to make an impact with Callum Hudson-Odoi barely improving on Christian Pulisic’s outing. Mateo Kovacic gave away two set-pieces in dangerous areas, playing into Brighton's hands and offering chances in areas that are his own side's weakness.

Chelsea are inconsistent by nature; they are having problems with home form, with starting matches and finishing them off. In truth, they can be poor in all areas and the gap between the Blues and the standard set by Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool at the top of the league is more pronounced every week.

Killing matches doesn’t come easily. It is something that has taken years for Liverpool to master. Now they are winning games without always playing well but that's what it takes to win a difficult league.

Are Chelsea ruthless finishers? Do they know what it takes to grind out a result? No and no. To get the next level, these players must learn it on the pitch. Lampard has spoken of it being a 'process' to educate his players to learn that elusive skill.

"It’s not that the mindset is there, it’s just how you work to try and win games, you have to deal with them in the game and that is part of the process," Lampard said.

"Sometimes you can accuse a bad period in a game of a lack of fight, lack of urgency, lack of whatever. Today wasn’t. It was a lack of quality on the ball so we had a situation in the first half when we knew the problem for them.

"We could find our full-backs easily, keep control of the ball easily and we just decided not to keep doing that, not to keep doing the simple things. Then all of a sudden you’re giving the ball away and when you are getting opportunities to score, you’re not taking them and if you don’t do that at this level then you’re not going to win games that you should."

They have time to learn it, but they will now be plagued with this inconsistency in their bid to get a top-four finish in a mid-table rat race involving almost a dozen teams. The battle rages on - from Arsenal to Leicester in second - and there will likely be further twists and turns if Chelsea can't put together a run of wins.

The formula to find killer instinct goes on; it is as much one of personality within the players as it is technical or tactical. It is a case of a new year, same old Chelsea, with plenty of work still to do behind-the-scenes to get the club back to the top of English football.