Challenges come in different shapes and sizes in the Premier League, and at a rapid rate this time of the year, so Frank Lampard knows his players must be well-prepared for a different type of test when Southampton visit Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day afternoon.
After just one win in five prior to our trip to Tottenham last weekend, the Blues produced a mature, controlled and impressive performance to secure a 2-0 victory in north London, a display Lampard has since described as our best of the season so far.
However, home comforts have been harder to come by this term as opponents sit deep and force the initiative on us to break them down. We have failed to score in two of our past three league fixtures at the Bridge, while our overall total reads 11 goals scored in nine matches and four wins in that time.
Examining the reasons behind a team’s inconsistencies and our changing fortunes between games against Bournemouth and Spurs recently, Lampard explained how the group was fighting to maintain momentum.
‘We’re all human and there’s a lot of demands on teams and on individuals to keep reproducing a high level of performance,’ he said. ‘We can’t disrespect a Bournemouth or a Tottenham or a West Ham or an Everton to think that they won’t have their day against us or make it difficult for us.
‘The onus is always on us to find a way. Bournemouth and Tottenham were completely different games. Against Bournemouth we couldn’t break a team down that came here very organised and determined not to give us space in behind or in between the lines.
‘Tottenham was different - we had space down the sides and we used it really well so I think sometimes inconsistency will always be there. It’s about how much you fight to get it as minimal as it can be, which has probably been the beauty of Liverpool and Man City in the last two seasons because they’ve managed to bring the inconsistency levels down and we’re working towards that.’
Willian was the match-winner in N17 with two goals before half-time and Lampard expressed his pleasure at how the Brazilian has performed across the first half of the campaign. The boss admitted he was concerned about whether the 31-year-old was enjoying his football when watching Chelsea games as a fan in recent years but, having worked closely with him for the past six months, he now knows just how important he is to the group.
‘It’s great for me, especially when he plays like he did the other day,’ added Lampard. ‘It was an incredible performance and he has that talent. I knew he had that talent when I got the job. The last year or two, I’ve looked at him from afar and I wasn’t sure how much he was enjoying it in the games that I watched - his body language, in and out of games sometimes.
‘My feeling at the start of the season was to tell him how much I feel about him and how important he is for the team. We wanted to get him fit and working hard off the ball because I know he can and the rest, in terms of what he does on the ball, I can let him do that because he has this incredible ability to burst away from people.
‘If there was one thing I wanted from him at the start of the season, it was to score more goals because his talent says he should do and that means maybe sometimes running into space behind defenders and getting the other side but he’s doing all those things. All his team-mates love him, he’s a low-maintenance player to have in the squad so I’m really happy with him.’
Lampard spoke in his pre-match press conference on Christmas Eve about his enduring faith in the young players in his squad, citing Mason Mount’s performance at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as justification for patience in long-term thinking.
Tammy Abraham is another of our young homegrown stars enjoying an incredible season and Lampard believes his development since the opening weekend against Manchester United has been steady but no less significant. However, he also stressed many were quick to make judgements with lazy analysis in those early days of the season.
‘Tammy has developed but I don’t want to talk down his start to the season either because I thought against Manchester United for the first half he gave them real problems,’ noted Lampard. ‘He hit the post, he could have scored when one ball went across the face and he should have got moving earlier.
‘It was a good performance but it was very easy to criticise all of those players after Man United when we lose 4-0. It’s easy to say Mason Mount and Tammy shouldn’t be playing, they’re too young, you need to play experienced players – it’s the easiest, laziest comment.
‘Having said that, he’s developed. He’s scored his goals and his performance against Tottenham only lacked a goal because it was all-round. It was giving defenders problems, testing them the other way, stretching the pitch for us, chasing off the ball, bringing balls out the sky. He’s working hard, he’s developing all the time and he’s a serious striker - we know that and we know that he’s going to get better.’