Chelsea has finally found an aspect of its game the Blues have been missing since Antonio Conte’s first season in charge.
Let’s take a trip back to May 12, 2017. Antonio Conte is standing on the touchline and he approves the switch that put a bow on the Blues’ season. The Chelsea manager brought on Michy Batshuayi in the 76′, removing Pedro from the match.
The contest was deadlocked 0-0 at that point, and as much as Blues fans were beginning to grow restless, nobody was worried. Conte’s Chelsea had made a habit of winning matches late—and that’s exactly what it would do again. Batshuayi netted the 82′ winner and the Blues went bonkers.
Aside from the obvious, that May night was significant because it’s the last time Chelsea supporters felt their team possessed a certain trait. This particular attribute is crucial to any team with title aspirations, and it is the ability to win games late. The Blues have lost that confidence after conceding deep into the second half over the last few seasons.
However, for the first time in over three years, that feeling has returned. Contests no longer seem done and dusted for Chelsea up until the final whistle—the most recent trip to Rennes is a perfect example of this principle.
The big question is whether this growing confidence stems from the squad’s talent, mindset or a fusion of both. The obvious answer—and relatively easy cop-out—would be to pin the success all on the new signings. Many will take this route simply to avoid giving Frank Lampard the credit he deserves. Lampard is the first to come under fire when the team fails to play well, but seldom receives credit for the Blues’ success. More on that later.
Chelsea was undoubtedly one of the window’s largest spenders. Now that nearly everybody is up to full fitness and has had time to mesh, everything is beginning to click for the Blues. Further, the importance of depth cannot be overstated. Chelsea was able to bring on N’Golo Kante, Olivier Giroud, Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz and Reece James during its match midweek.
Let’s take a moment to comprehend that. Those names were not in the starting XI, but the Blues’ bench. Having two world cup winners, a magician, a wunderkind and a budding superstar defender at one’s disposal amongst the substitutes is a luxury few managers are blessed with.
All of that being said, it takes a great manager to get the best of his players. In terms of results, last campaign was one of growth for both the young squad and the inexperienced manager.
There was no trophy celebration and few historic moments, one thing became clear though. Lampard instilled a principle into his team that he learned from the world class managers he played under.
You can question a lot of Lampard’s decisions, but one thing that you cannot challenge is his history of winning in SW6. The gaffer won just about everything under the sun, including—but not limited to—the Champions League, the Europa League, FA Cups, League Cups and the Premier League on numerous occasions.
Lampard has now successfully built up a championship—silverware, not second division—culture at Chelsea. This becomes obvious when one analyzes the results from the last few seasons to now. Conte’s 2017/18 group wouldn’t have come back from down 3-0 to earn a result. Maurizio Sarri’s team wouldn’t have scored in the 91′ away in the UCL to seize all three points. Lampard’s first-year squad wouldn’t have kept clean sheets in eight of 13 matches.
The growth of the squad over the last few seasons is evident. The art of winning ugly and winning late is something that saw Liverpool and Man City dominate the league over the last three seasons. The opportunities have presented themselves thus far, and Chelsea has seized them. The dominos have all fallen favorably for the Blues, they just need to keep playing the football they’re capable of in order to construct something spectacular.