Chelsea 3-1 Leeds UnitedEmbed from Getty Images
Sub-Edited by Charlie Scott
Frank Lampard got the better of Marcelo Bielsa once again as Chelsea went top of the table.
With the return of 2000 socially distanced, mask wearing fans, the pressure was on both teams to put on a show to an audience for the first time in nine months.
It appeared that Patrick Bamford chose to play the pantomime villain. The former academy blue was slipped in by Kalvin Phillips before touching the ball past Edouard Mendy and passing the ball into an empty net.
Chelsea did not let the early goal phase their play. Chances from Olivier Giroud and Timo Werner went begging as Chelsea pioneered for the equaliser.
Chelsea fans will be happy to see Giroud back in the starting line-up. The 34-year-old Frenchman came into Saturday after scoring four in Seville, sending a clear message to Lampard that he has to be considered every week.Embed from Getty Images
Described as Patrice Evra as Chelsea’s best striker, and that he would be less scrutinised ‘if he was called Giroudinho’, Evra speaks what many fans think. Giroud is beyond wasted on the bench.
Giroud was a World Cup winner under Didier Deschamps, and the role he played for France is not too dissimilar to his job for Chelsea. With exceptional hold up play he brings outside forwards into the game, for France it’s Kylian Mbappe, and Antoine Griezmann. For Chelsea, it’s Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech. The world class players around Giroud flourish exponentially with him on the pitch.
Above all else Giroud was born a finisher, a skill you cannot coach. His movement 27 minutes in to put Chelsea level was pure strikers’ instinct. A wicked low cross from Reece James gave him his second assist in the league this season.
After such a lively start, the rest of the first half petered out, to the dismay of the supporters. The message from both managers to steady the ship was certainly taken on board, and the two teams went in at half time level.
There were early chances from both teams to take the lead. Brazilian winger Raphina had two chances in quick succession to take the lead, and Werner squandered another one-on-one against Ilan Meslier.
Once again Mason Mount had a fantastic game. If he keeps performances like these up consistently for the season, he could lead Chelsea to the title similar to Lampard did from the same position.Embed from Getty Images
His corner landed perfectly on the forehead of Kurt Zouma, whose emphatic header put Chelsea ahead in the 61stminute. Zouma now has four goals this season. That’s more than Anthony Martial, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Marcus Rashford have respectively this season. Some stat.
Now in front, Lampard looked to put the game out of Leeds’s reach, whilst Bielsa plotted a strategy on his bucket, to take something back from West London with him.
The introduction of Ian Poveda and Rodrigo emphasised Bielsa’s attacking charge but was thwarted by another solid display from Chelsea’s back five.
Leeds fans could feel harshly done by not to have received a penalty, after a lazy leg from Ben Chilwell clipped Poveda in the box. The English attacker played on honestly, to try retrieve the eluding ball from his control. Upon closer inspection there was clear contact, and if Poveda had gone to ground he would have certainly been awarded a penalty.
No one wants to see this in the game, though. With VAR’s grasp slowly squeezing the fun out of topflight football, it was good to see it not steal the show on Saturday. Leeds fans will argue that there was contact, and that a penalty should have been awarded regardless.
However, honest play, no attempts to con the officials and playing the game how it should be was a theme on Saturday, one for the purists. No swarming the referee gesturing at a player being booked, or the classic charades game of ‘I got the ball!’ or even better the pretend dive.
On the topic of honesty, we have to mention the honest shift from Werner on Saturday. After failing to score a handful of chances himself, a brilliant arcing run 93 minutes into the game from the German saw him slip in Christian Pulisic to put Chelsea three goals up, and the game to bed. A frustrating evening for the former Leipzig man, but he was rewarded for his persistence with an assist. It is only a matter of time before he starts to consistently convert his chances and become a top striker in England.Embed from Getty Images
Lampard will particularly enjoy this win. It is hard not to mention ‘spy-gate’ when these two come up against each other, but we will try to steer clear of the elephant in the room and focus on Saturday’s game.
The Chelsea boss silenced a lot of critics with this result. Not just a former player having fun at old his club, his tactics and use of substitutions saw him pick up three points against a difficult side, playing under one of the best coaches in world football. Some serious respect must be put on Lampard’s name after Saturday.
Chelsea players ran a colossal six kilometres more than their opponents, which was the first time this season that Leeds have been out-ran. This statistic is a sign of Lampard’s man management, and their fruition into a well-oiled machine who are in serious contention for silverware this year.
So, could Chelsea actually win the league? It is always considered early days before Christmas, but one-point games from last season are turning into three, and the whole squad are constantly stepping up to high-level performances when called upon. It is a slow process, but the wheels are in motion at Stamford Bridge for a Premier League title, and Lampard will feel quietly confident going into the festive period with his position.
Chelsea travel to Merseyside in their next league fixture, where they face an exciting Everton side who are scoring plenty of goals this year. Lampard will come up against his old boss Carlo Ancelotti, where he will hope to get the better of him and keep the pressure on the other top teams.Embed from Getty Images
Leeds are back at Elland Road, where they come up against a defensively strong West Ham side. Bielsa and his men will be looking for an instant response after their defeat, and hope to carry on moving up the table.