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CHELSEA’S GERMAN DREAMS - PART 2
At Southampton, Hasenhuttl has been able to implement his brand of football from academy to first-team levels, with every age group, consulting and following the SFC Playbook, a digital archive of training clips, details on player-specific roles, ideals, and objectives that were put together by the Austrian during last year’s first lockdown. His influence permeates the club. In truth, it is hard to argue that the work put in by any of the likes of Klopp or Rangnick, Hasenhüttl or Nagelsmann, or even Tuchel pre-Paris Saint-Germain, has not ensured their players improved.
Lampard has found it harder to impose his own clear ideas, or at least have his preferred approach clearly implemented. Unlike even the 33-year-old Nagelsmann, he does not have a body of work — clear evidence of a team’s clear style and progression — upon which to fall back, leaving him exposed. Much may be born of fractured confidence but, at present, the thinking at Chelsea appears too muddled, the approach too haphazard for comfort along with the problem of having no identity. That confusion was laid bare at the King Power Stadium. At the back, the visitors were vulnerable, wide-open spaces yawning between center-halves and full-backs, and uncertainty abounds. Antonio Rudiger has been propelled from fifth-choice central defender and outcast to Thiago Silva’s partner over a matter of weeks, a wild revival, but his performance was careless at Leicester. Reece James at his side was consistently caught out of position, his thoughts forever upfield when Chelsea craved solidity.
The midfield re-jig in the absence of the injured N’Golo Kante left the team uncertain and fragile, the hosts running through them from deep too easily. They continue to creak at set-pieces. They dawdled at a free-kick early on to concede a corner, then dawdled again at the second dead ball as Leicester forced themselves ahead through Wilfred Ndidi. Yet just as disturbing was how toothless they appeared for long periods in the attack. They mustered a 15-minute period in the first half where they threatened to force parity and believed they had won a penalty, only for their rearguard to be prised apart again by a simple, lofted diagonal pass. James Maddison’s goal was the 50th conceded in 29 Premier League away games under Lampard.
Thereafter, it was only really over the last few minutes that they hinted at registering a consolation. All of which has left them fading into mid-table with only one win, against West Ham, against any of the top 11, and one goal scored — a consolation against Manchester City — against the top six. What happened at Leicester was not unusual. “Our game wasn’t there,” said Lampard. “It intensified for me a while ago because the expectations at this club, whether right or wrong, are always high. I keep talking about a transition, but when you perform like that…it’s normal people will ask questions. Clearly, I’m concerned.”
Those schooled in Germany tend to be used to working within a very defined club structure where sporting directors and their recruitment departments target and secure players and the coach’s job is merely to work with what he is given. Inevitably there are exceptions, figures who are more highly strung or stray into politics and exert pressure in the hope a particular addition might be targeted. Thomas Tuchel, who recently left Paris Saint-Germain, springs to mind. But, in general, head coaches developed in the Bundesliga seem to avoid power struggles behind the scenes. They are not political animals but, instead, relatively low maintenance; company men when it comes to transfer policy. This may make them attractive options given Chelsea have been scared on that front in the recent past — not necessarily with Lampard, but the mind drifts back to the high maintenance tenures of Antonio Conte, Mourinho and even, to a certain extent, Maurizio Sarri, all head coaches who arrived with pedigree and, on the flip-side, reputations for volatility.
Then, perhaps most critically of all, is the clarity of tactical thought that the crop of German coaches inspired by Klopp tend to bring to their roles, improving the collective while, simultaneously, raising individual standards within the squad through solid man-management. Those familiar with their work are effusive at the strong tactical philosophy and style of play they have cultivated, allied with an ability to connect on an emotional level with their players. Chelsea’s squad, even with its relative deficiencies in central midfield and at center-half, remains appealing. It is crammed with talent and potential, both developed through the club’s academy and purchased from elsewhere. The summer’s investment was mind-boggling, with in excess of £200 million forked out to rebuild a side after successive blank transfer windows.
But maybe the hierarchy has realised that these days, it takes more than money alone. A club cannot simply fling a collection of talented players into a team and expect them simply to thrive. They still require a top-level coach to construct the side in a structured, systematic way and help raise the collective standard, allowing them to develop within a clear, well-defined footballing identity. A philosophy imposed by the coaching staff. that the crop of German
coaches inspired by Klopp tend to bring to their roles, improving the collective while, simultaneously, raising individual standards within the squad through solid man-management. Those familiar with their work are effusive at the strong tactical philosophy and style of play they have cultivated, allied with an ability to connect on an emotional level with their players.