The 2020/21 season saw Chelsea concede 79 goals in all competitions. The club’s worst defensive record since 1990/91.
While Frank Lampard has been lauded for finishing fourth and improving the team’s attack in his first season as Chelsea’s manager, the defence has been a problem.
In the Premier League alone, Chelsea conceded 54 goals. League champions Liverpool conceded 33 while second and third placed Manchester City and Manchester United conceded 35 and 36 respectively. Mid table teams like Sheffield United, Crystal Palace, Burnley and Brighton all conceded fewer goals than Chelsea.
The obvious point is the goalkeeper. Much has been made about Kepa’s inability to make the jump from Athletic Bilbao to Chelsea. Kepa didn’t even see out the end of the season, after being dropped following the 5-3 defeat to Liverpool.
The clubs that conceded fewer goals all have – at the very least – good goalkeepers. The leading pack have stars like Alisson and Ederson. While the mid-table clubs have the likes of Dean Henderson, Mat Ryan and Vicente Guaita. In both Save % and goals conceded per 90’, Kepa falls behind all of them.
Mercifully for Chelsea, the transfer market opens soon. And there are plenty of options for goalkeepers.
However, a change in goalkeeper alone won’t change the team’s defensive fortunes. Personnel across the back four will need either improving or replacing too.
Antonio Rüdiger, Andreas Christensen and Kurt Zouma have been inconsistent. Marcos Alonso’s defensive fragility is often exploited. And the usually reliable César Azpilicueta had a poor end to the season.
Azpilicueta will be 31 by the start of next season. Plainly he is still good enough for the Premier League level, but the cracks in his game were starting to show.
Reece James made the right-back spot his own towards the end of the season, while centre back Fikayo Tomori put in some impressive performances throughout the season.
Assuming James and Tomori continue to develop, they will be two defenders Lampard could trust to stem the flow on the pitch. Lampard has turned to youth successfully upfront with Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Christian Pulisic all performing well.
Lampard’s first season in charge was largely successful, given the circumstances. Taking the squad into fourth in the league, making the FA Cup final, improving the total goals scored and giving deserved match time a young group of players. But the defensive record is too ugly to ignore.
Whether the defensive record was solely down to the players Lampard had at his disposal, or how he set them up will come to fruition next season. If new defensive signings don’t stop the goals, then it will be up to the coaching staff to change things around.