Considered Premier League title contenders only last month, an alarming run has seen Chelsea slip dramatically down the Premier League table.
Frank Lampard’s side went top on December 5 after beating Leeds United in the club’s first game in front of fans for nine months.
But since those jubilant scenes at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea have won just two matches, one of which was a routine victory over Morecambe in the FA Cup.
Four Premier League defeats in less than a month leaves the Blues ninth – six points adrift of the top-four places and ten points behind leaders Manchester United.
Indeed, Chelsea’s run over the festive period was so poor that Arsenal – who endured their worst start to a top-flight campaign since 1974-75 – could go above them this weekend.
Lampard’s side will be desperate to prevent that from happening and rediscover their early-season form on Saturday when they travel to Craven Cottage to face Fulham.
But with summer signing Timo Werner struggling, N’Golo Kante suspended and Callum Hudson-Odoi staking a claim, it may be wise for Lampard to make a few changes as he looks to kick-start Chelsea’s season.
With Edouard Mendy rested for Chelsea’s FA Cup win over Morecambe, Kepa Arrizabalaga was handed a rare start and produced an assured performance to keep the League Two side at bay.
Lampard has made a point of praising Kepa’s attitude in training recently as the Spain international attempts to revive his Chelsea career, and perhaps he can do just that. But he won’t get an opportunity this weekend and remains a fair way behind Mendy, who has been a key figure for Lampard since his arrival from Rennes.
Chelsea’s defensive issues throughout the 2019-20 campaign were well documented and the signing of Thiago Silva over the summer has helped hugely. The Brazilian has not only proved he still has what it takes to play at the top level, but also – and perhaps just as significantly – enabled his new team-mates to raise their game.
Kurt Zouma has formed a promising centre-back partnership with Silva and will hope to thwart Fulham and help keep a Premier League clean sheet for only the second time since December.
Due to injury, Reece James has not played since the Boxing Day defeat to Arsenal. The England star was poor that afternoon but is back fit and will slot back in. Cesar Azpilicueta is handy cover and an important squad player but James is a rare talent. Another summer signing, the former Leicester City defender Ben Chilwell, will play at left-back.
While Kante’s suspension cannot be viewed as a blessing in disguise, it does at least open the door to Billy Gilmour, a player Lampard rates highly.
The 19-year-old burst onto the scene last season with two superb performances against Merseyside rivals Liverpool and Everton – and Lampard says he knew then he was dealing with a special talent.
Due to the competition at Stamford Bridge and an unfortunate knee injury, Gilmour has had to be patient this season, featuring in just two Premier League matches, but he deserves more of a chance and this is his opportunity.
Discussing Gilmour’s progress after he helped Chelsea reach the fourth round of the FA Cup, Lampard said: ‘I think Billy is pushing [for a regular run in the first-team] and has been since he made his breakthrough last season against top-level opposition.
‘From those moments I knew Billy would be a very, very good player for this club. He came in [against Morecambe] and his attitude was good, he moved the ball well.’
Mason Mount has already made 31 appearances for club and country this season. He may need a rest at some stage but will surely start against Fulham, particularly after he ended his goal-drought in the FA Cup. There is little between Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho, but the latter has endured a mixed spell at Chelsea and was dropped for the recent defeat to Manchester City.
Hakim Ziyech, the skilful summer signing from Ajax, could drop into a deeper role but Lampard may be concerned that would expose what is already a fairly lightweight midfield.
Hudson-Odoi has done enough in recent weeks to earn a start. A second-half substitute in the recent defeats to Arsenal and Man City, the 20-year-old was involved in both of Chelsea’s goals and also scored against Morecambe.
Once rated as one of the most exciting players in England, Hudson-Odoi’s career has stagnated over the past 12 months but recent signs suggest he is coming back to his best.
Ziyech and Kai Havertz are other options for Lampard but perhaps it is time for the Blues boss to put his faith in a player who has made 77 appearances for the club rather than new signings at the start of their Chelsea careers.
Having been named in the FA Cup team of the round, Ziyech may feel aggrieved if he does not start at Craven Cottage, but Pulisic gets the nod on the left. There is little to separate the Moroccan and American stars, who have both scored twice in the Premier League, but Pulisic’s form last season puts him in front of a player yet to fully settle at the club.
Earlier in the season, it all looked so good for Werner. In the space of a month, he scored ten goals in nine games for club and country. His form and confidence has deserted him, however, and it may be time to take him out of the firing line.
Werner scored against minnows Morecambe but was anonymous in the Man City defeat, and it remains unclear whether he is best suited to play on the left or up the middle.
Chelsea have an embarrassment of riches in the final third so there is no need to keep playing Werner while he is out of form, even if a trip to relegation-battlers Fulham may be the perfect antidote for his struggles.
Olivier Giroud is a top-class Premier League striker and one of France’s most prolific goalscorers, while Tammy Abraham scored 19 goals last season and rarely lets Lampard down. Both should arguably be above Werner in the pecking order and, with ten goals in his last 11 matches, it is hard to look past Giroud.
Follow Metro Sport across our social channels, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
For more stories like this, check our sport page.
Source: Read Full Article