Frank Lampard’s £200m summer spending spree designed to move Chelsea closer to Premier League champions Liverpool was never going to bring instant results – but Sunday’s 2-0 home defeat was still a bruising, painful brush with reality.
Lampard’s immediate concern will be the replacement of Chelsea’s calamitous goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who once more flouted his £71m price tag to such an extent that it might well have had owner Roman Abramovich demanding to know who was responsible for him signing that cheque.
The Blues are now close to completing the £20m purchase of Rennes keeper Eduoard Mendy, formalities possibly hastened by the manner in which Kepa’s awful clearance gifted Sadio Mane his second goal in Liverpool’s 2-0 win.
In the wider context, Chelsea and Lampard’s negative approach came as a surprise, arguably exaggerating the already very large gulf in class between themselves and their visitors.
It always takes time for a clutch of new signings to settle in, for a team to adapt around them, and Chelsea’s business this summer has been extensive.
Timo Werner worked tirelessly in a hopeless cause, winning a late penalty missed by Jorginho, while Kai Havertz was taken off as Lampard reshaped his line-up after defender Andreas Christensen was correctly sent off for a panic-stricken rugby tackle on Mane just before half-time.
Chelsea’s defensive cavalry, Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell, are not yet ready while attacker Hakim Ziyech has been injured. The brilliant Christian Pulisic is also injured – so it is far too early to dig into Lampard’s dealings this summer.
Antonio Rudiger, strangely, was nowhere to be seen and while Fikayo Tomori did nothing wrong as a substitute, the German’s experience and physical presence might have helped. It was an exclusion that seemed at odds with Chelsea’s requirements.
What also raised eyebrows was the home
side’s passive, conservative gameplan that handed impetus to Liverpool from the first whistle, something they were more than happy to accept.
Chelsea got so stuck in a rigid defensive rut, hoping Werner’s pace would threaten on the counter-attack, that they could not get out.
It is madness to suggest Lampard’s men should have come out and thrown the kitchen sink at Liverpool but their approach resembled a team that would have settled for a point and hoped a bit of pace and magic might snatch all three on the break.
It was not happening. It was never happening. The Reds were too good, too ruthless and too packed with quality not to take advantage of what they were offered.
Lampard’s strategy was even more high-risk against Liverpool given the fact both his goalkeeper and the current Chelsea defence represent accidents waiting to happen, which they duly did. An already nervous defence is frayed even further by a nervous keeper.
Silva will bring experience and calm, although he will have to become accustomed to the Premier League, while Chilwell should offer more solidity than Marcos Alonso.
Chelsea will improve once these quality players bed in but this was a chance to make a powerful statement of where they want to be and they lost with a whimper, well on the way down and out even before the numerical disadvantage brought about by Christensen’s dismissal.
And for all the business of the summer, Chelsea’s main problem has remained unaddressed (although it is about to be) in the shape of the shot confidence of keeper Kepa.
This is a goalkeeper Lampard lost faith in last season, even preferring 38-year-old Willy Caballero at the end of the season, so it has to be questioned why Kepa somehow survived until the opening games this season, where he has been predictably unimpressive against Brighton and now Liverpool.
The home side at Stamford Bridge deserved nothing, irrespective of the sending off, and in the end it could have been worse.
Lampard can still reflect on the fact he will soon have the ability to add touches of class and experience but the lack of ambition in Chelsea’s approach was disappointing, as was the result.
Liverpool, on the other hand, demonstrated their hunger and desire has not been reduced by the club’s first title in 30 years. If anyone wanted an answer to whether the glory of last season will lessen their appetite, it came here.
A good few days for Jurgen Klopp’s side, in which they have added elite quality in Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich and also strengthened the squad with the arrival of Diogo Jota from Wolves, has ended in highly satisfactory fashion with a victory that was even easier than the scoreline suggests.
Manchester City and others harbouring dreams of mounting a challenge (reality suggests it will only be Pep Guardiola’s side) would not have needed any reminder about how tough it will be to take the title away.