Chelsea suffered their worst-ever defeat over two legs in a European tie against Bayern Munich in the Champions League last 16. It finished 4-1 on Saturday night and 7-1 on aggregate.
Chelsea can point to a number of factors for this second-leg hammering – suspensions for Jorginho and Marcos Alonso, plus injuries to Christian Pulisic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Cesar Azpilicueta and Billy Gilmour – but this was a lesson, Bayern proving to be so much better over the course of 180 minutes.
It was not through luck that Bayern were dispossessing Chelsea, finding the final ball and dominating possession. It was a statement of their world-class credentials.
Indeed, Bayern were in second gear for most of the return leg, resting players and still looking invincible bar Manuel Neuer’s error which gifted Tammy Abraham his 18th goal of the season.
That’s not a bad return for his first season as Chelsea’s No.9 but compare it to Robert Lewandowski. With his two goals here, the Poland frontman made it 53 for the season and he added another two assists for good measure.
Bayern had composure and experienced players all over the pitch, not least in midfield where Thiago was supreme. Chelsea simply cannot compete, man-for-man, on equal footing with so little proven Champions League performers in the ranks.
Aside from Mateo Kovacic, who won the Champions League three times with Real Madrid as a back-up option, there is very little top-level experience in this squad.
Even senior stars like N’Golo Kante and Ross Barkley have played just three seasons in the competition between them.
Abraham, Reece James and Mason Mount were in the Championship last season, while Callum Hudson-Odoi became the first teenager to start a knockout Champions League game for Chelsea since Glen Johnson in 2004.
Lampard spared his 17-year-old and 18-year-olds their debuts from the bench but Chelsea still became the first team in the competition’s history to have three Englishmen aged 21 or younger start the match.
But stepping up to the Premier League is one thing and the Champions League knockouts is another, especially against a team now three matches from a second treble in seven years.
« Without a doubt, a game against this level of the opponent will stretch you and strain you, » Lampard admitted after the match on a Zoom press conference.
« For Reece, Callum, Tammy and Mason, but what I saw were young players there staying in the game, showing their quality and fighting until the end.
« N’Golo Kante, who played 50 per cent of our games this year, we missed him badly and he showed why he is the player he is with his level of performance in the game, particularly in the second half.
« So, the result isn’t nice and probably most people expected us to lose anyway but we went in with the absolute right intentions and we competed. Of course, we are not happy with the defeat, but when you match up the two teams of where we want to get to then it will take time.
« It won’t happen overnight; we know the position that we are in. To be congratulated a lot from the outside for getting into the top four shows the position we are in as Chelsea, I suppose. So we take a rest, which the players richly deserve and we look forward and we want to improve. »
Chelsea limped through the group stage, Valencia missing a host of simple chances on the final matchday, while the Blues’ defence have now let in 17 goals over their European campaign, their worst such figure in the history of the competition.
Lampard opted against using a more solid 3-4-3 formation on the night, with Antonio Rudiger and Fikayo Tomori on the bench, which could have eased the openness shown in his current system which features a back four.
Finishing in the top four in the Premier League was a big, lucrative achievement but defensive issues cannot be explained away simply by the transfer ban or inexperience.
For many, after this brief holiday, attention will turn to Chelsea’s recruitment, an area where the club have had a mixed recent track record.
There are signs that it could be a glorious transfer market for the club with their might shown through deals for RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner and Ajax playmaker Hakim Ziyech signed for a combined £84 million ($105m).
Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz could be next but Saturday was another reminder for Marina Granovskaia to seek out high-class, defensive-minded players.
Positives can be gleaned from Frank Lampard’s first season in charge but there is no doubt a lot of work to be done both in the transfer market and on the training pitch.
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