Dubai: Try as he might, Frank Lampard is still searching for his first win as Chelsea boss.
An opening-day thrashing by Manchester United was followed by a game of two halves against Leicester City on Sunday in which Chelsea showed much promise in the first 45 minutes before being outfoxed by the Foxes for much of the second and held on for a draw.
Much of Chelsea’s struggles this early in the season are through no fault of Lampard’s as — due to a transfer ban — the London side were unable to strengthen in midfield following the departure of star playmaker Eden Hazard to Real Madrid.
But how the new manager must wish he had key man Ruben Loftus-Cheek fit and able to step into that midfield void. Sadly the talented youngster is out for the foreseeable future with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
In his absence, Chelsea have the worst tackling success rate in the league so far this season — at only 50 per cent. Jorginho is an adept distributor of the ball but he lacks the muscle to regain possession. N’Golo Kante — probably their best tackler — has been moved further up the pitch to help out a thinning forward line.
Maybe it is time for Lampard to trust his young attackers Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Christian Pulisic, and bring Kante in to shore up the middle.
Following a weekend that saw good wins for Liverpool and Arsenal — and a thrilling draw between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur — Monday night witnessed another young manager pondering how to solve his ‘Bix Six’ side’s struggles.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United were lucky to come away from Molineux Stadium with a point against Wolverhampton Wanderers. The home side twice hit the woodwork against United and scored a wonderful leveller through Ruben Nevez to cancel out a first-half opener from Anthony Martial.
Despite all the talk beforehand, there was no place in the squad for United misfit Alexis Sanchez, and a loan move to Inter Milan may be on the cards for the Chilean to get him off the wage bill. A bigger headache for Solskjaer on the field was the anonymity of the infuriating Paul Pogba, who seemed to be strolling around the park while his teammates grafted for every ball. The Frenchman had a late chance to win the match for the visitors, but his penalty was saved by Rui Patricio, to add fuel to the United supporters’ ire, many of whom are keen to see the back of the clearly talented player who has his efforts questioned all too frequently.
It may say something about Solskjaer’s lack of leadership when, after the match, he passed the buck on penalty-taking duties to his players.
The save by Patricio was Pogba’s fourth failure from the spot since last season and Marcus Rashford netted his kick against Chelsea last week.
Despite this, Pogba seemed to tell Rashford it was his turn, and Solskjaer meekly shrugged afterwards.
“The two of them are designated the penalty shooters and it’s up to them there and then who feels ‘this is mine’,” he said. “Sometimes players just feel they are confident enough to score. Paul has scored so many penalties for us and today Rui Patricio made a good save.”
Former United star Gary Neville saw things differently. “They should decide in the dressing room who is the penalty taker — it’s embarrassing,” Neville told Sky Sports. “This is a Manchester United penalty, this not a tombola, this is not under-fives on the school field.”
Little Ole will need to get used to such flak as it looks like a long season ahead.
Elsewhere, tipped for the drop, Sheffield United have made an impressive start to life in the Premier League following a 12-year absence.
A 1-1 draw at Bournemouth on the opening weekend was followed by good win against Crystal Palace on Sunday, leaving the Blades in joint-third behind the only two teams with maximum points — Liverpool and Arsenal.
That may be a false position this early in the season, but picking up points against sides outside the big six is vital to survival in the top flight and Sheffield have certainly started on the right foot.
Arsenal 2, Burnley 1
Aston Villa 1, Bournemouth 2
Brighton 1, West Ham 1
Everton 1, Watford 0
Norwich 3, Newcastle 1
Southampton 1, Liverpool 2
Man City 2, Tottenham 2
Sheffield United 1, Crystal Palace 0
Chelsea 1, Leicester 1
Wolverhampton 1, Man United 1