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Ken Early: Kai Havertz already a conundrum for cautious Chelsea

Frank Lampard has to play attacking football and must find a way for German to thrive

Last week Frank Lampard appeared on the High Performance podcast, interviewed by BT Sports football presenter Jake Humphrey.

We learned that Lampard attributes his own success to a combination of hard work, talent and intelligence.

We learned that his father was never afraid to criticise the young Frank and point out his weaknesses, while his mother was kinder and gentler. We learned that he tries to model his own parenting style more on his mother’s.

We also learned about his philosophy on recruitment in football. “You have to look at it in the context of the squad that you have. In football terms, it has to be joined up...You have to look at the balance of the squad and think, where do we need to improve?”


That’s the way Lampard sees it: you buy the players you need. But there are people at Chelsea who see it differently, as evidenced by the decision to pay a club record €100 million for Kai Havertz, the 21-year-old German who has been subbed off by Lampard in both his Chelsea appearances so far.

Havertz is generally acknowledged to be a brilliant player, rated as the best German footballer of his age and probably the best for a couple of years either side as well. In a normal year he would have joined Bayern this summer, where he would have had a clear role in the squad as the long-term replacement for Thomas Müller.

But this is not a normal year. Realising that the pandemic had frozen the transfer market, and no other big club was both able and willing to pay Leverkusen’s asking price, Chelsea swooped. For the first time since Eden Hazard joined them in 2012 they had managed to sign perhaps the most sought after young player in Europe.

All that’s left is to figure out where Havertz actually fits in. He likes to play as an attacking midfielder or a false nine, and has also played right wing. Yet Chelsea don’t play with a number 10, or a false nine, and they already have more options than they can use in attacking midfield and on the right wing.

Good price

The fact is that Chelsea bought Havertz not because he solves a particular problem in their team, but because he was a star player available at a good price. They’re not building a team but an asset portfolio.

The player who is most obviously threatened by Havertz is Mason Mount, who happens to be a long-term protege of Lampard’s.

Mount’s free kick against Wolves on the last day of the season helped to seal Chelsea’s place in the Champions League. This might also have guaranteed the club the funds they needed to sign his replacement. It’s nothing personal, just business.

Of course it wasn’t Lampard’s plan to replace Mount. If you were approaching the Chelsea recruitment question in the way he described to Humphrey, you would say: we conceded 79 goals in 55 games last season, we need to do something about the defence.

The most obvious need was for a new goalkeeper after Kepa Arrizabalaga had posted the worst goalkeeping statistics ever recorded in the Premier League, conceding an unbelievable 45 per cent of shots on target.

The need to replace Kepa was all the more pressing since Lampard had plainly lost faith in him, dropping him on several occasions for Willy Caballero, whose save percentage was hardly any better.

Yet when Chelsea began the new season there was Kepa in the starting line-up, alongside £125 million of new attacking talent from the Bundesliga and no new defensive talent from anywhere. Kepa’s mistakes have already cost the team two goals in two games.

It was noteworthy that in Lampard’s High Performance conversation with Humphrey when he described the biggest difference he has noticed between Chelsea and his previous club Derby County, he spoke about the bureaucracy.

“It’s bigger. The network is huge. The training ground is huge. I walk from my office down to the canteen, there’s four, five, six offices with people doing different work – more numbers, more people.”

You could sense Lampard’s bemusement before the vast and impenetrable workings of the Chelsea Deep State. It was in one of those offices that some faceless functionary first hatched the disastrous plan of making Kepa the world’s most expensive goalkeeper. Now Lampard, the Man in the Arena, is left to mop up the mess.

He talked about how important it is to keep open the lines of communication with all of those offices, but it sounded like he missed the simplicity of the set-up at Derby.

Yesterday’s defeat was his third out of three against Liverpool in the league. You could argue it was all down to individual mistakes: the Kepa error, the red card, the feeble missed penalty (does Jorginho know that Lampard scored 48 penalties for Chelsea without ever feeling the need to do one of those silly hops?)


But that would be to ignore the fact that Chelsea were outplayed and dominated from the first minute. Their timid set-up never looked likely to get anything out of the game even before the red card.

Lampard’s game plan was all about packing the midfield and hoping to get Timo Werner in on a fast break. It was an approach you associate with a smaller club hoping to snatch a draw, not a title contender aiming to lay down a market at home.

It compared badly to Leeds’ performance at Liverpool a week earlier, when a team full of players fresh from the Championship attacked Liverpool fearlessly and were rewarded with three goals.

Lampard told Humphrey that when he gets too intense about work his wife reminds him it’s only a game. So what is he so afraid of?

He should know by now that when you are the manager of a big club with a rich impatient owner it’s much better to go down all guns blazing than to play cautiously and lose anyway.

He has to play attacking football, and he has to find a way for Havertz to thrive. If not Chelsea will soon go and get someone else who can.

It’s nothing personal, just business.