Jurgen Klopp says Chelsea are favourites to win the Premier League. Mind games, of course.
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If ever there was a transparent attempt to shovel pressure on to the shoulders of young challengers, this is it.
What it does prove, however, is that Klopp is concerned enough to make mention of the team who, just before the Match of the Day credits rolled on Saturday, sat at the summit of the table.
But is Klopp right? Netsentertainment examines the make-up of Frank Lampard’s title contenders.
He doesn’t take kindly to criticism, does Lampard. He was stung by the coverage after 3-3 home draw with Southampton in October — he mentioned it twice after this 3-1 win over Leeds — but Chelsea have won eight from 11 in all competitions since, so perhaps such hurt serves as motivation for the boss.
That prickliness apart, Lampard is erudite, passionate and, as is becoming apparent with each passing week, more tactically savvy than he is given credit for.
Chelsea’s seven goals from set-pieces is a league high and, says Lampard, is an improvement he has drilled into his players in training.
They clearly like the manager, too. And that counts for a lot — just look at Klopp.
Not losing is a sound starting point and Chelsea have been beaten once all season. Their next loss will be a test of Lampard’s title credentials. He won’t like it, but that is no bad thing.
AT THE BACK
Only Spurs have conceded fewer than Chelsea’s 11 this season. Take away a couple of bonkers 3-3 draws with West Brom and Southampton, and they have easily been the division’s stingiest backline.
Five clean sheets from their last eight in the Premier League is impressive, but also consider this: goalkeeper Edouard Mendy has conceded just four times in 13 matches since arriving in September.
Another new signing, 36-year-old Thiago Silva, has been outstanding in recent matches. He has made less than one tackle per game on average but that is because he doesn’t have to, so cunning is he in reading danger.
And then there is the Brazilian’s passing. There was one ball against Leeds — zipped forward first time 30 yards across the floor to a team-mate’s feet — that was akin to something from one of the game’s finest playmakers.
To that end, Lampard’s defence is very much part of his attack, evidenced by another assist for right back Reece James in laying on their first for Olivier Giroud, not to mention a fourth goal of the season for centre back Kurt Zouma.
A narrow midfield three and wide forwards who cut infield have cleared the flanks for James and left back Ben Chilwell, and they need no invitation to use them.
So be it the hard numbers or how easy Chelsea’s defence is on the eye, this department has the look of being title-ready.
Before we bypass the midfield, a word on N’Golo Kante. He is back to the level that drove Leicester to the title in 2016 — so why can’t he inspire a more talented supporting cast to the same?
But it is another World Cup winner who could emerge as the player who makes the difference. Giroud said he felt like Lampard had left him ‘facing the wall’ after failing to start a League game since July.
The France striker has run straight through the brickwork in the past week with his four goals in the Champions League followed by a goal and man-of-the-match showing against Leeds.
Silva and Giroud may have a combined age of 70, but that might just give Chelsea the craftiness and experience they need to edge their young team towards a title.
Teams who rack up the goals are generally not far away, either, and Chelsea are second top scorers.
Klopp is wrong. Chelsea aren’t favourites for the title. That is still Liverpool or Manchester City. But they are the team who should be causing that pair the most unrest.
You only have to look as far as Klopp’s comments to realise they have achieved that much already.
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