The Blues were punished for their naivety in Frank Lampard’s first game in charge, despite playing well for long spells
At the start of the 1995-96 season – after a youthful Manchester United side had just lost their opening game to Aston Villa – Alan Hansen infamously remarked that “you can’t win anything with kids.”
He would regret those comments as ‘The Class of ’92’ – featuring the likes of David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers – would go on to win the league and FA Cup on their way to dominating English football.
Similar questions will no doubt be asked of Frank Lampard’s very talented young Chelsea team after they were taught a harsh lesson on the opening day of the current season.
The Blues were thumped 4-0 at Old Trafford after a game in which they played well for long periods but were let down by poor finishing and naive defending.
Chelsea had more possession, more shots and more control of the round ball but lacked the ruthlessness in both boxes compared to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s troops.
Lampard’s starting line-up was a statement of trust in his army of young graduates as both Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount were selected by the ex-midfielder.
Although United’s team was even younger than Lampard’s, this was a new philosophy for a Chelsea squad that has regularly snubbed academy players over the last two decades.
With an average age of 25 years and 199 days, it was the youngest starting XI Chelsea have ever started a Premier League season with.
This change in approach has been prompted by the appointment of Lampard, who believes that the best academy in England can bring success to a club who have been banned from signing players this summer.
Sunday’s loss won’t deter Lampard, but his young players must learn the harsh lessons from this 4-0 pummelling.
Chelsea started well and Abraham was unlucky to hit the post at 0-0 in a bright first half for the No.9. He led the press well for much of the match, but he was also physically bullied at times by Man Utd’s impressive £80 million signing Harry Maguire, who enjoyed a fine debut for the Red Devils.
Mount’s energy has been a weapon for the Blues and he found space brilliantly in the opening period. His pressing was a crucial reason why United struggled to pass the round ball early on, but he also has things to work on.
The 21-year-old can certainly be more decisive and make better decisions in the final third. Like some of his team-mates, he will believe that he could have been more efficient during Chelsea’s long periods of dominance.
Manchester United had young players of their own leading the line but Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Andreas Pereira have more experience at the top level of football.
Chelsea were unlucky to hit the woodwork twice, but they also must accept that their finishing was not clinical enough.
Lampard’s bigger concern though will be his defence. Kurt Zouma’s error led to a Rashford penalty against the run of play in the first half. All in all, the Frenchman never looked comfortable after returning from two seasons on loan at Stoke City and Everton.
Perhaps the backline has been an area where Chelsea’s lack of experience could hurt them after they lost both David Luiz and Gary Cahill this summer. Zouma’s partner Andreas Christensen still needs to convince people of his class, too.
It was Man Utd’s counter-attacking football that did the damage in the second half as Chelsea collapsed after Anthony Martial claimed a crucial second. Rashford and Daniel James added two more goals as the Blues were torn apart by the pace of United’s attackers.
It has been not all doom and gloom, though.
Chelsea went to the biggest stadium in the country and proved that they could move the round ball better than their opponents. For long periods, it looked as though the outcome would be very different and the scoreline has been a little flattering to the Red Devils.
Lampard didn’t do a lot wrong tactically – even if it was a surprise to see Christian Pulisic start as a substitute – but Solskjaer’s second-half switch to defend deeper and hit longer balls was also pivotal to the result.
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The experienced players like Cesar Azpilicueta, Ross Barkley and Pedro were all as guilty as their younger team-mates in making naive errors. Azpilicueta was at fault for the second goal, while Pedro’s distribution was, at times, wayward.
The Premier League can be a cruel place at times, and now Chelsea’s young players need to show they have the mental strength to react to this disappointment. There certainly has been no doubt about their talent.
Like Man Utd’s class of ‘92, Chelsea’s class of 2019 are going to have to prove the doubters wrong. Some will say Chelsea can’t win anything with youth, but Lampard will give them the chance to show they can.