Chelsea FC’s 115th year of existence could be a long one, judging by its slow start. In the first week of the season, Chelsea sustained a 4-0 loss to Manchester United, lost to Liverpool on penalties after playing to a 2-2 draw in the UEFA Super Cup, and tied, 1-1, with Leicester City.
The Blues are in transition under the direction of Frank Lampard, their fourth coach in four years. Four key players (Eden Hazard, Gonzalo Higuain, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, David Luiz) from the Chelsea team that pulled into Gillette Stadium last May were absent for the game against Leicester City at Stamford Bridge Sunday. Previously, Chelsea’s depth might have compensated, but the roster is thinner now, partly because of a transfer ban due to Financial Fair Play violations.
Lampard’s lack of experience is significant. Though he has a coaching pedigree (father Frank Sr. and uncle Harry Redknapp), he has completed only one season as manager at Derby County. When last season’s Chelsea manager, Maurizio Sarri, was 41 — Lampard’s age — he was at Sansovino in Italy’s Serie C, the first of 10 stops before reaching Serie A in 2014.
There were questions about Sarri’s ability to adjust to the Premier League, but he guided Chelsea to third place in the league and a Europa League title. Sarri had the benefit of a rich transfer budget, bringing in former Napoli players Higuain and midfielder Jorginho, enabling him to place his stamp on the team. Lampard’s pupils include midfielders Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic, who are making a solid contribution but do not appear ready to be difference-makers at the highest level.
For Pulisic, the situation presents plusses and minuses. The combination of Lampard’s intent to retool Chelsea with youngsters and the lack of incoming transfers give Pulisic a chance for playing time. But should the Blues continue to struggle, Pulisic could be placed in a position of trying to achieve unrealistic expectations.
In any case, unless Chelsea can get some traction, it could have difficulty justifying a 64 million euro transfer fee for Pulisic that it paid to Borussia Dortmund.
Pulisic, the most expensive US-born player ever, performed well against Leicester, but Chelsea met its match against the Brendan Rodgers-coached Foxes. The Blues took control with a high-pressing style, Mount converting off a turnover in the seventh minute. But Leicester retained its composure, and the game turned into a tactical matchup, with few signs of panic on either side.
NBC Sports announcers mistakenly noted late in the first half the teams needed to get to halftime for “a recharge,” not realizing that when the game is flowing, players can go for extended time without resting. The emphasis on skill and possession led to a wide-open second half, and the announcers recognized they were witnessing a contest of exceptionally high caliber for this early in the season.
The style of play of Chelsea and Leicester City could become a testimony to the increased sophistication of the Premier League. Both teams’ players look to execute a short-passing game, and they also seem eager to take on defenders, going to long balls only as a last resort.
Mount, 20, and Pulisic, 20, seem destined for lengthy careers, though more likely as journeymen than stars. They met their match in Leicester City’s Hamza Choudhury, James Maddison, Wilfred Ndidi, and Youri Tielemans — all 22 or younger.
Chelsea management’s patience will be tested. It will have to set realistic goals, but if Lampard’s team is allowed to play its way through difficulties, things could improve.
As British managers, both Lampard and Rodgers are already battling the odds; each of the league’s top 10 teams had foreign managers last season.
Sporting director/head coach Bruce Arena believes the Revolution will need about 49 points to qualify for the playoffs. With eight games remaining, they have 35 and are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, vying with four teams (Montreal Impact, Orlando City SC, Toronto FC, Chicago Fire) for the final two postseason slots.
The Revolution’s fate could be decided in head-to-head matchups with conference foes.
They will play host to the Fire (33 points) Saturday and Toronto (34 points) on Aug. 31, then visit New York City (41 points) Sept. 7, and Orlando City (34 points) Sept. 14.
After a 1-1 tie with the New York Red Bulls, the Revolution have compiled a seven-game (3-0-4) road unbeaten streak, best in the team’s 24-year history. The Revolution were resourceful in rallying to equalize on a 65th-minute goal by Gustavo Bou Saturday. The score was set up by a sequence of passes through the middle, from Wilfried Zahibo to Juan Agudelo to Carles Gil, whose through ball launched Bou into position to finish past goalkeeper Luis Robles.
Zahibo added confident touches and physicality to the midfield as a second-half substitute for Scott Caldwell. Arena said the Revolution “competed better” in the second half.
“Any time this time of year you’ve got a point on the road against a conference opponent, it’s big, and probably a good lesson for us to get us prepared for these last eight games,” Arena said.
“We have no chance of making the playoffs if we played like we played in the first half. Perhaps it’s a good lesson for us.”
Wayne Rooney adjusted quickly to MLS and has been among the league’s most productive players since joining D.C. United last season. But Rooney’s frustration with officiating and travel arrangements boiled over as United sustained a 1-0 loss in a visit to the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday night.
After being substituted in the second half, Rooney harangued fourth official Pierre-Luc Lauziere, video detecting him saying “every [expletive] game,” as he walked toward the bench.
Then, Rooney sent out a Tweet complaining about the league’s restrictions on traveling via charter: “Looking forward to a 12-hour travel day, which could be done in six, but, hey, this is MLS.”
United (37 points), in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, plays host to the Red Bulls Wednesday.
When Benfica visited Gillette Stadium for a 1-0 win over Milan in an International Champions Cup match last month, the Aguias had just sold 19-year-old Joao Felix to Atletico Madrid for 126 million euros ($139 million). Benfica’s next major export could be defensive midfielder Florentino Luis, who played as a second-half substitute against Milan. Florentino, who turned 20 Monday, has signed a contract worth 600,000 euros ($665,000) annually through 2024 with a buyout clause of 120 million euros ($132 million), the team announced. Benfica, which won the ICC tournament, opened the season with a win over Sporting (5-0) in the Portuguese Super Cup, and has taken league victories over Paços de Ferreira (5-0) and Belenenses (2-0).