Those Chelsea supporters who chose not to spend their Sunday afternoon watching their team take on League Two opposition breathed a collective sigh of relief upon seeing Callum Hudson-Odoi, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner among the goals and assists in an emphatic victory.
But while the 4-0 scoreline against Morecambe suggests a professional, efficient day’s work from an unexpectedly strong Blues lineup, it was by no means easy viewing. In fact, all the signs are that a wavering Chelsea will continue to toil against Fulham on Saturday.
Frank Lampard’s side looked every bit a struggling-Premier-League-team-forcing-a-win-against-lower-league-opposition-in-the-cup, perhaps justifiably willing the ball into the back of the net rather than playing with any real verve or freedom until the game was already beyond the minnows – or Shrimps in this case.
That subconscious approach meant Chelsea‘s reinvention as a crossing side – intended or otherwise – was laid bare, with Hakim Ziyech launching approx. 156 of his trademark left-foot whips into the Morecambe box to varying degrees of success, while Mason Mount and even Toni Rüdiger resorted to long-range efforts even before the 20-minute mark, with the former eventually opening the scoring with one of them.
Despite clearly having the players with the ability to play through the low block of a League Two side, Frank Lampard’s charges seemed to very quickly abandon any attempt to dissect Morecambe with the ball on the deck and reverted to type with their recent over-reliance on crossing.
Obviously it worked, as well it might against a play-off chasing fourth-tier side, and while the quality of the deliveries was excellent, it is hard to get too excited about the goals and all-round display, including those of Werner and Havertz.
In fairness to the latter, he used the ball effectively, showed composure to assist his compatriot with a cushioned header and finished well with his own towering leap late on, but even against lower-league opposition the cocky swagger, tricks and flicks that made him such an exciting acquisition were still lacking from his game as he continues to work his way back to his peak following a nasty bout of COVID-19.
Werner was more subdued, despite bringing his 13-game goal drought to an end. This was not the strike to make you believe he is on the cusp of rediscovering his lethal confidence in front of goal; while Chelsea supporters would have hoped for a slaloming run and finish, or an emphatic blast from in or around the penalty area, the reality was a tap-in from all of two yards out – the result of one of those Ziyech whips and the aforementioned tee-up from Havertz.
Back-to-back fixtures against Morecambe and Fulham were supposed to offer Lampard a reprieve from a stinking run of one win in seven over the festive period, but the strangely unconvincing performance against Morecambe means the short trip across west London remains a daunting prospect for supporters.
Having looked like absolute no-hopers in the opening weeks of the season Fulham have found some rhythm and steel, drawing five league games on the bounce including creditable points against Liverpool, Southampton, Tottenham, and, despite playing 30 minutes with ten men against them, Newcastle.
Four points from safety, the Cottagers have every chance of survival – especially with two relegation places already reserved for Sheffield United and West Brom.
Springing their most recent surprise at Spurs on Wednesday night, Scott Parker arguably deserved to take all three points against his former manager, and his side will be buoyed by their impressive second half ahead of his ex-teammate’s visit for Saturday’s late kick off.
With a fully fit squad at his disposal – aside from the suspended N’Golo Kanté – Lampard must get his team selection right. The recent insistence on crossing football and Olivier Giroud‘s form (three in four league games) perhaps call for the Frenchman to start, with Werner’s tap-in last weekend possibly a false dawn with another Premier League low block looming.
Anything less than a win will leave the head coach submerged in hot water, but a stepping-stone victory piggybacking on the momentum of the FA Cup win could set Chelsea up nicely for upcoming tougher tests against Leicester and Wolves.