When the draw for the third round of the FA Cup pitted Chelsea against Morecambe, Blues fans were excited by the prospect of seeing some more of their academy gems in action against the League Two side.
Up until the day of the game, it looked like manager Frank Lampard was going to deliver. Midfielder Billy Gilmour was expected to start, and five academy starlet – Tino Anjorin, Lewis Bate, Henry Lawrence, Jude Soonsup-Bell and Tino Livramento – were all invited up to train with the seniors.
The excitement faded when Chelsea unveiled their team sheet, however. Gilmour was handed a start and Anjorin was the only youngster afforded a spot on the bench, with Lampard instead opting for a strong team.
It was a bold decision from the boss, whose aura is largely built on his desire to play young players. To get away with it, he needed a near-perfect performance from his seniors, and it’s safe to say that he got that.
Sure, blooding some more young players is a nice way to appease fans, but Lampard showed he had his priorities straight by sticking with his regular first-teamers and allowing them to rebuild their confidence with a comfortable, goal-filled victory.
Chelsea have lost their mojo in recent weeks, winning just one of their last seven games before the Morecambe fixture. The team was struggling, and big-money signings like Timo Werner and Kai Havertz were really struggling.
Instead of building some excitement around Soonsup-Bell or Bate, Lampard recognised the importance of getting Werner and Havertz firing again. Sure, it might not be as exciting in the short term, but it could hardly be more important in the long run.
It’s a decision which paid off very quickly. Chelsea were enjoying themselves from the first whistle against Morecambe, with Werner, Havertz and fellow new arrival Hakim Ziyech spending plenty of time on the ball.
We saw Werner bag Chelsea’s second goal, Ziyech assist the third and Havertz net the fourth, ending some long stretches without meaningful impact for all three players. Job done.
Granted, it was perhaps a little disappointing not to see more of the academy kids. When you’re three or four goals ahead, it’s the ideal time to give them at least one minute of action, particularly birthday boy Soonsup-Bell, but Lampard had good reason to remain hyper-focused on reigniting his senior squad.
Chelsea have fallen down to ninth in the Premier League and Lampard has found his job on the line. There’s no point planning for the future because he might not even be around to see it if he doesn’t figure out the present.
We’re not going to go as far as to say that Werner, Havertz or Chelsea as a whole are ‘back’. This was a League Two side after all, and Morecambe gave a great account of themselves, but Chelsea had a job to do and they did it.
The Blues will have enjoyed playing football for the first time in what feels like an eternity, and now that spirits are high, Lampard will confident of kick-starting another impressive run of form in the league.
There’s still plenty of time for Chelsea’s youngsters to pick up some minutes, but Lampard’s focus has to be on the first team right now. Fixing the problems there is his top priority.