Welcome to Lampard 2.0: the upgrade. Although on reflection, it might just take a while to download.
On a lovely late-summer night in Falmer the first fruits of Chelsea’s extravagant close-season spending were evident. Timo Werner looked the liveliest part of an initially ponderous, increasingly fluent 3-1 defeat of Brighton, who were impressively slick and a little unlucky.
Frank Lampard insisted Chelsea had “shown a lot of good stuff” in their Premier League opener. But for 22 minutes at the Amex Stadium, Chelsea’s latest new age struggled to find its rhythm, component parts clanking together, looking for ways to fit.
There was a brief snapshot of the work still to be done as Lampard’s two German debutants combined, Kai Havertz playing a lovely flick pass to Werner on halfway, only for Werner’s own touch to find Marcos Alonso steaming upfield outside him with all the carefree abandon of a heavily laden Victorian coal barge.
Otherwise Yves Bissouma and Steven Alzate had the better of the early midfield exchanges, right up to the moment Alzate played a horrible pass straight to Jorginho on the edge of the Brighton area. He slipped the ball to Werner, who was tripped by Mat Ryan as he veered in on goal. Jorginho put the penalty away with a bravura little swivel and side-foot, celebrating with a shout.
It didn’t feel like a moment of ignition exactly; in part because Brighton had been the livelier team to that point. But then, there was always a temptation to build this game up as an instant referendum on Chelsea’s summer splurge, and indeed on Lampard’s own fitness to juggle the extraordinary talents now at his disposal.
In reality it will take time for the jet-lag of a crazed few months to fade. Hakim Ziyech and Ben Chilwell were absent. Thiago Silva is still “acclimatising” to the new normal of life in the biosecure Premier League, in which case good luck with that old bean and see you in about two years.
Werner is Chelsea’s outstanding summer arrival, and looked it from the start, lining up as a mobile, roving centre-forward, with Havertz on the right side of an attacking three.
Brighton went with a back three, the jet-heeled Tariq Lamptey, once of the Lampard vanguard, starting at right wing-back. Ben White and Adam Lallana also made debuts.
The ground was a striking sight at kick-off, empty stands brilliantly illuminated, powder-blue sky fading over the lip of the swooping main stand. And Brighton were impressive either side of Chelsea’s goal, zipping the ball around nicely and finding space on the flanks.
Just before the interval Werner showed his precision again, cutting inside on the left and shooting fiercely towards Ryan’s near post, an isolated moment of clarity.
Lallana had limped off just before half-time, to be replaced by Aaron Connolly, and it was Connolly’s chest that drew an early save from Kepa Arrizabalaga after the restart, bundling the ball goalwards from Solly March’s driven cross.
Brighton’s entire squad cost somewhere in the region of one headline Chelsea midfield signing, but they continued to look the more settled, orderly team, moving the ball around sweetly and pressing in well-drilled packs.
With 54 minutes gone Leandro Trossard scored a deserved equaliser, taking a pass from Lamptey and curling a fine left-footed shot into the corner as Arrizabalaga flailed vaguely across his line. “I am very happy with Kepa,” Lampard said at the end, convincingly enough.
Two minutes later Chelsea were back in front thanks to something genuinely spectacular from Reece James. Jorginho fed the ball across midfield. James took a step forward 30 yards from goal and spanked his shot in a hard, flat, dipping arc into the top corner of Ryan’s goal.
Lewis Dunk should have made it 2-2, heading just past a post from eight yards out. But Chelsea were shuttling the ball about with more fluency now, Ross Barkley adding some drive to what had been a rather static double‑pivot in the centre of midfield. A sustained spell of possession ended with James forcing a right‑wing corner. His outswinging delivery was volleyed in by Kurt Zouma, whose shot took a large deflection.
And that was pretty much that. What to make of this New Chelsea? Havertz was a languid figure during his 79 minutes, which brought no shots, 23 passes and one dribble (was it really that many?). He is a grand talent, who can be expected to find his space in this team at some stage. Elsewhere Chilwell should provide a significant upgrade on Alonso, who seems to be playing each game through his own portable section of peat bog.
By the end Chelsea were dominant, Brighton a little dispirited, their fine team play blown away by a conglomerate of superior individuals and one moment of brilliance from James. There is still plenty of slack to be taken up in this evolving Lampard team. This was a safe first step.