Chelsea’s Champions League win over Rennes could not have been more routine, over as a contest before the interval against opponents reduced to damage limitation and numerical disadvantage inside 45 minutes.
And yet, despite the low-key and comfortable nature of the 3-0 victory, it can be judged in the wider context as another sign of the progress being made under manager Frank Lampard that has lurked a little beneath the radar.
The bare facts are that Chelsea’s latest Champions League triumph was never in question after Timo Werner’s two first-half penalties, both given against Rennes defender Dalbert, the second for a harsh handball offence which brought a second yellow card and dismissal.
Tammy Abraham’s third merely provided confirmation of a very straightforward night but Lampard has every reason to look outside this win and feel growing confidence in his reshaped Chelsea side.
Solid at the back now?
The fingers were pointed firmly in the direction of Chelsea’s defence and Lampard’s organisational ability as they struggled earlier in the season, particularly when conceding three goals in draws away at West Bromwich Albion and at home to Southampton.
Kepa Arrizabalaga, a shocking buy at £71m, and 39-year-old Willy Caballero shared the troublesome goalkeeping position while England left-back Ben Chilwell, signed for £50m from Leicester City, was initially injured and the experienced Thiago Silva, at 36, was becoming accustomed to the Premier League pace.
It now looks increasingly as though Lampard’s belief that Chelsea would present a different face once new faces became more familiar, is starting to come true.
The signing of goalkeeper Edouard Mendy from Rennes has provided the sort of solidity and composure rarely seen under Arrizabalaga. Early days, of course, but the signs are good.
Chelsea are now well on their way towards eight hours without conceding a goal, Mendy helping them to keep five consecutive clean sheets for the first time since October 2010. They have not conceded a goal in the first three games of their Champions League campaign, which last happened in 2009-10.
Mendy, 28, is very much a personal project for Chelsea’s technical advisor Petr Cech, one of the club’s greatest in that position and who also played for Rennes.
Cech’s input was important in the decision to sign Mendy, revealing he stood out among 30 keepers he had watched in the last 18 months.
Thiago Silva is now bringing his experience to bear, extracting the best from Kurt Zouma, while Chilwell is also improving rapidly. The veteran Brazilian barely broke sweat against Rennes, organising, making crucial interceptions while occasionally spraying the most magnificent long passes.
A cutting edge up front
There was never any doubt about the pedigree of Werner, a £47.5m signing from RB Leipzig, and his two goals on Wednesday made it seven from his last seven games for Chelsea and Germany.
Werner has pace and a potent mixture of greed and unselfishness that will make him a huge asset for Chelsea. He is certainly the man on the spot now, scoring two emphatic penalties after assuming duties from Jorginho after his recent failures.
He is also a specialist in this competition having been directly involved in 13 goals, 10 goals and three assists, in his last 14 Champions League appearances, with the last five from the penalty spot.
Hakim Ziyech has shown his potential in flashes, although Kai Havertz was missing after returning a positive test for Covid-19.
Chelsea always had quality up front. The doubts were at the back but they are now looking accomplished at both ends of the pitch with plenty of quality in midfield against Rennes in the shape of Jorginho, Mason Mount and N’Golo Kante, who were in the starting line-up.
Mendy looks the part in goal, showing his powers of concentration with one fine late saving after being virtually unemployed.
It is no time to get carried away but that unbeaten sequence, and the manner in which it is being put together, will be the cause for quiet confidence around Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea are in seventh place in an unpredictable, fluctuating Premier League but stand only four points behind leaders and reigning champions Liverpool.
It is early days as Lampard puts a fresh face on Chelsea in his second season in charge, integrating new signings with the talent he inherited – but he will have left Stamford Bridge on Tuesday with growing optimism.
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