If title challenges are built on the ability to grind out scrappy 1-0 wins on the road, then Chelsea are not ready to catch Liverpool and Manchester City. An attack infused with elite Bundesliga talent is not enough.
With Kepa Arrizabalaga flapping behind a defence that still gives too many chances away, the same old weaknesses remain impossible to ignore. In the end Frank Lampard could speak about resilience and determination.
After giving away yet another lead, Chelsea did well to regain their poise to open their campaign with victory against Brighton. But they are not the finished article, even though they have spent more than £200m this summer. There are flaws to iron out and although Lampard insisted he was happy with Arrizabalaga’s performance, his pursuit of the Rennes goalkeeper Edouard Mendy suggests otherwise.
Chelsea still have holes to fill, even if it has felt a little like the whirlwind summer of 2003 in recent months. Seventeen years after Roman Abramovich swept into Stamford Bridge and changed the face of English football for ever, the chequebook is open once more.
There has been a sniffiness about the splurge. As Jürgen Klopp was quick to point out last week, it is lucky to be able to call upon an oligarch during a pandemic. Equally, though, the Liverpool manager’s barb did contain a basic truth about Lampard’s team needing room to grow.
For all the talk about Lampard being under pressure to battle with Liverpool and City, Chelsea were nowhere near Klopp’s champions last season. There is a lot of ground to make up and Lampard has not had long to bed in his new signings after a pre-season disrupted by positive coronavirus tests and a badly timed international break.
In that context it was probably asking too much for Chelsea, who were without several of their new signings, to rip into Brighton from the off. After all, it is just over a month since Kai Havertz scored as his old side, Bayer Leverkusen, lost against Internazionale in the quarter-finals of the Europa League. The German winger has not recovered from his final campaign with Leverkusen and it was not a surprise that he was quiet on the right during his first appearance in a Chelsea shirt.
Timo Werner, who has had longer to acclimatise after confirming his move from RB Leipzig in July, was sharper than his Germany teammate. It was obvious to see why Lampard favoured the striker over Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud.
Werner pressed off the ball. His movement was slippery. He shot at every opportunity. His direct running was invigorating and he punished sloppiness from Brighton in the first half, tumbling over Mat Ryan after Steven Alzate gave Jorginho the chance to send Werner clear.
In the event the first goal of a brave new era was scored by a player whose future remains up in the air. Jorginho, who might already have left if Maurizio Sarri was still managing Juventus, stepped up to break the deadlock with a cool penalty.
For most of the first half, though, Brighton were quicker to the ball.
Aside from a few raids from Werner, Chelsea lacked cohesion. Ruben Loftus-Cheek was given a chance in the No 10 role in the absence of the injured Hakim Ziyech, newly arrived from Ajax, but he was off the boil before making way for Ross Barkley.
Brighton sensed an opportunity to test a defence that conceded 54 goals in the league last season. They looked at Chelsea’s defensive set-up and, with Thiago Silva not around to offer some leadership in the centre and Ben Chilwell still recovering from a heel injury, saw that little had changed.
Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen were uncomfortable in the middle at times.
There was space behind Reece James on the right and the speed of Tariq Lamptey, the former Chelsea youngster, gave Marcos Alonso problems on the opposite flank.
Then there was the goalkeeper. In different circumstances Chelsea might have sold Arrizabalaga this summer. But the Spaniard cost £71.6m when he moved to England two years ago. He will not be easy to shift and any interested clubs watching him here would have noted he was at fault when Brighton equalised.
While Leandro Trossard’s shot from the right fizzed into the far corner, Arrizabalaga was too slow to move. It is why Lampard wants a new goalkeeper. There are still too many cheap concessions and although James restored Chelsea’s lead with a thumping drive, Brighton should have equalised for a second time when a cross found the unmarked Lewis Dunk, who headed wide. It was a dreadful miss from Dunk and Zouma made him pay, extending Chelsea’s lead.
In the end it was a satisfactory workout. But Lampard, who faces Liverpool on Sunday, knows there is room for improvement. The flaws have not gone away.