As a manager craving the comfort of a straightforward victory, Frank Lampard could not afford to take any unnecessary risks. The merest hint of an upset was not a risk worth taking after a series of stumbles in the Premier League. Lampard knew Chelsea’s reputation for impatience too well to gamble, even against lower-league opponents who had not played since Boxing Day because of a Covid-19 outbreak in their squad.
On shaky ground after losing four of his last six league games, Lampard needed Chelsea to secure safe passage into the fourth round. The visit from Morecambe, lying seventh in League Two, was not the moment to throw in the kids. Chelsea needed belief to return, for Hakim Ziyech to build fitness after his injury problems, and for struggling stars such as Timo Werner and Kai Havertz to play themselves into form.
Inevitably the tie became little more than a training ground exercise, with Morecambe’s defence gamely trying to live with Chelsea’s attackers. It finished 4-0, it might have been more, and the significance for Lampard came from Werner and Havertz ending their goal droughts: the former after 12 games, the latter after 15.
“It’s a little bit of confidence,” Lampard said. “I don’t want to overstate that given the nature of the game. I’m pleased for Timo. He’s had plenty of near-misses in that time. It’s important for Timo and Kai. It’s a nice big step for both of them.”
Under scrutiny after the shambolic defeat to Manchester City, Lampard could not afford any complacency. Disappointingly for the youngsters who had spent the week training with the first team, this was not an occasion for experimentation. Even the bench was packed with senior players: only Faustino Anjorin, who has played in the Champions League, made the squad.
But the decision to pick such a strong side brought another form of pressure. The onus was on Chelsea to put on a show and they lacked rhythm during the first half, struggling to create as the visitors placed bodies behind the ball.
Chelsea were unimpressive despite leading 2-0 at the break. Morecambe, whose players ended a period of self-isolation last Tuesday, fought to restrict the space behind their defence. Havertz, who has struggled since recovering from Covid, was quiet during the early stages.
Yet there was little chance of Morecambe holding out. They were close to taking a shock lead when Adam Phillips almost caught out Kepa Arrizabalaga with a miscued cross – Chelsea’s reserve goalkeeper saved himself from embarrassment by scrambling to stop the ball crossing the line – but the opening goal arrived shortly after that scare, Mason Mount accepting an invitation to shoot from 20 yards and firing a low effort past Mark Halstead in the 18th minute.
Mount’s presence in the side was a reminder that Lampard trusts youth in the right circumstances. The England international is one of Chelsea’s most reliable players and he was accompanied in midfield by another academy product, Billy Gilmour, who was accomplished in possession. Gilmour took it upon himself to move the ball quickly and ensured that Callum Hudson-Odoi, another off the production line, had opportunities to run at Morecambe on the left.
When Hudson-Odoi took a lofted pass from Ziyech and made it 3-0 at the start of the second half, it was evidence that Chelsea’s future remains bright. The move for the second goal also hinted at better to come: Ziyech cutting inside to cross with his left foot, Havertz ghosting into space to head across goal, Werner in position to score in Chelsea colours for the first time since 7 November.
Lampard will hope that Werner’s confidence returns now his barren run has ended. He saw Ziyech gain fluency as the game wore on and rejoiced when Havertz, dangerous in the second half, rose to head César Azpilicueta’s cross home. For Chelsea, who visit Fulham on Friday, this needs to herald the start of the recovery.