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Lampard's biggest problem: The huge void this Chelsea struggle to fill

COMMENT: We'll know more about this Chelsea dressing room by the end of the night. The ability is there. Even the experience. But after Sunday at Old Trafford, it's the mental strength of this team - as a unit - which is up for debate.

Yesterday, ahead of the Super Cup against Liverpool, Frank Lampard was pushed about Eden Hazard. And rightly so. A modern day great. In his prime. Of course his exit is going to be felt by Chelsea. But the manager, just as he did at Derby County, was quick with his demands. There'd be no moping about the Belgian's loss. No defeatism. The club is bigger than that.

“I agree I was a huge fan of Hazard, one of the best in world football, over his time at Chelsea one of the most productive and a leader," Lampard began.

"You can't replace him individually. But the good news and the positive news is that we have a group that can step up. The answer is that as a team we have to find a way to carry on. Hazard, Terry, Drogba... move on."

A good response. Nigh perfect. An almost impromptu call to arms. Yes, Hazard is gone, but this creates opportunity. The chance for a new great to emerge.

But what was skipped over in yesterday's presser was the departure of a second foundation of this team: David Luiz. A different personality to Hazard, but of similar influence. Indeed, it can be argued of a greater importance than the Belgian off the pitch and in and around the club.

Hazard was long gone. But Luiz, no matter Lampard's faint attempts to keep hold of his former teammate, was an unexpected blow. The manager may believe he has better options available. And on Luiz's bad days, it's an easy argument to make. But like Hazard, with Luiz goes the experience of League titles, European Cups and all the know-how needed to lift such trophies.

With Luiz in the team, Manchester United may've still beaten Chelsea on Sunday. But it would never have been by such a scoreline. It certainly would not have been a game which saw the visitors collapse so feebly after United's second goal. He'd have had Lampard tearing his hair out, but Luiz would be charging up the pitch, chasing a goal, trying to shift the game's momentum. And all with the backing of his teammates - as they'd seen him do it before.

Even with Sunday's result, come the following morning, Luiz would not have allowed his young teammates to dwell on it. He'd be the one to pick everyone up. To move on, as Lampard stated yesterday.

But now a void exists. On the pitch, it was Hazard the players would turn to in tough times. Off it, Luiz could be relied upon to keep spirits high when individuals were low. Now they're both gone and Lampard will need to find new "leaders" to step up to fill the breach.

Sunday was never a 4-0 game. Indeed, if Chelsea had scored first, they would've left with something - even the win. As they showed on the day, these young players are good enough.

Get that early goal and suddenly the belief surges. 'I do belong on this stage'. 'We can win this together'. But when Anthony Martial struck United's second, the heads dropped. The shoulders slumped. And Lampard's gameplan was forgotten. The talent was there, but the experience of working their way back was non-existent. And the manager knows, the only way of fixing that is to keep playing his kids.

Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham, both fresh from the Championship, didn't look out of place for the first hour. Andreas Christensen and Kurt Zouma were as strong at the back as Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof were for United. But it's having those 'go-to' personalities when the game is against them that Chelsea missed on Sunday.

More than anything, this will be the biggest challenge Lampard will need to overcome. On paper, no Blues player jumps out at you as a potential John Terry or Didier Drogba. As individuals, they have the ability and potential to compete at such a level, but in terms of leadership it just isn't there.

One potential bright light is Christian Pulisic. USA captain at 20, three years a first teamer with Borussia Dortmund, the summer arrival has the personality to help fill the leadership void. Indeed, this column would argue Lampard was mistaken to hold the American back on Sunday given his form in preseason.

Wednesday night in Istanbul is as good a time as any to hand Pulisic his chance. Like his teammates, he has the ability, even the experience. But more importantly, at this stage in the team's development, he can offer some on-field leadership.

In Istanbul against Liverpool - and for silverware. It doesn't get much tougher, especially on the back of a 4-0 drubbing. We'll know more about Pulisic - and Lampard's young team - by the end of the night.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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