Perhaps this was Frank Lampard’s way of proving that he is not a gung-ho coach. His first goalless draw since becoming Chelsea’s manager arrived in tough circumstances, built on a rare show of defensive solidity to keep Sevilla at bay. Chelsea stood firm to deny the Spaniards, who had the better opportunities in a tight contest, and Lampard could take satisfaction from the way his neurotic side maintained order, refusing to let the game run away from them against opponents who pushed their concentration to the limit.
The return of Thiago Silva in central defence helped, spreading calm and keeping Kurt Zouma focused, and Édouard Mendy impressed in goal, making a couple of important saves. But while there were no defensive calamities from Chelsea, there was precious little inspiration at the other end. Low on creativity and fluency in possession, this was confirmation that Chelsea’s expensively assembled attack needs time to develop rhythm and understanding.
In the end a stalemate with a side as awkward Sevilla was hardly the worst way for Chelsea to open their Champions League campaign. The Europa League winners brought all their European knowhow to west London and might have won had they shown more conviction. Chelsea were just happy not to be caught cold.
“I was pleased with that professional element of it,” Lampard said. “Sevilla are a top team. The concentration you need in the Champions League to get a result was big from the team. I thought there were a lot of good decisions tonight. It’s a positive result.”
Further forward, though, the lines of communication broke down too often. Christian Pulisic was wasted on the right flank and Kai Havertz, the £62m signing from Bayer Leverkusen, dipped in and out. Only Timo Werner threatened but he was too isolated up front, left chasing hopeful long balls as a consequence of Lampard’s desire to keep it tight at the back.
Chelsea looked fragmented, unable to link from front to back, with N’Golo Kanté and Jorginho outpassed in midfield at times. All the same they did well to stay focused. With Julen Lopetegui’s instructions echoing around the empty arena, Sevilla relished the competitive challenge. The visitors were disciplined and organised, strong in the tackle and quick to the loose balls, and their pressing drew errors from Chelsea, particularly when Jorginho earned a yellow card for dragging Lucas Ocampos down after being robbed by the Sevilla winger.
Jorginho was on thin ice. The Italian might be a clever passer but regaining possession is not his forte and he was fortunate not to receive a second booking after tripping Ivan Rakitic. Chelsea almost conceded from the resulting free-kick, only for Mendy to repel a header from the unmarked Sergi Gómez.
Chelsea were relieved that Mendy, their £22m signing from Rennes, had recovered from a thigh injury to replace Kepa Arrizabalaga. But Sevilla were calling the shots. Rakitic, keen to show that he still has plenty to offer after joining from Barcelona, was finding too much space.
The home side, who had earlier sprung a surprise by naming Petr Cech, their technical and performance adviser, in their Premier League squad to provide emergency goalkeeping cover, conceded territory. Sevilla probed, Suso heading wide, and the breakthrough almost arrived when Zouma’s miscued clearance fell to Ocampos, who saw a firm drive handled well by Mendy.
Cech would have approved of that save but Chelsea were being forced back. Their attacking players saw little of the ball and it was hard not to question Lampard’s use of Pulisic on the right given that the American usually thrives on the opposite side.
There were occasional flashes from Chelsea. Werner was a livewire: fast, slippery and always hunting a shooting opportunity. The striker had Chelsea’s best chance of the first half, firing straight at Yassine Bounou, and he also combined with Reece James to create an early opening for Pulisic.
Sevilla were strong at the back, even though Jules Koundé was missing in central defence after testing positive for Covid-19. They remained tough to break down even when Fernando dropped back from midfield after Gómez limped off. Chelsea needed a different approach and Lampard tried to make them less predictable, telling Mason Mount, Havertz and Pulisic to alternate positions in attacking midfield.
Chelsea, who looked to spark their attack by introducing Hakim Ziyech for Mount, stirred at the start of the second half. Zouma headed straight at Bounou from a Ben Chilwell corner and Werner went close. Yet Sevilla continued to push. Chilwell battled to shut down Suso on the right and the visitors almost broke through with a clever set-piece routine, Rakitic drifting a corner to the far post for Joan Jordán to volley on to the roof of the net.
Yet Chelsea stayed calm, with Thiago Silva guiding them to safety. They took the point. For Lampard, though, the search for balance goes on.