Frank Lampard was justified in naming the Anglo-Nigerian wonderkid in the rout by Manchester United, but should he retain his place vs. Liverpool?
by James O’Conner
Reaction from some sections of the English media hasn’t been kind, suggesting that he struggled and was only handed a chance for the sake of his youth, not his quality.
However, how did he perform in the game, and what can we expect from Wednesday’s Uefa Super Cup showing against Liverpool?
Firstly, let’s dispel rumours that Kevin Oghenetega Tamaraebi Bakumo-Abraham is a mere pup in professional football, only given his debut because Frank Lampard wants to use young English players, whether they are ready for the Premier League or not.
Abraham is nearly 22 and has played three full seasons of professional football, netting 60 goals in 9423 minutes (more than 100 ‘nineties’), amounting to a goal every 157 minutes on the pitch. Many mention his impressive loan at Aston Villa, but he also won Bristol City‘s Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and Top Goalscorer in the 2016-17 Championship season.
So often, his disappointing loan spell in the Premier League at Swansea is mentioned as a rebuke. Granted, he netted just five goals in the league, but he started only 15 times and had four goals from his first eight games.
There was even talk of Chelsea trying to recall him that January with Alvaro Morata and Michy Batshuayi struggling to replace Diego Costa. In the end, Swansea’s managerial change from Paul Clement – who knew Abraham from coaching him in the Chelsea academy – to Carlos Carvalhal saw his appearances largely limited to short substitute outings in losing causes.
In addition, Abraham was set for a Premier League loan last summer and had several clubs interested, but Maurizio Sarri was impressed by the forward in preseason and kept him past the Premier League transfer deadline.
When a move to guarantee minutes was later decided upon, only the Championship transfer window was still open.
Antonio Conte was another coach to be impressed with the striker, describing him as ‘the future of Chelsea’.
So how did he fare at Old Trafford?
Abraham had a strong start to the game, not only rifling a shot against the post in the 4th minute but also showing strong hold-up play against Harry Maguire early on. His attempt against the woodwork had come from an excellent pass around-the-corner to send Mason Mount scurrying away up the right flank to win a corner, with Maguire bypassed by Abraham’s touch.
He tried to turn Victor Lindelof later on and was tackled, and he could perhaps have done a better job in screening a pass into Paul Pogba soon after. Ten minutes in and he found himself free on the penalty spot, hoping for a lofted cross from Cesar Azpilicueta. Instead, a low cross was missed by United’s defenders and Abraham was fractionally late with his run to turn the ball home.
The disappointment with that delay in his run is largely because so many of his 60 career goals have come from low crosses into the area that he arrives onto to finish first-time. In fact, every single goal he has scored in his professional career has come from inside the box. He is an excellent predator when the ball is wide and is so often in the right place at the right time. For that chance, he will regret not gambling on a square pass, but to be fair, he was completely free for a different type of delivery too.
A large reason why coaches use video analysis is because it’s very difficult to remember everything that happened in the game, and fans are no different. Despite a notion that Maguire and Lindelof won most of their duels against Abraham, that is simply not true.
Another good opening came when Abraham got free between-the-lines, received the ball from Azpilicueta and found Ross Barkley. The ball was worked out to Mount on the right but he made a hash of a cutback to Abraham, again free inside the box.
Towards the end of the half, Maguire competed for a ball up-the-line to the striker and ended up on the floor as Abraham held the ball well and found a teammate.
Of course, many will point to the second goal where a Chelsea attack broke down and Manchester United netted on the counter attack after Maguire shoved Abraham aside. Not fairly it should be said, but by clearly fouling the striker.
Aside from the above actions, there were other strong moments to win 50-50 balls against both central defenders, a clean tackle on Paul Pogba on the halfway line after tracking back and of course, a couple of duels that United’s central defenders won against him.
That is the nature of playing as a lone striker – you’re facing two centre backs, so one can always aggressively challenge you.
The top target men tend to win slightly more than half of their duels and force good ‘second balls’ for teammates to compete for in those challenges that they lose; Abraham did this very well.
He also defended his box well from set-plays, a crucial requirement in such a short Chelsea XI.
Aside from his ability to be a poacher inside the box and hold the ball up well, the other key reason that Lampard selected Abraham is for his pressing ability. When United largely outplayed Chelsea in April in a 1-1 draw, Gonzalo Higuain was the striker selected and he gave nothing to the side out of possession.
For this game though, the choice was between Abraham, Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi. The latter duo have their strengths, but neither offers great ability to close down from the front. Giroud is a tactically disciplined player and very hard-worker, but is slow across the ground when closing down and also does not offer a genuine out-ball with his lack of pace. If opponents sit deep, he is a great at bringing teammates into play and scoring from crosses, but against more athletic centre backs, he is often faced with playing 40 yards from goal and scrapping for high balls.
Batshuayi, on the other hand, offers excellent finishing ability with both feet and good movement inside the box, but he has often been a relative passenger when opponents are playing out from the back.
Abraham excelled in preseason in his high pressing, curving his runs to cut the pitch in half horizontally and direct opponents into traffic, whilst also counter-pressing well when the ball is lost by his side.
Despite claims from Jose Mourinho that Abraham was the wrong pick for this game due to inexperience, that simply isn’t true.
Article continues below
Lampard selected the striker most deserving from preseason performances and for tactical requirements – his pressing and positioning shows a maturity in his game from playing regular football. The other parts will improve naturally from playing at a higher level and with better players. He has more than earned that chance on merit and is has nothing to do with age or nationality.
A review of Abraham’s performance showed far more positive moments than negative. Next up is the challenge of Virgil Van Dijk in Wednesday’s Uefa Super Cup Final, and another challenge for this talented young hitman.