Neil Humphreys: Tammy Abraham could save Frank Lampard’s job
Chelsea boss must pick local hero and dump expensive flops
Whatever happens to Frank Lampard in the coming days, the Chelsea manager can be reasonably sure of a couple of things.
Tammy Abraham looks a more valuable commodity than the Blues' expensive flops. And Kepa Arrizabalaga has surely played his last game for the club.
Indeed, Abraham's hat-trick, Timo Werner's listlessness and Arrizabalaga's slapstick comedy only underlined the uncertainty around Lampard's squad.
Chelsea's FA Cup victory against Luton Town yesterday was rarely in doubt, but the 3-1 scoreline and a few jittery moments hardly conveyed stability.
Like the snow at Stamford Bridge, Lampard's men cannot settle.
Ordinarily, Abraham's commanding display would've rubber stamped his position as the main attacking focal point. His hat-trick - a low drive, a looping header and a tap-in - only confirmed his suitability.
But Chelsea paid £72 million (S$131m) for Kai Havertz, who spent most of last night welding his buttocks to the bench in sub-zero conditions, while Werner proved that snowflakes are not the only substance capable of melting on a heated pitch.
The German striker started brightly and faded soon after, only popping up at the end to miss a penalty.
TOO MANY COOKS
His cause wasn't helped by Christian Pulisic occupying similar positions and intercepting passes around Werner.
The pair overlapped, but not in a creative way. Too many cooks are leaving Lampard in the soup.
On the touchline, Chelsea's manager occasionally had the look of a confused teenager sitting his first exam. He knows all the questions, such as how does he accommodate Abraham, Pulisic, Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Havertz into his line-up? Who will be his first-choice forwards? Will Werner ever provide a regular goal supply?
Lampard has no firm answers beyond the most obvious. Abraham remains the most reliable striker. But Lampard may face further interrogation for picking a 23-year-old academy graduate over foreign talents worth almost £130m.
Just to muddy the waters further, Abraham still has a tendency to miss more than he scores.
The Englishman had a brace within 17 minutes, but squandered at least five more chances before completing his hat-trick.
Up front, the indecision endures. But there is no grey area around Arrizabalaga, just an ugly, gaping hole between an arm and a leg that allowed Jordan Clark's strike to wriggle through.
Even the Luton midfielder didn't seriously expect his speculative drive to beat an international goalkeeper with a £71m price tag.
The shot was far too close to Arrizabalaga, who had the option to stick out either an arm or a leg to block Clark's tame effort.
Instead, his limps seemed to shrivel in the freezing conditions, leaving behind a flapping shirtsleeve and a wobbly sock.
Arrizabalaga didn't know where to put his head (or his arms and legs for that matter).
Lampard risks ending his own Chelsea career prematurely if he doesn't do likewise for his shattered Spaniard. A shaky goalkeeper with the yips didn't help a brittle side that rarely need an excuse to lose confidence against weaker opposition.
In the second half, Luton manager Nathan Jones sensed the uncertainty and threw on all five substitutes in search of an equaliser.
As the Championship club progressed, Chelsea hesitated, forcing Lampard to introduce Callum Hudson-Odoi to kill off the game.
The winger duly obliged, breaking free on the left before teeing up Abraham for a tap-in that even he couldn't miss.
The Englishman finally had his hat-trick. And Lampard had his leading man.
If the Chelsea manager needed further persuasion, Werner managed to miss a penalty in the final moments to round off another fruitless performance.
In comparison, Abraham looks like a model of consistency.
Whether Lampard has the courage to pick a local boy over a couple of expensive signings remains to be seen. But his job might depend on it.