Are Chelsea at a crossroads with Frank Lampard?
4th of July 2019. A big day around Stamford Bridge.Frank Lampard, the legend himself, the icon of the club, the standard-setter, is appointed as the new manager following the Maurizio Sarri’s departure to Juventus in June. Of course, the circumstances were hard as hell, arguably the toughest for an incoming manager since Roman Abramovich had taken over the club: a transfer ban was in place, the key player, Eden Hazard, had left for Real Madrid, Lampard’s one-year experience in football management constructed a territory of conventional suspicion and eventually the majority of pundits were more or less on the same page regarding the outcome of the club’s positioning at the end of the season: according to them, Chelsea wouldn’t finish in the top 6, never mind the top 4.
Anyway, despite the skepticism, prejudging, media pressure, Coronavirus pandemic, a campaign full of anticipated ups-and-downs and everything else, Chelsea managed to finish in the top 4, courtesy of a 2-0 win against Wolves at Stamford Bridge on the last day of 2019-20 season and reached the FA Cup final, making the team based on the talent and determination of youngsters who had come through the academy ranks, very interesting to watch and as a result, Frank Lampard, an extremely intriguing manager to keep an eye on. Thus, inside the context of their initial predictions, the critics were practically proven wrong, so it was understandable that praise and plaudits for Lampard’s Blue Army would follow.
But it’s unfair to say that Chelsea’s all-time top goalscorer’s reputation as a head coach was growing only because of this ‘’achievement’’. During the summer transfer window, when the majority of top European clubs were dramatically feeling the financial damages caused by the global pandemic, Chelsea didn’t follow suit. In an anomalous way, West London’s club board threw considerable sums of money, in order to secure the services of some of the most admired and revered players around, with the Germans Timo Werner and Kai Havertz getting the majority of the attention. Anyhow, it wasn’t the money more than the magnetic pull power which Frank Lampard proved to have in terms of recruitment. Werner admitted his video-calls were a key factor to make him convinced about the switch from Leipzig to London, the other signings stressed the importance of the talks with him, while Kaveh Solhekol from Sky Sports encapsulated his significant influence in this aspect very peculiarly, by metaphorically stating that ‘’Lampard seems to have the golden touch.’’
So, after all this seemingly-prosperous direction the club was leading himself to before the start of 2020-21 season, what’s happening right now? Well, giving an assessment from a balanced perspective, I would say that what worries me the most is that we are following the opposite curve which would have been legitimate to be followed. Elaborating myself on this stance, afterEdouard Mendy’s signing, the team went on an impressive (but far from perfect) run of 17 games without a loss (excluding the League Cup exit against Tottenham on penalties). However, what was more intriguing than the wins themselves, were the three 0-0 draws during this period, which marked a novelty, as the goalless tie vs Sevilla at Stamford Bridge in October represented the first time the team had finished a game with that scoreline under the management of Frank Lampard. The context behind these draws led me to create a positive viewpoint, convincing myself that these relatively dull performances were a consequence of the squad still being unable to find a balance between the attacking firepower and defensive compactness yet, a common, characteristic phenomenon of the squads undergoing a transitional process, so there was initially no place for worry.
The issues appeared on the surface after the 1-0 loss against Everton in the beginning of December. Starting from that point, Lampard’s side has registered an astonishingly low tally of only 2 wins in 8 Premier League games and in total fairness, the collective performances produced in both those wins (against West Ham and Fulham) were far from being smooth, with the players struggling to find the expected cohesion either in defence or attack, waning a 2-3 month spell, during which Thiago Silva’s experience, combined with Ziyech’s perfectly curved balls towards the far post, Werner’s accelerations, Chilwell’s work-rate and so on, pushed ‘’The Blues’’ all the way to the top of the league.
Indeed, basing on the logic I used above, my biggest concern lies on this asymmetrical, inverted order of progress. Therefore, taking into consideration the fact that everything needs its time to materialize, whereas it could have been somewhat more reasonable if we had had a sort of slump in form in the first month or so and then improve our team-play and above all, results, gradually, through better interchanging between the players, especially ‘’the new entries’’, we are frustratingly following the contrary route, characterized by lethargic cameos and considerably disappointing results.
For sure, among a number of underperforming players, it’s obvious that Lampard has a lot of responsibility to take. Actually, I don’t even doubt the fact he is doing his best, giving his maximum, as he isn’t just the Chelsea manager, but also a Chelsea fan, a genuine Blue icon, so if ‘’he is getting special treatment’’, he deserves to get it. However, football is a results-based business at the end of the day and this inevitably places the 43-year-old (and club’s hierarchy) in a complicated crossroad. On one side there is Frank, who is aware that finishing in the top four is bare minimum and on the other, there is the board, conscious that with half the season gone, the team has performed below the expectations.
To sum my synthesis up, there is absolutely no amazement that a number of several foreign managers, dominantly German-speaking ones, have been linked with the possibility of being in club’s shortlist in case those above decide to pull the trigger on Lampard. Anyway, pointing out that my intent in this article wasn’t to give an opinion on the potential successorsspecifically, but to state my stance on the current situation which surrounds Chelsea at the moment, I see giving Frank at least three other games to prove he can turn it around as an acceptable idea. On the contrary, generally speaking, if things remain swimming in the same waters, a flexible, experienced, youth-friendly and well-tempered manager would be my preference. At present, though, such a blend seems to be a surreal luxury.