Chelsea’s 3-1 defeat at home to Manchester City condemned them to a fourth loss in six games, picking up just one win in the same run. On an even larger scale, it’s also only three wins in their last 10 games in all competitions.
Not that this was expected, it is perhaps exactly where Chelsea should be, right in the middle of one of the hardest fought Premier League seasons to date. 10 points separate first and 12th, Chelsea are the same number of points (three) off of fourth placed Spurs as they are Arsenal and Leeds below them. When you consider the massive hole Mikel Arteta’s Gunners were in a week ago, their three wins in a week seemingly transforming them, there is plenty to ponder for all at Chelsea.
This is where we need to look at the whole picture because viewing this extremely sticky situation out of context would be wrong. It’s therefore important to understand that these aren’t excuses, these are truthful factors that are impacting Chelsea and Frank Lampard.
Emotions post City defeat
This is not and will not become a ‘Lampard in’ or ‘Lampard out’ argument. Ultimately, that’s a childish, reactive way of telling people you don’t understand the reality of football, in particular, football management.
I also won’t be backing Lampard to the hills because it is evident that here there are monumental and extremely serious flaws in the way he is currently managing the team. This is a big worry, but this is a different manager’s job to those that have taken the hot seat at Chelsea before, that’s for sure. The same high standards are still there, but the club are trying to undergo a deep routed transition into modern day football.
Taking emotion out of this debate isn’t easy because of who Frank Lampard is to not only Chelsea as a club but also Chelsea fans. The club now stands in a grey area between backing a manager through a tough patch and also having serious doubts over his long-term future, for legitimate reasons.
In short, Lampard has shown flashes of brilliance in his Chelsea tenure so far, with several good runs of form, an overhaul of the squad, and lots of promising signs. On the other hand, the club must make an impossible choice as to whether his mistakes can be rectified by himself, and if that is the choice, how much that could cost Chelsea in the short-term.
The view from the top
Firstly, it’s worth noting that Chelsea’s run of form hasn’t gone unnoticed to those on the Chelsea board, and above. In fact, if Mauricio Pochettino hadn’t been named PSG’s new manager then the Blues may well have made a move for the Argentine already. That’s how serious Roman Abramovich is and how unrelenting he will be, even when it comes to Chelsea’s all-time top scorer.
For the powers that be, Lampard is only the manager, he carries no more power other than those of manager and will not be treated differently because of his past at the club.
Lampard received his free hit last season and was backed. He was given the freedom to bring in all the youngsters he wanted to and was tasked with overhauling a poor, aging squad. One year on and he’s done part of a job. One that will inevitably help any new manager, no matter when that is.
For now, though, Chelsea’s form is a massive cause for concern. They are seeing other sides move away from them, including probably their fiercest current rivals Manchester United, who are seven points clear with a game in hand.
In Lampard’s free hit he managed to lead Chelsea to Champions League football and provided some memorable moments. Promoting the youth provided the foundation for not only a largely successful season but also the future of Chelsea football club.
This shouldn’t be forgotten. But in all seriousness, it’s very easy to argue that they were overachievers. However, this comes down to the manager as well. Lampard was able to maximise an average squad via tactical experimentation, confidence, belief, and a talented group of youngsters. These are all things that have been missing this season.
Another point worth noting is that it could have added to the pressure, expectation and mindset of the team.
Where it currently stands
So, the board are aware of the problems and aren’t particularly interested in being lenient about it in true Chelsea fashion. However, Lampard has got a very different job compared to those before him, that might not save him though.
Here is the list of ‘factors’ that are impacting Chelsea right now, it could be seen as a list of pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses, negatives and positives or anything else. In reality, it’d be the reasons that Lampard will have to take to the board to defend his job.
As said before, these aren’t excuses. They’re reasons that Lampard can use in backing up his place as manager. Factors that he can use to claim that when things move on, will allow him to thrive.
For starters, he is managing in the middle of a pandemic. Yes, so is every other manager in the league, but Lampard has got a strangely unique situation when to mix in the following.
Chelsea’s young squad
This is a developing side, a young side. Full of players under 21 and still learning not only the league but also in some cases, the country. These players aren’t yet meant to be winning the big titles, they’re meant to be decreasing the gap to those at the top.
We’re still not quite halfway through the season but it’s looking ominous as to whether Chelsea will be making up any of that 33-point gap to the top from last year. Another point worth noting here is that closing that gap definitely won’t be enough if the side aren’t in the top four come the conclusion of gameweek 38.
Lampard will also claim that he’s not only working in a new situation, given Covid-19, as an inexperienced manager, he is constantly encountering even more new situations. Chelsea knew this when they took him on. Whether it’s fair enough to allow a manager just one top flight free hit is debatable on it’s own, the fact remains though, inexperience alone won’t be enough to convince Roman Abramovich that Lampard can still succeed.
It’s also hard to say what’s inexperience, what will be learnt by Lampard and how much time to give him. Given that the Blues were in it for the long haul and a supposed three-year plan last season, it would make sense to continue to back that plan.
How long for though?
Bedding in time
Also, with six new first team players, how long do you allow the inevitable bedding in period to last? There was always going to be the rough patches of form, poor performances and squad struggles, but the limpness of Chelsea’s recent games has cast a new and not so flattering light on the squad.
Is Frank Lampard getting enough out of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz? Even if they are adapting to a new league and a new team, should they be doing better? Does Lampard need to be held accountable for it right now?
These are all tough questions. The answer isn’t clear either. Some will say that Werner has been played out of position and that’s poor management. In reality he has been forced to change something due to injuries to his wingers, in hindsight, it might have been better to change formation or system rather than force players into a chosen way of play.
These are the small things that build up overtime. The odd game here or there, even in victories, with Werner playing out wide, might have glossed over the flaws in the German’s game. Now Chelsea are in a slump it’s being highlighted time and time again.
Also, amidst a possible political battle at the club over the playing of new signings, it’s possible that Lampard feels pressured towards using his out of form players.
This is where he needs to be stronger. Chelsea have had Callum Hudson-Odoi sparkle in their last two games against Arsenal and Aston Villa but yet he was still on the bench against Manchester City. This is the questionable management that fans are after.
Why risk Hakim Ziyech, coming back after injury, in the squad. It seemed desperate, more of hope than anything else. The sign of a beaten man? The sign of an inexperienced man.
The manager’s job
It says it on the tin, a manager’s job is to get the best out of his players and there’s no doubt that Lampard isn’t doing that right now. The Blues look void of any confidence, set back by anything that doesn’t go their way, that happens and it even happens to the best.
The question of whether another manager would be doing a better job is interesting but hypothetical, it’s not worth it. The more pressing issue would be, again, how long do you leave a manager that isn’t getting the best out of their team? A manager, by the definition, not doing their job.
Issues in the team
If we come down to the extremely short-term issues, we look at a team of out of form players. From back to front they are lacking. Eduoard Mendy has recently fallen short of his early season form, Thiago Silva and Kurt Zouma are being exposed by the midfield in front of them and Reece James and Ben Chilwell are struggling to find fitness let alone actual form.
Into midfield and we see N’Golo Kante looking dumbstruck in the lone defensive role, constantly without options to pass to, missing simple passes when attempting them and being overwhelmed in transition and defence. As we move forward to Werner and Mateo Kovacic it doesn’t get much prettier.
Chelsea are lacking much more than just tactical nuance though. They have been falling well short of the desired passion, creativity and freedom that come with a confident side. Lampard has seen his team fall into a dangerous trap of now being entirely reliant on performance confidence and have no answer to it.
Where do we go from here?
There are lots of questions for Chelsea and Lampard. Those questions all have very unpredictable answers. Can Frank Lampard be the man to bring Chelsea out of this? Yes, we all hope so. But the ‘what ifs’ are starting to appear and in some sense it feels more of a when than an if.
This is not Chelsea’s season over and it’s not necessarily the end of Lampard at Stamford Bridge, but it’s a period of results that will test him more than any other. Perhaps he will benefit from a lack of other options in the middle of the season, perhaps that won’t be an option to the Chelsea board.
One thing for certain though is that in football, and more often than not at Chelsea, the full force of the board is felt by the manager. Whether it’s Jose Mourinho’s second coming, Antonio Conte’s second season or Maurizio Sarri’s second summer, Chelsea managers don’t often get second chances.
They all had factors and variables, excuses and reasons, grumblings and discontent that they could use to divert blame. Frank Lampard has found himself in a precariously similar position. Football is a results business and the on-pitch action takes hold of everything else at a football club.
Chelsea is no exception.
Written by Tom Coley @tomcoley49
Edited by Jai Mcintosh @jjmcintosh5