There are so many elements that are out of Frank Lampard’s control at Chelsea this season that it will be more or less impossible for anyone to judge him sensibly and fairly…
Frank Lampard accepting the Chelsea job after only a year as a manager always instinctively felt a little odd. Sure, it’s his dream gig and it takes some hefty willpower for anyone to turn down their dream gig. But it’s not like this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Chelsea change managers pretty frequently. Only three managers have lasted longer than two seasons since Roman Abramovich arrived, and two of those were Jose Mourinho. So all Lampard needed to do was sit tight for a season or so and wait for the latest unfortunate to be cast aside.
But take it he did, and the early signs are…mixed. Chelsea’s football has been attacking and often very entertaining. Just like he did at Derby, he has encouraged his players to shoot from distance which, while going against the modern orthodoxy that efforts from way out so rarely go in that there’s not much point in them, is fun to watch.
On the other hand, they have won one of their opening four games, with only Norwich conceding more than their nine goals. Also, after Saturday’s draw with Sheffield United, Lampard said: “I thought they gifted us two goals [in the first-half]. I thought our performance was okay. I felt we were in a dangerous position. I was very clear about that. It wasn’t a happy half-time.” Would it be churlish to suggest it’s not a great sign that after Lampard lit a rocket under his players at the break, they got worse?
Opinions have been offered far and wide, but you wonder if, by the end of the season, we will have any idea at all whether Lampard is actually a good or bad manager. Almost certainly not.
I was very clear...It wasn't a very happy half-time.
In some respects this is an impossible job because there are so many elements that are out of Lampard’s control. He has to deal with all the usual problems of managing Chelsea, which Maurizio Sarri quite understandably sacked off after a year in which he finished third and won a European trophy, minus the pressure to win the title. Although you wouldn’t put it past some fans to call for his head if Chelsea finish second this season.
But he has so many more things to cope with as well. It’s out of his control that Chelsea are under a transfer embargo. It’s out of his control that they therefore have to field a teams in which the 24-year-old Kurt Zouma feels like a veteran. It’s out of his control that on Saturday, when looking for someone to shore up the midfield from his bench, could only find the 18-year-old Billy Gilmour.
It’s also out of his control that Cesar Azpilicueta, previously the solid rock on which Chelsea’s defence has been based and at various points over the last seven years probably their best defender in three different positions, seems to have completely fallen off a cliff. Both of Sheffield United’s goals at the weekend came from his side, nutmegged for the first and completely losing track of his man for the second. He gave the ball away a whopping 20 times. And this isn’t an isolated poor performance either.
Taking over Chelsea to find Azpilicueta is no longer any good is like buying a car and the steering wheel coming off in your hands. Lampard needed Azpilicueta not just for his steady performances, but for his influence on the coterie of young players around him. If he continues to play like this then Lampard will have little choice but to bring in Reece James (when he’s fit), which will exacerbate one of his other problems by making the team younger.
Perhaps all of this is one of the reasons he did feel he could take it. This is a free swing for Lampard, not just because he will have the support of the fans more than anyone else who could have replaced Sarri this summer, but also because he knows there are so many variables that if it all goes south then he can walk away with reputation unscathed. If it goes well he’s even more of a hero.
But at the same time this is a job that is so far outside the normal realms of these things that we will almost certainly not have a fair amount of information available to us in order to judge him. Or, at least, not judge him sensibly or fairly. Which won’t stop plenty of people.
Chelsea are a club that inspire strong opinions. They are a hot take magnet. Their managers are judged and dissected and declared good or bad, often in absolutes. Not this season though. By May, we probably won’t have any idea whatsoever whether Frank Lampard is any good or not.
You can listen to the latest edition of the Totally Football Show here, and even better, you can subscribe here. If you wish to reproduce any of the material in this article or from the podcast you are very welcome to, but please credit The Totally Football Show and include this link.