Lampard's arrival fixes fan apathy but there are more problems for him to fix at Chelsea.
Updated: Jul 7
Frank Lampard’s appointment as Chelsea manager is a cause for excitement for Chelsea fans. Besides Mourinho (in his second stint), there has never been a manager that Chelsea fans have been instantly excited to see in the dugout.
Managers like Carlo Ancelotti and Antonio Conte came in with good reputations but it was only being Premier League winners that allowed Chelsea fans to retroactively become excited when the appointment was first announced.
The Chelsea board have often looked to go with the status quo; wily managers like Mourinho and Conte were brought in to win titles for Chelsea in a manner they saw fit sacrificing style for substance when necessary.
The appointment of Maurizio Sarri was the first hint of a change to that with Sarri brought in to make Chelsea more entertaining by moving the ball fast and always attacking. It never really panned out that way. Chelsea were probably making more passes than ever before but creating less and less chances than they could as a structured defensive unit.
There was excitement when Sarri was announced, a hope that Chelsea would play free-flowing football and score plenty of goals. He wasn’t coming in as so many others have as being ‘a distinguished manager who could win the league,’ he was coming in to give Chelsea a new identity.
Under no manager would Chelsea have won the Premier League last season (or at least any manager it was conceivable for them to get) with Liverpool and Manchester City so far ahead so finishing third might have seemed like the best that could be hoped for.
Having said that, the first few months of the season Chelsea kept pace with Manchester City and Liverpool before opponents worked out how to frustrate Chelsea and stop them scoring. Even for serial winners like Jose Mourinho, he would have been applauded for finishing third with Chelsea in the season just gone but for Sarri, there were just too many instances that frustrated Chelsea fans on route to finishing third.
While it could be said that Chelsea finish the season strongly to finish third, the reality is that Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal around them all badly faltered towards the end. The idea of Sarri-ball was that Chelsea would blitz the smaller teams and either win or lose against the big teams by a score-line of 4-3 in exhilarating fashion.
Instead, Chelsea struggled past smaller teams and sometimes couldn’t find a way through at all while they took a number of heavy beatings without any fight against the big teams. Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal outplayed Chelsea when they visited although Chelsea did at least put up a fight against Liverpool.
Add to that, Sarri’s refusal to play Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi until it seemed like he was on the brink of the sack where it seemed like a token gesture was a frustration to Chelsea fans. Chelsea fans have seen talented youngsters leave before and in all honesty, they haven’t always cared as long as Chelsea were winning the league but fans could see the talent of these two.
The midfield was Sarri’s biggest problem though. Not playing N’Golo Kante as a holding midfielder and wondering why Chelsea were torn apart by some teams mystified fans. Chelsea fans disapproval of Jorginho ousting Kante to a more advanced midfield role became more common as Chelsea’s performances dropped and Jorginho failed to create chances for his team. Kante’s more advanced position did bring some benefits for Chelsea. His pace and power as well as his ability to win the ball helped Chelsea get up the pitch a lot and he did socre some goals and create chances but often the pass or finish was lacking.
The way Sarri described Jorginho’s role, it sounded similar to David Luiz’s role as part of a three man Chelsea defence under Conte. David Luiz was tasked with spraying the ball about the pitch going short or long when necessary. With Jorginho, the pass was always a short one; it rarely opened up chances for other players and not being able to tackle meant that Jorginho was just a regular midfielder playing deep.
Mateo Kovacic, the midfielder brought in as part of the deal to send Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid, was a real enigma. He wasn’t a fast or powerful midfield who could charge up the pitch and he wasn’t a tackler either; most things he did were neat and tidy exactly the same as Jorginho. He was a midfielder who barely scored or assisted.
Ross Barkley, constantly swapped back and forth with Kovacic in games, had a strong start to the season, he was providing goals and assists. He was probably more prone to poor passes and lack of composure than the rest of the midfield but he looked to get the ball in dangerous areas much more than the others.
When Ruben Loftus-Cheek finally got his chance in the team, he showed Chelsea what they had been missing. He was more similar to Kante in his forward bursts with the ball, not as good a tackler but a much better passer and finisher.
After all this, it was never going to be about where Chelsea finished in the league to get the fans onside (even winning the Europa League didn’t do that). Sarri going to Juventus works well for all parties involved. Chelsea don’t have to sack yet another manager while Sarri can look back on his year with Chelsea as a success finishing third behind two teams who couldn’t be caught and winning the Europa League.
If Sarri’s appointment was a departure for Chelsea then Frank Lampard’s appointment eclipses that. Lampard is obviously the popular choice and will have more leeway with the fans if things don’t start well or if there is a dip. Lampard will most likely want Chelsea to play attacking football but he has only managed for a year so it is not as if he has a clear philosophy to impose.
Appointing a manger after a year wouldn’t happen at Chelsea for anyone other than a Frank Lampard or John Terry. The closest would be the appointment of Andre Villas-Boas who was a young manager only a few years in the job although he had already won titles with Porto by then. That appointment seemed inspired by Chelsea’s initial success with a successful Portuguese manager of Porto.
The hope is that Lampard can fix a lot of the problems from Sarri’s reign. There are some similarities though with Derby and Chelsea from last season which might be a cause for concern. Lampard wanted Derby to play attractive football which worked sometimes but frustrated other times. He also masterminded good wins over teams like Leeds and West Brom although he suffered three times against Leeds before getting one over on them.
A transfer ban means Chelsea can’t add to their squad so they may need to rely on youngsters from the academy to step up. Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi would be a part of it but they are both nursing serious injuries. Lampard worked with and improved a number of young players at Derby including two loan players from Chelsea, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori.
Mason Mount will definitely need to be kept as Chelsea’s midfield options are limited particularly if Kovacic’s deal is not made permanent. Lampard will understand the hunger of these players and understands that the Chelsea fans have finally had enough of seeing their prospects go to waste. Many managers haven’t used them because there were at Chelsea for the short term to win things while Chelsea fans will hope Lampard will be there for a long time.
If he has confidence that he can stay for at least two or three years, he can sacrifice a title challenge to blood youngsters into the squad and try to turn them into world beaters. Unknown managers or managers with little experience wouldn’t get that chance but Lampard just might.
With a transfer ban and no Eden Hazard, Chelsea fans would be happy with a top six finish for Lampard which probably wouldn’t be the case for any other manager. It can only take a disastrous season or half-season perhaps for Lampard to be out the door like so many others.
Chelsea fans probably want Lampard to succeed more at Chelsea for his own sake, rather than Chelsea’s sake.