Chelsea’s previous three coaches, before Lampard, all had a clear style of play. Jose’s teams are famous for their defensive solidity and ruthlessness upfront (Spurs are just shit). Conte made the three centre backs and wingbacks popular again, and Sarri is perhaps one of the most rigid coaches with an attacking passing style- which works like a well oiled machine when in full flow. Each coach had a clear style and personality, and now the focus is on Lampard. He is young, inexperienced and in his first season in the Premier League with arguably Chelsea’s worst squad since the turn of the century. This has led to Lampard using different formations such as 3-4-3, 3-4-2-1, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 on a game-by-game basis depending upon the match situation and personnel available. Due to this, many people are confused and questioning whether Lampard has a clear style of play to implement or does he plan to keep chopping and changing his formations and players every other game.
The simple answer is yes, Lampard has a system and vision about how he wants his team to play, but is currently firefighting due to not having the right players for his style and constant injuries to key players. To get a better idea about what we can expect from Lampard next season after a proper transfer window, we need to take a look back at his Derby County team and how they setup. When Lampard took over Derby, instantly recognizable was the change in their energy levels and high tempo both with-and-without the ball. His preferred system was 4-3-3 with a defensive-mid sitting in front of the center backs.
Lampard’s Derby always liked to build from the back with center backs given responsibility to move the ball out of defence. The team tried to quickly move the ball through the middle with a lot of runners around the player in possession always giving a forward passing option. The aim was to get the ball quickly to their front three. The primary creators and scorers of the team were the two players either side of the striker up top who usually operated as inside forwards. They operated in half spaces between the opposition’s defence and midfield. This role was fulfilled extremely well by Harry Wilson and Tom Lawrence who scored 18 and 7 goals respectively for Derby. With their creative players playing inside, their play was mostly focused through the middle, while the full backs provided width and a passing option out wide. This also helped create a lot of space for Derby’s full backs out wide and helped them to a total of 21 goal involvements.
Another important player for Derby was Jack Marriott who played as a striker and possessed a lot of pace. He was always willing to run in behind opposition defences and this forced defenders to drop deep and hence create more space in the middle for the runners from midfield to exploit. The two midfielders either side of the defensive midfielder played in a box to box role and were responsible to provide loads of energy and constant running off the ball to force opposition players out of position and also to try and get on the end of cutbacks or crosses in the box.
While in possession, Derby always kept four players behind the ball at all times to prevent any counter attacks. These four players were usually the two center backs, the defensive midfielder and one central midfielder or a full back. These players need to be quick and good in one vs one situations to effectively break up counters.
Whenever Derby lost the ball, they were instructed to counter-press aggressively. The players, particularly those in the middle, needed to have lots of energy to hassle and put sustained pressure on the opposition throughout the match. The team always pressed from the front and defended in a compact narrow shape which forced the opposition out wide. The primary destroyer in midfield was their defensive midfielder, a role played by Huddlestone. His major responsibility was to break up attacks and provide a strong physical presence in the middle. The role of box to box mids alongside the defensive midfielder was played by Mount, Bryson and Bradley Johnson throughout the season who provided constant running and a lot of energy to constantly hassle the opposition and force them to make mistakes. Once Derby won back possession, their players burst forward on the counter trying to exploit space left open by the opposition.
If and when Derby’s opponent bypassed their press, they sat back in a compact 4-4-2 shape which helped them leave enough men forward to counter once the opposition lost possession.
What it means for Chelsea?
At Chelsea, we have seen glimpses of Lampard trying to replicate the system he used at Derby, but clearly he lacks the players for it. Whenever, Tammy is injured, Lampard always preferred Batshuayi over Giroud because of his pace and eagerness to run in behind defenders similar to what Marriott did at Derby. Also, Kante has played as a box to box mid rather than sit deep to utilize his exceptional stamina and running ability to both hassle the opposition and win back possession higher up the pitch- similar to Lampard’s midfielders at Derby. Defensively, Lampard is currently lacking a physically imposing defensive midfielder in the squad, and Jorginho is occupying that position as a deep-lying creator. Ziyech’s signing also signals Lampard’s intent of playing with creative inside forwards next season, with Ziyech taking the right inside forward role and Sancho/Pulisic on the left.
Staying true to the high-tempo attacking style at he had at Derby, I expect Lampard to target a world class, creative wide-player (Sancho!), an offensive left full-back (Telles?), a quick striker (Werner/Dembele?), a strong center-back (Koulibaly/Upamecano/Dias?) who is good with the ball, and a big strong defensive midfielder (Partey/Ndidi?) in the summer transfer window. A few things I expect will continue this season is Kante playing in a box to box role, and Mount being an improved and important player again offering lots of running and high pressing. On the outgoings, apart from the obvious deadwood, unfortunately I expect the excellent specialist player in Jorginho to make way since Lampard’s preferred style does not have a deep lying playmaker.
Also, the rise of more young players such as Gilmour, Ampadu and Gallagher could also mean getting more minutes for themselves as back-ups once the deadwood is cleared. But what is for certain is we are heading into exciting times as fans of Chelsea Football Club, and can trust Lampard to play with a clear identity next season en route to bringing major silverware back to the Bridge.