Days after Chelsea’s triumph in the Europa League Final, not many would have thought that the game would be Maurizio Sarri’s last. An agreement was made with Juventus and he was unveiled as the manager of the Bianconeri club on the 6th of June. This left Chelsea with what seemed to be a mountain to climb in terms of preparation, for the upcoming season. With Eden Hazard on his way to Real Madrid and a transfer ban looming, there seemed to be more negatives than positives regarding the future status of the club.
Not many “big name” managers were rumored to be linked with the job over the summer, likely because most managers would have seen the job as too demanding of a task (especially in England where the media is sometimes unforgiving with its criticism of managers…Something Sarri would know a thing or two about). Instead of a so-called big name, an obvious candidate—and a name that majority of the Chelsea fanbase was in favor of— was Frank Lampard. A Legend of the club and one of the most likable characters in Chelsea history, Lampard’s history with the club made him the almost-perfect candidate for the job (not to mention the 11 trophies he won as a player whilst also being the club’s all-time leading goal scorer). His resume as a player wasn’t too shabby, to say the least.
His resume as a manager, on the other hand, didn’t necessarily come across as exciting depending on which way it was looked at. A year at Derby county where with the help of his sidekick, Jody Morris—Long time Chelsea youth coach— he slowly but surely started to create an identity and a style of football that he could call his own. It could be argued that the job he did at Derby wasn’t extremely impressive considering Derby finished in the same league position that they had finished the year before, under Gary Rowett. It could also be argued that in what was his first year in management, it would be harsh to undermine the job he did as Derby found themselves only ninety minutes away from earning promotion to the Premier League. Although it ended in disappointment as they fell to Villa in the play-off final, it was the learning experience that Chelsea thought Frank Lampard needed as he was indeed officially announced as Chelsea manager on the 4th of July 2019.
A diamond in the rough as most Chelsea fans would describe the appointment because it was one of, if not the only piece of good news that they received for the bulk of the summer. It was something to look forward to as most Chelsea fans who hadn’t seen the type of manager he was could not wait to see it first hand as preseason beckoned. With a stale squad and a nucleus of players that some would say had overstayed their welcome at the club, Lampard integrated a fresh crop of academy youngsters to the team to give what was a relatively aging squad in some areas, new life. The youngsters included on the preseason tour of Ireland, Japan, Austria, and Germany included Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori —who both played under Frank at Derby— in addition to Tammy Abraham who returned to the club from his loan spell with Villa. Another young, exciting player that was added to the squad was the American, Christian Pulisic who completed his transfer from Dortmund in a deal that was agreed back in January. Every one of these players was given a chance to showcase their talents during the preseason and even during the Supercup against European champions Liverpool. Some players impressed more than other’s but all players relatively had a decent preseason and gave a strong argument as to why they deserved to have a spot in the first-team squad.
The season started in the ugliest manner possible for Frank Lampard in a four nothing defeat to already under-pressure Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Although the score line was quite deceiving—considering Chelsea was the better side for large parts of the game— it was still not the kind of result that Chelsea fans would have been expecting. The same pattern carried on for the first couple of games as Chelsea found it difficult to pick up results albeit with overall good performances which became frustrating to both fans and Lampard himself. The first landmark in Lampard’s Chelsea managerial career was his first win which came away to newly-promoted side Norwich. A game in which Tammy Abraham, who had struggled at the beginning stages of the season and was coming under some criticism especially after his Supercup penalty miss, scored two goals and repaid his manager’s trust in him. A few hiccups here and there as the young side battled with inconsistency until it finally clicked, as the team won seven straight in all competitions and found themselves floating in and around second and third place thanks to Manchester City’s struggles. A huge contributor to the winning run was the form of veteran midfield duo Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic in addition to both Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount as they both chipped in with goals. Christian Pulisic, who struggled early eventually found his feet after being given a rare start against Burnley in which he scored a hattrick fully cementing his place in the side alongside Willian who also looked a rejuvenated figure. Kurt Zouma and Fikayo Tomori also found themselves getting a run of games during the run and proved to be solid throughout.
That all sadly came to an end and ever since that run, Frank Lampard’s side has struggled to string more than two wins in a row, winning just a third of their games played since then. A multitude of reasons could be given as to why Chelsea have struggled for consistency ranging from the poor form of goalkeeper Kepa Arizzabalaga, to what Lampard himself described as “A Lack of killer instinct” and “the inability of his side to kill teams off”. Injuries have also played a major role as the likes of Antonio Rudiger, Ngolo Kante, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James, Christian Pulisic and Emerson have all missed a huge chunk of the season due to injury while Ruben Loftus Cheek, who was a key member of the team last year has been out for the whole season due to an injury he suffered just before the Europa League Final. The defending in general has also struggled as Chelsea have struggled to defend set-pieces all season long leading to Lampard having to chop and change his defensive selections which in turn has then caused a lack of stability at the back. The January transfer window proved to be the toughest period of Lampard’s tenure as it was evident to both fans and the media that he was frustrated with the lack of transfer business as he felt it was a crucial time of the season to get key additions into the team.
Overall, it has been an up and down season for Chelsea, but if the season were to end today, they would occupy the last remaining spot in the race for top four and will have booked a place in next year’s Champions League. Not to mention, Chelsea still remain in the later stages of both the FA cup and Champions League. It is a position that, coming into the season, not many expected the Blues to be in. So, it hasn’t been all doom and gloom as of late for Chelsea, as they somehow still sit in fourth place in the league table in what has been a rather odd season. Another major bright spot of the season so far is Reece James who based on his performances, looks like the ideal successor to Cesar Azpilicueta at the right-back position. His crossing is often the one thing that is highlighted, but he is also quite the footballer. His strength and pace mixed with his ability on the ball make him the perfect candidate to fill the right-back spot for the next decade and more. In addition to Reece (although their performances have dried up as of late due to their youth and inexperience), both Mount and Tomori earned their first England call-ups this season as well with Mount grabbing his first international goal.
This season for Frank Lampard was expected to be a transition year, which it has been to some extent. But in the eyes of an optimist, it could be seen as even more than that. In the eight months of being in charge, it is clear for all to see what Lampard’s system and way of playing is. Whether he has the players to implement that style or not is still yet to be known, but for the majority of the season, it is obvious to see the style of play that he has instilled into this team. With a deal for Hakim Ziyech already agreed in mid-February, it is looking even more likely that Lampard has complete backing and can truly make this inherited squad his own. With a few more signings at key positions (such as left-back, and another striker to compete with Tammy Abraham), Chelsea could be on their way to building the foundation of a team that can close the gap on Liverpool and Man City. It is also possible that we could even be seeing quite a few going out the door. Chelsea’s identity in recent years has been somewhat of a one-man team, with that man being Eden Hazard. Now that Hazard is gone, Lampard has the task of rebuilding the identity of the team. And based on the evidence of the job he’s done so far this season, it is fair to say he is on the right track.
Written By: Dotnun