The truth here is that no Premier League manager will ever read this piece. The maximum football qualification for my reader – I can imagine – would be a trial at Crystal Palace U-8s. Frank won’t stop his real-life football manager simulation to know what we think about his preferred tactics. Most of those reading this would never have been to Stamford Bridge. Some – not to any football stadium.
The other truth here is that it doesn’t matter.
I wrote the preview for the West Brom game and like most of you – I had it on paper that we would be winning the game comfortably. As the football struck Kyle Bartley’s right foot and crept in of Caballero’s far post, I chuckled as to how far off I really was from reality. There we – me and you – are similar. Twitter raged with the dying of the light and beyond, and reactionary became the distant cousin of an adjective I’m still looking for to describe Chelsea fans.
It is fair to be disappointed. It is fair to look at Frank on the touchline and think “he should know what he’s doing by now”. It is fair to question a certain player’s inclusion over another. However, it comes with the hatchback responsibility of remembering: it is just a game. No, I’m not talking about not abusing players in their DMs or carrying with yourself the real meaning of our lives beyond football. That is basic decency. What I refer to here is the anonymous that gets lost when eleven names on a sheet of paper head onto the field.
Be it Graham Potter’s Brighton or Sean Dyche’s Burnley – the squads have inherently gotten used to their tactics, as if born with their deep-lying roles decided. Some say the first words Ben Mee ever uttered were ‘four four two’. What we have at Chelsea is football’s favourite villain – change – and while I can keep arguing here that the players need a lot more time than three congested gameweeks, I know you know it as well.
The concern among the Bridge’s faithful, however, stems from Frank Lampard’s inability to draft a game-plan. With an entire season, seemingly, spent on not criticizing your manager, the fans now find it mechanically easy to compensate. “You had an entire season to decide how to play”, they say.
And they are right. Despite being a result-oriented club and having allowed an entire season of leeway, a 4-2-2-2 with Loftus Cheek up front and our (almost) record-transfer out of position, questions had to be raised. Follow that up with 3 individual errors at The Hawthorns and poor in-game decisions against Spurs, and you would know Frank Lampard’s story is one of incredibly fine margins.
Tinkering is a funny little game and Frank – for all three times now – has been on the wrong side of the edge. A possible explanation could be the lack of a pre-season, the absence of which will hurt any club in a phase of transformation. Another could be a decided game-plan set aside due to injuries to two premium options on the wings.
But this is where the anonymous holds up high and large. Stronger on paper is a myth, if there ever was one in sports. The same paper – where we resembled Goliath for the money we spent and the FIFA ratings our players had out-ranking our opponents – also had us drawing a shadow of David where he shouted “these players have never played together before”.
If this was a world run just on the intellectual prowess of those who write and those who manage the game, I would have whispered to Frank – “Mate, pick a plan and stick to it. Don’t leave Werner on the left. Be ruthless. Adapt according to opponents.” But this is notthat world. Rather it is one where I write this, knowing I wouldn’t have been banging my fingers on this keyboard had Mount slotted that penalty in.
It is a game of fine margins, and yet somehow thicker than the moods of those who depend on the boys in blue. Unprecedented times.