For Chelsea fans who started supporting Chelsea around the time Roman Abramovich walked into Stamford Bridge and shot the club straight into the realm of European heavyweights with his ambition, the past year and a half have probably been a confusing time. For Chelsea fans in the 20-25 age band, their idols growing up watching football would have been Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and John Terry, and their favorite sporting memory is almost definitely that magic night at Munich. Seeing one of Chelsea’s legends come back to the club as manager was a profoundly emotional moment and everyone unanimously wanted Lampard to succeed.
Fast forward to September 2020, and the picture isn’t completely rosy. Chelsea overachieved majorly by sealing Champions League qualification, but the manner in which they did so (losses to Sheffield United, West Ham and Liverpool in the run in), and defensive frailties had one section of the fan base questioning whether Frank Lampard had the tactical nous to build a championship winning team. The loss to Arsenal in the FA Cup was another dampener, but a whirlwind transfer window, bringing in some of the best young talent available, as well as Thiago Silva to shore up the defense changed the mood around Chelsea, but also amped up the pressure on Frank.
And 3 games into the season, it’s fair to say things haven’t been perfect. Winning 3-1 at Brighton papered over the cracks of an abject display, and the loss to Liverpool was attributed to Christensen’s brain freeze moment. But the game against West Brom had a section of the fan base up in arms against Lampard. The decision to start Marcos Alonso, coupled with the seeming lack of a proper game plan in attack was highlighted on Twitter and by pundits, and a stirring comeback in the second half to draw 3-3 did little to temper the absolute meltdown by the Chelsea fan base, with some fringe elements even calling for the manager to be sacked. Things were somewhat recovered after a convincing victory against Crystal Palace, but further challenges await.
The calls to dismiss the manager are definitely reactionary, and should be dismissed as unwarranted outbursts of emotion, but there is definitely a need to improve at both ends of the pitch. Too often, we have seen Chelsea create chance after chance without scoring, only to see the opponent break away and score, or our defenders gift the opposition a goal (Twice against West Brom). Yes, the manager can’t atone for individual errors, but the very top teams don’t make those. Frank should know. He played in the stingiest defense in the history of the PL in 2004/05.
An attack that boasts of Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount should definitely be more clinical than they were on Saturday. But it should be common knowledge that Chelsea had a far from ideal pre-season, with players in quarantine after international holidays. Frank is looking to build a team that plays front foot football with vertical passing lines and willing runners. The fluency in passing and understanding will come only with time on the training pitch and a well-settled first 11. The returns of Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech can’t come soon enough. Callum Hudson Odoi also showed that he deserves to start much more regularly than he is now. Frank has to accept some players will not be as dedicated in training as he was as a player, but they can still deliver on Saturday night!
Our pivot of Kante and Kovacic looked neat on the ball, but very vulnerable in transition. The defensive solidity that the entire fan base so desperately craves is still elusive, but Anthony Barry and Thiago Silva are expected to bring structure and experience, and help our younger players with in-game management, and weathering opponent onslaughts without giving fans a heart-attack every weekend.
There are multiple factors contributing to our challenges on the pitch, and Frank Lampard definitely has the knowledge and self-awareness to recognize these as areas he needs to improve on. His press-conference on Saturday where he admitted he got the tactics wrong, as well as praising Hudson Odoi’s impact on the match show his willingness to learn and do justice to the club he loves so much. Our fan base needs to realize, even Guardiola and Klopp faced challenges moulding the squad to their vision (Leicester and Tottenham anyone?), and once they got the base structure in place, what ensued was magic.
Frank will take us back to where we belong. It’s a process, and good times will come back to Stamford Bridge!