Same question, different day. With every passing game, there comes more sitting on the fence about Frank Lampard and Chelsea. And for those who may think, and perhaps that so much shouldn’t be made of Chelsea this early into the season, it may help to state that there are, in general, better managerial options out there such as Mauricio Pochettino or maybe even RB Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann, whose name has been mentioned as a potential Frank Lampard successor in the past few days. At a club with Chelsea’s track record, records prove that managers and time don’t quite see to see and if results don’t show, little hesitation is shown made by the hierarchy above.
It’s one of the most interesting dilemmas in football. How is a manager solely responsible for a club’s results going downhill? After all, it’ll only be the manager who is answerable to the board and more importantly, Sky Sports pundits. The harsh reality is that the manager is appointed to bring out the best among the group of players at the club, and regardless of the players’ showing, it’ll only be the manager’s future on line. It can be presumed that though he is at the embryonic stage of his managerial career, but this is a risk that Frank took when he was given the job last year. The bottom line is it doesn’t seem likely that Chelsea will wait, even for their very own Frank Lampard, to lead from the front. If they don’t go on a winning spree and display progress on a consistent basis anytime soon, the board, believe it or not, will be looking at possible candidates to take over. It’s been proved down the years that Roman Abramovich doesn’t mind letting coaches go midway through the season if the situation calls for it.
Can Frank steer this ship of doubt around? Can he, for once, silence all critics by inspiring the dressing room to a successful season backed up by silverware? To put it bluntly, on paper, he just isn’t competent or proven enough yet to be handed over this group of players. At a club like, say, Real Madrid, Frank would’ve been moved on after reaching the Champions League this season. A top manager would’ve been brought in with the objective of transforming this ‘good’ side into a title-winning squad. Chelsea have placed their faith in Frank but the faith-card can only do one good for so long.
To be fair, let’s judge Frank solely on what has been witnessed on the pitch this season. And almost every club’s campaigns have been marred by injuries, so let’s throw that of the window. After six games in the Premier League, Chelsea sit in 10th place with nine points on the board. They’ve already been knocked out of the Carabao Cup and made a scruffy start to their Champions League campaign with an absent display at home to Sevilla. It’s not good, it’s not bad but it is what it is. There’ll be many more surprises on the cards over the course of this freaky season but Chelsea, with the transfer window they had, cannot justify not winning a title this season. The ‘young squad’ tag won’t be remembered for long, especially when the business end of the season approaches.
Does Lampard have a philosophy; principles of playing that are the core of the style of play Chelsea adopt each game? Jose Mourinho, in his short stint as a pundit at Sky Sports, reiterated that while a manager is bound to mix things up every game in order to get a result, the principles behind the philosophy MUST remain the same for the team to preserve their identity. Nizaar Kinsella, Chelsea correspondent for Goal, reported after the game against Southampton a few weeks ago that the players didn’t carry out Lampard’s instruction of going long in order to break the press for long spells. That’d make one wonder that either the players have having a laugh at the boss’ instructions or perhaps Frank doesn’t quite stimulate his squad, get a reaction off them and even connect with them on a intellectual level. Frank has been accused of chopping and changing his system all the time to this point. Whether it be 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 or most recently 3-4-3, he just doesn’t seem to work out the ideal formation that will suit his side the most.
At the beginning of the 2016-17 season, Antonio Conte inherited an underconfident squad after Jose Mourinho was sacked and Gus Hiddink was brought in. He made a couple of tweaks here and there it took a 3-0 drubbing at Arsenal for him to resort to a 3-4-3 with a midfield pivot of N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic supported by the under-fire Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses as wing-backs, a system that helped Chelsea romp to the Premier League title. Frank adopting a 3-4-3 at Old Trafford certainly instilled confidence in his backline but it isn’t something sustainable. You don’t leave your best attacking players on the bench to show your defenders a good time. Chelsea have to play to their strengths and while the idea of countering with the pace of Timo Werner, Christian Pulisic and the artistry of Kai Havertz may look attractive on paper, Chelsea have too much talent in attack to play in a conservative manner. The silver lining among all that has happened over the past week is that the defence has come into shape, with Thiago Silva and Edouard Mendy having found their feet at the club.
Is it the fear of the worst that is holding Frank back from unleashing the guns? Imagine the scenes at Stamford Bridge when the fab four of Ziyech, Havertz, Pulisic and Werner are scoring goals for fun and Chelsea are looking set to put up a sustained title challenge. There is a common misconception among fans that because the players are world-class, they are bound to perform week-in week-out and should have started delivering already. The work that matters the most has to happen on the training pitch, which ultimately reflects on what we view in matches. You got it right. The question pops up again. IS FRANK GOOD ENOUGH FOR THIS STAR-STUDDED SQUAD? No individual can be blamed if they believe that Chelsea need a more competent manager to coach the group of players. But for now, Frank is trying to work things out by trying different systems and seeing what works best for the squad. The midfield problem is still bugging fans, whether it should be a double pivot with Mason Mount or a midfield three including Jorginho, Kovacic and Kante. We were reminded at The Hawthorns about the quality and bravery that the academy-bred lads bring, as Callum Hudson-Odoi, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham stepped up and rescued Chelsea from an embarrassing defeat.
How do you fit everyone in the starting XI? You don’t, because you can’t. How do you keep all your players happy, when you know they all want to start every week? This you can, but it is something that managerial experience brings. As the likes of Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Roy Keane have repeatedly emphasised on, Sir Alex Ferguson could leave a player out and the same player would leave the conversation motivated, looking forward to the next time he’s called for action. We all know about the hairdryer. Saying what’s need to be said to the players just at the perfect time it needed to be said, making individuals feel like they’re ten feet tall is what top management is all about.
That level of management cannot be bought, it can only come with exposure and going trough the trenches with the group. Is Frank a nice guy? Does he cart some players off for not doing their jobs on the pitch? Frank has a fiery side to him, witnessed on the touchline during a heated exchange in the 5-3 defeat at Anfield last season, but can he rip into the players and get a fired-up reaction from them at half-time? This is something where the ‘club legend’ card will come in handy.
Can Frank do it? Yes, but time couldn’t run faster for Chelsea. They’re in the spotlight and that has as many negatives as positives. And it is about pleasing the fans as much as it about pleasing the board. The feel-good factor needs to return to the dressing room; good results attract good results and bad results attract more bad results, as The Special One would say. Frank needs to stick to a system and trust the idea of a set starting XI. It sends signals of doubt and confusion really when a manager is coming up with different systems every game. There’ll be hiccups on the way, but you don’t switch it up every time something doesn’t seem to work. Chelsea can forget about what happened while taking a lesson from it and make a fresh start. Olympus hasn’t fallen yet. Frank can very well lead the squad to a title this season but he needs to give the team a sense of identity, a permanent one.