Frank Lampard’s first three competitive games in the hot seat at Chelsea have turned out far differently than the fairytale return to the club at which he spent 12 seasons of an illustrious playing career, that he would have dreamt of. Chelsea’s 4-0 loss at Old Trafford in their first game of the new Premier League season, followed up by a cruel penalty shoot-out loss in the UEFA Super Cup to reigning European Champions Liverpool followed by a 1-1 home draw with Leicester has been a harsh reality check for the squad, coach and fans of The Blues.
Early signs are pointing to the 2019/20 season inevitably ending up a difficult one to endure for Chelsea, however, it may be in the best interest of all those involved with the club to keep new head coach Frank Lampard well out of the firing line if and when the season ultimately doesn’t live up to the standards which have been set at the club during the Abramovich era.
Football centered media and pundits were always going to criticise and focus heavily on the early results of Lampard’s Chelsea once the new season got under way. It is the nature of the beast in football management. However, a difficult season on the pitch should always have been expected for the club, following this previous summer’s transfer ban, likely made worse by the loss of the club’s star player Eden Hazard to Real Madrid. When you top all of that off with the loss of head coach Maurizio Sarri to Italian giants Juventus, it is clear that Chelsea are well and truly a club in a period of transition at the moment, and should be judged as such.
Frank Lampard’s appointment as head coach at Chelsea was a sign of the new direction being taken by the club. It was an appointment that, though in some ways, it seems like a natural fit, considering Lampard’s playing career with Chelsea, comes quite out of left field for Chelsea, as a club who typically appoints managers with the goal of immediate success. Lampard is not a coach who comes to Chelsea with a guarantee of immediate success. Lampard’s appointment as head coach of Chelsea is a sign that the club, whether influenced by the transfer ban or not, is looking at beginning a process of building and moving forward with the young, inexperienced squad that they have, a process which, in order to be implemented correctly, will require the head coach to be given time to mould this squad in his vision.
The average age of Lampard’s squad for the first league game against Manchester United was 25.6, while the average age for the Liverpool game, in which he fielded a squad packed with his most experienced available players, was still just 26.9. When we look at the average age of Chelsea sides over the past 4 or 5 seasons, the average age is generally over 27, and Lampard’s two squads up to this point would generally be very much on the young end of the scale. Sarri’s youngest average age squad last season was 25.8 in a Europa League group game vs MOL Fehervar, Conte only once fielded a squad with an average age under 26 in his two seasons, when his squad had an average age of 25.5 in a League Cup game vs Everton in the 2017/18 season, while Mourinho, in his title winning 2014/15 season, twice fielded a squad with an average age of under 26, both in League Cup games against lower league opposition also. It is clear from the trends in Chelsea’s history that Lampard has a very different role as manager to those that have preceded him, and he should be judged as such. A young squad is not necessarily a bad thing by any means, but it clearly shows that the Chelsea squad has drastically changed, and this squad is clearly at the beginning of a process, rather than being one ready to push for the title.
Chelsea legend Jose Mourinho has stated that Chelsea have “bought time” with the appointment of Frank Lampard, and this statement will have to prove true if The Blues are to quickly rebuild to their glory days, and prevent a fall from grace in the vein of Liverpool, Arsenal and more recently Manchester United which would take far longer to recover from. Chelsea’s fanbase has earned themselves a reputation as being impatient and unforgiving when they aren’t pleased with the manager, while their owner, Roman Abramovich, doesn’t exactly boast a track record of having much patience for managers either, with a total of 13 managerial changes during his time as owner of the club, including two reigns for Mourinho and interim coach Guus Hiddink.
On the one hand, Chelsea’s model of burning through managers has proven successful enough to make them the most successful english club of the last 10 seasons, with 10 major domestic and european honours to their name in the last decade. On the other hand, however, a certain element of stability is key to sustained success in football, and over the last 5 transfer windows, Chelsea have slowly lost the likes of Petr Cech, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, and more recently Eden Hazard and David Luiz, who both left the club this summer. All of these names were important, experienced and tenured players with Chelsea, who had undoubtedly been big characters in the Chelsea dressing room which is often known to be more powerful and influential on the club than whoever the coach is at the time. Lampard who was once one of the key members of that chelsea dressing room at a time when player power at the club was at its most prevalent, and he may well be the perfect character to take control of the club at a challenging time of uncertainty. Backing Frank Lampard through thick and thin may be the best course of action for Chelsea fans, players and indeed the owner, to maintain some stability, and get the ship sailing back in the right direction, before things get out of hand in west London.