Will Chelsea’s managerial merry-go-round spin again?
Following a damaging 3-1 home defeat to Manchester City that has seen Chelsea drop to eighth in the Premier League table, questions are being asked as to whether or not Frank Lampard should remain in the Chelsea dugout for much longer. Jack Donnelly examines what has gone wrong for the former midfielder in just his third year of management.
On December 5th 2020, Chelsea found themselves at the summit of the Premier League table after coming from behind to defeat Leeds United at home. Now, almost a month on, the club have plummeted to eighth place, having lost four of their last seven matches and the atmosphere surrounding the West London club is nothing short of miserable. The latest result in a horrendous run came on Sunday evening, as Manchester City ran out as 3-1 winners at Stamford Bridge, scoring all three goals in the space of 16 first-half minutes. As Phil Foden scored the second, dark blue heads visibly dropped, as manager Frank Lampard could only watch, arms crossed, with a steely gaze.
This sight has become all too commonplace in Chelsea’s technical area – Lampard’s icy stare was present as Bukayo Saka’s cross-cum-shot flew over Edouard Mendy in Arsenal’s 3-1 win and the same was seen as Anwar El Ghazi volleyed Matty Cash’s cross through Mendy’s legs in the 1-1 draw between Chelsea and Aston Villa. Losses to Everton and Wolves were also taken in by Lampard’s harsh expression, and while a 3-0 victory against West Ham provided Lampard with his only win in the Christmas period, anyone who watched the game would tell you that the performance was anything but convincing. After an impressive 17-match unbeaten streak following September’s 2-0 home loss to Liverpool, Lampard is having questions asked of him once again by not only the Chelsea supporters, but by his own board – but why are questions being asked of the manager?
For one, it’s a fairly well-known take that at its core, football is a game of results and it doesn’t take a genius to see that Lampard is not producing what Roman Abramovich is looking for. While external factors have played a part in the downward spiral Chelsea find themselves in, the majority of problems can be attributed to on-the-pitch performances. The former England international has repeatedly made it clear that he is employing a “possession-based” style on his team and in a sense, Lampard has been successful in building a team that can retain possession, with Chelsea holding the majority of the ball for all seven of their previous fixtures. This is all well and good, but what good is keeping the ball more than your opponent if they use their possession more effectively in terms of creating chances and, most importantly, scoring goals? The team have scored eight goals in their last seven games, but managed 18 goals across the seven game run that ended with the win over Leeds. Granted, Hakim Ziyech has only played once in the last seven fixtures due to injury, and Christian Pulisic is still working his way back to full match sharpness after hamstring troubles, but this is a team that has goal-scorers in every department. Kurt Zouma, Ben Chilwell, Mason Mount and both Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud have found a scoring touch this season, but with the team repeating the tired routine of “ball out wide, play the overlapping full back, send in a cross,” goals have dried up as the approach has been found out by opposing teams. Lampard will need to deviate from current tactics if he wants to get his players back in amongst the goals.
Of course, Chelsea would hedge their bets at scoring more goals if Timo Werner was on top form, but the German forward has been less than a revelation since arriving from RB Leipzig in the summer transfer window. Werner has scored eight goals across 24 appearances in all competitions this season but has endured the longest goalless run of his career, having been unable to find the net for the last 12 games for club and country. While some may attribute this lack of goals to an adjustment period, it’s more likely that Lampard is misusing his new man, with Werner having made the majority of his Chelsea appearances as a left winger, rather than a central striker. With Lampard keen for his wingers to track back and defend before bursting forward on the counter-attack, Werner is running himself into the ground and an absence of luck in front of goal has shot his confidence completely, leaving him with a very difficult situation to deal with – one that his manager should be able to have a positive contribution to.
The striker is not the only player in the Chelsea squad who hasn’t hit the heights that were expected of them – Kai Havertz has arguably taken to life in England worse than Werner, with the midfielder’s performances being far below their usual standard. There are a couple of different external factors at play with Havertz – he only had a five-day training period before the start of the season and was bedridden for over a week with COVID-19 – but even after half a season, Lampard seems unable to nail down Havertz’s true position. The 21-year-old has been tried as a right winger, a box-to-box number eight, a creative number 10 and even a false nine, but Lampard’s experiments have not yielded many – if any – positive results. Such experimentation has left Lampard defeated and Havertz has had to settle for a spot on the bench in recent matches, with Lampard selecting the likes of Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho ahead of the German. Havertz clearly has plenty to offer, but it comes down to Lampard to be able to manage the player and the situation effectively and thus far, he’s managed both terribly.
Rumours of discontent and tension between Lampard and his squad have begun to circulate, which tends to spell the beginning of the end for a manager – Chelsea’s 2015/16 season comes to mind, when Jose Mourinho led his team through their worst season of the Abramovich era, losing the dressing room in the process, which ended up costing him his job. It’s also become noticeable to many just how much Lampard has been given the benefit of the doubt – currently, Lampard has the worst points-per-game average (1.67) of any manager since Abramovich bought the club in 2003 and has the second lowest win percentage (49%), with only Andre Villas-Boas having a lower win percentage (48%). However, because of last season’s transfer embargo, Lampard is being given extra time that other Chelsea managers would not have had the luxury of. Currently, the Chelsea hierarchy seem quite happy to let performances and results slip to give Lampard time to get things right which completely goes against the culture that Roman Abramovich has created at the club.
After the loss to City, Lampard said in his post-match interview with Sky Sports that he believes that Chelsea have the personnel and the character to “without a doubt” get out of the situation that they find themselves in. However, with The Athletic reporting that the Chelsea board are currently considering other options for the Chelsea hot-seat, Lampard may see himself as the person moved on to ensure that the club can progress and reach its goals – an ironic parallel of his departure as a player.