It’s been a poor run for Frank Lampard and Chelsea throughout much of December. Only one win in six Premier League games has seen them fall out of the top six and, for the first time, has seen serious questions raised about Lampard’s future as manager. But I think it would be a mistake to sack Lampard.
This is Frank Lampard’s first job working with world class players. He is learning on the job, which is really the only way to do it in football management. His season at Derby would have definitely helped settle him into the mindset of a manger and to have a better idea of what sort of football he wants to play. He also did a brilliant job last season with no access to the resources an incoming manager would normally have. He wasn’t able to sign three or four players to improve the squad and be able to quickly implement his playing style. He had to rely on young players that hadn’t previously been able to break into the first team squad, with a couple of exceptions. But Frank really had to rely on players that hadn’t had a shot in the first team at all. A record high number of academy players made their first team debuts last season. Lampard was also going to be without Chelsea’s get out of jail card of the previous few years as Eden Hazard made his way to Real Madrid. And despite this, Frank still led the team to Champions League qualification and an F.A Cup final. That was a very good start, and both he and the club were in a position to use it as a springboard to take them back into the fight at the top of the table.
Expectations were always going to heighten after a successful first season and they were only going to go further up when a number of high-profile players came in, many for high transfer fees. Many were talking of a potential title challenge from SW6, certainly a good cup run or two. And so far, that hasn’t quite happened. There was an early exit from the League Cup and after a good solid start in the league, results have taken a turn for the worse. Some of the new signings have taken longer to bed in than some would have expected or wanted and that has contributed to the downturn in form we saw over the course of December. And that has raised some doubts in the media and in some supporter’s minds about whether Frank Lampard is the right man to take the club back to being serious and consistent challengers for honours.
Well, I would advise to hang fire for the moment. For one thing, the Premier League title race is much, much tighter this season. Liverpool were strides ahead of anyone last season, even at this point in the campaign. Not so this time around. Manchester City have started to rediscover themselves in recent weeks and Manchester United have chipped out results to be sitting at the top of the table for the first time since 2013. Tottenham have started to take on the best attributes of a traditional Mourinho team who could easily come into the picture. Liverpool are still very much in the picture even as they try to navigate a long-term injury crisis, particularly in the centre-back position. In fact, I would say that Liverpool and Manchester City are the favourites to go on and win the title. But, if Chelsea can get on a roll of wins, they will find themselves right back in the fight. The league is just that tight this season. Be it because of the more congested nature of the season, the injuries that have resulted, or clubs struggling with COVID outbreaks or diagnoses to key players.
But many are wondering if Lampard knows his strongest line-up at all. A successful title-winning side usually has a settled first-choice line-up. Lampard has tended to make a number of changes if results are not as expected. The formation has also been a matter of debate among Chelsea fans and football pundits with some suggesting a change might better fit the players brought in, to bring out the best in the squad. That may be something for Lampard to try out and see what happens. But Chelsea also suffered from a loss of form at about this time of the campaign last time around. And Lampard was able to re-energise the team and qualify for the Champions League. In my opinion, for Lampard to stay in the job, he needs to at least match the league position from last season, and ensure Chelsea will play Champions League football in 2021/22. And if the mid-season slump happens in Lampard’s third season in charge, serious questions will need to be and inevitably will be asked about whether he is the right man to lead Chelsea going forward. But, certainly for the time being, Lampard deserves to stay in the role.