Football Features

Five things Chelsea’s start to the season has taught us about Frank Lampard, the manager

By Harry Edwards

Published: 19:24, 25 October 2019

Frank Lampard’s Chelsea are currently on a six-game winning run across all competitions, after their 1-0 victory over Ajax in midweek.

The Englishman is in his first season as manager of a top-flight club having already endured a tough Championship challenge with Derby County last season.

One of a bunch of ex-players making their way into management, Lampard was thrown into the deep end at former club Chelsea, having written his name into the history books as a midfielder.

The club’s all-time record goalscorer endured a poor start to life as Chelsea boss, having to wait until his fourth game to win. But recent weeks have seen Lampard really come into his own in the Chelsea role, while showing glimpses of what he will be like as a manager long term.

So, what do we know about Lampard, the manager, so far?

1. He’s not tied to one formation

One of Chelsea’s biggest problems last season was that they were extremely predictable. Under Maurizio Sarri, it was 4-3-3 or bust. Lampard is a bit different.

So far, the Englishman has overseen 14 games as Chelsea manager, spanning four competitions. In those 14 games, Lampard has used three different formations, trying to find the best that suits his Chelsea team and frustrates their opponents at the same time.

The season started with a 4-2-3-1 against Manchester United, but that was pulled apart in the 4-0 defeat at Old Trafford. This led Lampard to try a 4-3-3, dropping one midfielder deeper and performances did improve, starting with Chelsea’s Uefa Super Cup game against Liverpool despite the penalty shootout loss.

Variations of a 4-3-3 continued for the next three games before Lampard changed his formation once more, to try and combat his defensive problems and mirror Wolverhampton Wanderers’ system ahead of their September tie.

Chelsea’s move to a three-man central defence certainly helped in attack, as the Blues ran out 5-2 winners, but the problems weren’t completely solved at the back, as the following 1-0 home defeat to Valencia showed.

Despite that, Lampard has still tried the 3-4-2-1 again, with success against Lille, while also switching between a 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 domestically.

It appears the 4-3-3 is Lampard’s more favoured formation, but the Chelsea manager has ensured he has other systems in his locker ready for when he needs something different.

2. He’s not afraid to use the academy

Chelsea boast one of the best academies in England, but the Blues have frequently received criticism for failing to use their young stars enough. Not anymore.

At Derby County, Lampard showed he was not afraid to use younger players who deserved playing time, but he has taken that to the next level at Chelsea.

Aided by the club’s transfer ban, Lampard has filled the Chelsea starting XI with youth, trusting the academy graduates to take the Blues through the season.

After the 4-0 defeat to Manchester United, Lampard was criticised for his team selection, with former Chelsea striker Tony Cascarino claiming the young stars were not ready.

“The younger elements of the Chelsea team are not ready and last night proved that.”

Tony Cascarino after Chelsea’s 4-0 defeat to Manchester United

But Lampard has remained strong on his stance, keeping the likes of Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham as key members of the Chelsea team. The pair have also been joined by the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi, Fikayo Tomori, Billy Gilmour and Reece James in making appearances in the Premier League.

James, still just 19, started a Champions League game for Chelsea before he had made his Premier League debut and scored in a 7-1 win over Grimsby Town.

That League Cup tie also saw Marc Guehi, Tino Anjorin and Ian Maatsen handed first-team appearances, with the former also appearing on the bench in the Champions League and Premier League.

Jody Morris and Joe Edwards’ presence in Chelsea’s backroom staff has no doubt helped the use of academy players, given their successes as youth coaches, but Lampard deserves a lot of praise for his stubborn faith in the system.

3. Attack comes before defence

Not everything has been perfect for Lampard.

Despite the Blues scoring 19 goals in the Premier League, with only Liverpool and Manchester City managing more, defence very much presents a pressing problem.

This may sound overly negative given the Blues have kept consecutive clean sheets but they were fortunate not to concede in the 1-0 win over Ajax, saved by Quincy Promes’ big toe being offside when the Dutchman thought he had opened the scoring.

But Chelsea’s defensive frailties don’t seem to be just a club problem, it’s something Lampard has been struggling with throughout his brief managerial career.

Since Lampard made the switch to management with Derby in 2018, the former England midfielder has overseen 71 games across all competitions. In that time, Lampard’s teams have managed to keep just 17 clean sheets – a 24% success rate – while conceding 104 goals.

Fortunately for Chelsea, and Lampard, his sides have been strong in attack as previously mentioned. In the 71 games to date, Lampard’s Derby and Chelsea have scored 138 goals, ensuring the defensive problems haven’t truly hindered them. But it’s still something Lampard will want to work on.

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4. He has an eye for a substitution

Arguably the biggest plus point of Chelsea’s win over Ajax in midweek was Lampard showing he can change games when things aren’t quite going his way.

Other managers might have settled for a goalless draw away at Ajax given their form at the start of the season, going into the game against Chelsea unbeaten across all competitions. But not Lampard.

With 66 minutes gone, Lampard switched Willian for Christian Pulisic and five minutes later Michy Batshuayi replaced Abraham. The changes saw Chelsea step up a gear and apply constant pressure on the Ajax goal, eventually finding the breakthrough in the 86th minute.

And who combined for the goal? Pulisic and Batshuayi, capping off impressive cameos.

Pulisic created three chances in his 24 minutes, the joint-most of any Chelsea player including his assist for Batshuayi’s winner. Meanwhile, the Belgian striker had four efforts on goal, more than any player from both teams, and should have scored before he did, sending a shot over the bar from close range.

It was the second time the pair had combined for a goal as substitutes while at Chelsea, with Pulisic also assisting Batshuayi in a 4-1 win over Southampton.

Throughout the rest of the team, Chelsea have seen substitutes directly involved on five occasions this season. In the 5-2 win over Wolves, Batshuayi came off the bench to assist Mount and wins over Brighton and Lille saw substitute Hudson-Odoi setting up Willian, adding to the Pulisic/Batshuayi combinations.

5. He’s a good man-manager

During his playing career, Lampard worked with some of the best man-managers in the game, most notably Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Lampard is already proving himself to be a bit of a man-managing expert.

Despite not being able to bring in any new players in the summer, Lampard finds himself with a pretty big squad filled with players who would be expecting first-team football.

Two of those players have already been mentioned in Pulisic and Batshuayi, with the former joining for £58m in January and having the weight of America’s footballing expectations on his shoulders.

The pair have had to make do with fringe roles so far but Lampard has managed to keep them keen to impress, as shown by their combinations in recent weeks.

Then there’s the protection of Chelsea’s young stars in the rocky start, remaining adamant that they were good enough to be playing. A little statement in the grand scheme of things, but it will have resonated with the players.

But at the same time, Lampard hasn’t been afraid to be the boss, as shown by his dealing with David Luiz in the summer that led to the Brazilian joining Arsenal.