Football Features

Frank Lampard’s first season as Chelsea manager: The good, the bad & the ugly

By Harry Edwards

Published: 21:59, 8 August 2020 | Updated: 10:07, 10 August 2020

Chelsea’s 4-1 defeat to Bayern Munich in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 has brought their 2019/20 campaign to a close.

Any hopes of a shock were quickly put to bed as Bayern took a 2-0 lead inside 25 minutes thanks to goals from Robert Lewandowski and Ivan Perisic. Tammy Abraham pulled one back for Chelsea just before half-time but Corentin Tolisso and another from Lewandowski wrapped up Bayern’s comprehensive win.

The 2019/20 campaign was Chelsea’s first under club legend Frank Lampard, who replaced Maurizio Sarri last summer and was given a tough task of leading the Blues through a transitionary period.

Having lost star man Eden Hazard in the same summer they were unable to make any new signings due to a transfer man, there was always going to be slightly more lenient expectations of Lampard in his first season. But how did he get on?

The Good

Christian Pulisic

Signed from Borussia Dortmund for £58m under Maurizio Sarri last January, but sent back to Germany on loan, there was a lot of excitement when Christian Pulisic finally linked up with his new teammates. Any expectations that came with the transfer fee for the then 20-year-old were only made higher by the hopes of having him replace Hazard.

Things started positively for Pulisic, starting four of Chelsea’s first five games across all competitions, including an impressive performance in the Uefa Super Cup against Liverpool. But the American soon found himself out of the team, only getting minutes in a Carabao Cup tie against Grimsby. Reports of a loan move in January were quickly squashed by Lampard, who insisted the club had to protect Pulisic.

Pulisic Watford goal

October brought cameo roles, but Pulisic was making the most of his time on the pitch, recording two assists including one in the 1-0 win over Ajax in the Champions League.
His first league start for almost two months brought a hat-trick against Burnley, breaking Tammy Abraham’s record as the youngest to do so in the Premier League for Chelsea, and two more goals in the next two games followed. By the end of December, spirits were high and fans were happy with how Pulisic had done.

Then 2020 rolled in and Pulisic found himself out of the team once more. Innocuous injury reports combined with poor form had some fans questioning why the American was not in the team, and he remained out until football returned from its break in June – having recovered from his injury problems and had time to get back to fitness.

And the break worked wonders, as Pulisic was arguably Chelsea’s best player post-break, scoring five goals from open play and recording two assists – as well as winning various dangerous set pieces that led to goals.

He was absent from the trip to Bayern due to injury, but when he returns next season, Pulisic can be Chelsea’s best player – and Lampard has to take some praise for his patience and use.

Chelsea’s academy graduates

For some time, Chelsea’s failure to use their excellent youth academy coupled with their loan system has been used as a brush to tar the club. But that cannot be the case any longer.

Although some rival fans and even Chelsea’s own may point at the circumstances that may have forced Lampard to use their younger players, being unable to sign anyone knew, the 42-year-old has kept faith in them, even during the tough times.

When Lampard was without the likes of N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho, Billy Gilmour was given the opportunity to start in the FA Cup and Premier League. And he was even picked ahead of Jorginho later in the campaign, testament to the trust Lampard has in his abilities.

Tammy Abraham was trusted to lead the line from the start of the season and only came out of the team due to injury, and later the form of Olivier Giroud – which also proves that Lampard isn’t completely blinded by the academy and is rightfully treating them as any other player. And Reece James’ run in the team both at right-back and wing-back, making him almost first-choice at times.

Arguably the biggest success story, however, is that of Mason Mount. The start against Bayern Munich on Saturday was Mount’s 53rd appearance of the 2019/20 campaign, more than any other Chelsea player. Of those 53 appearances, 42 have been starts, while he’s only missed two matches.

And just one look at the bench on Saturday, even though none of them made it onto the pitch, Lampard gave an unforgettable experience to Lewis Bate, Dynel Simeu, Henry Lawrence, Ian Maatsen and Armando Broja – all of whom will be looking to be the next academy graduates to break through.

Securing Champions League football for 2020/21

If you compare Chelsea’s 2019/20 campaign to their 2018/19, the without context you may come to the conclusion that they have regressed. After all, Sarri secured third and a Europa League trophy. But Lampard’s fourth-placed finish should not be sniffed at, as it is so much better than many expected of him.

This was his first season as a manager in the top flight, and Chelsea had so many cards stacked against them. A Europa League spot may have been a more achievable goal according to those outside the club, as this would surely be a transitional season.

But Lampard secured a top four finish, though he left it late, and got Chelsea to the FA Cup final and through what was a tricky Champions League group.

These accomplishments haven’t gone unnoticed, as Lampard has been nominated for the Premier League’s Manager of the Year award and Bayern boss Hansi Flick was complimentary of his opponent ahead of Saturday’s game.

He said: “I can say that Lampard has been doing an extraordinary job at Chelsea because they have managed to qualify for the Champions League next season via the Premier League.

“They were pretty successful after the restart and I watched the last matches of Chelsea of course and I like the way they play and how they performed. It was a difficult situation of course with difficult conditions, conditions before the start of the season when he first started.

“But when you look at the end of the season and what he achieved, how he performed, he really had an extraordinary season with his team.”

The bar will undeniably be raised for next season, but Lampard should be recognised for the good job he has done so far.

The Bad

Losing too many big games

Not everything was rosy at Stamford Bridge in 2019/20, however. As highlighted across the campaign, in the FA Cup and particularly the two Champions League last-16 legs against Bayern Munich, Chelsea just weren’t good enough in the “big games”.

Across the campaign, in all competitions, Chelsea played other members of England’s so-called Big Six on 15 occasions. They won six of those, but lost eight including league doubles against Manchester United and Liverpool, the FA Cup final against Arsenal and Super Cup against Liverpool once more.

In the Champions League group stages, there was that 1-0 defeat to Valencia in the opener and 2-2 draw with Los Che when victory would have secured qualification instead of leaving it to the final day.

Then, against Bayern Munich in two legs, Chelsea shipped seven goals goals, bringing their 2019/20 campaign to an end with a whimper – bizarrely waiting until the 80th minute to make their first change.

Lack of clinical finishing

Another problem for Chelsea, something that has plagued them for a few years, but Lampard has so far been unable to remedy, is their wastefulness in front of goal.

Despite 69 Premier League goals in 2019/20, a tally bettered only by Manchester City and Liverpool, Chelsea often lost games or dropped points because they couldn’t finish their chances.

Again only Manchester City and Liverpool created more Big Chances in the Premier League than Chelsea’s 106, however, the Blues missed an incredible 70 of them. Only four teams – Brighton and Hove Albion, Norwich City, Burnley and Sheffield United – had a worse Big Chance conversion rate in the Premier League. Abraham was Chelsea’s biggest culprit, missing 22 of his 31 Big Chances, with only Gabriel Jesus (24) missing more in the division.

Chelsea will be relying on new signing Timo Werner to change their fortunes next season

Against Bayern, it took Chelsea 25 minutes to have their first shot, with Emerson testing Manuel Neuer and they were unfortunate to have Callum Hudson-Odoi’s strike ruled out for offside. Tammy Abraham did find a way past Manuel Neuer just before half-time, though it came via an error from the German.

Chelsea started the second half brighter and had two decent chances in the opening five minutes but were let down by their ruthlessness, first Mount’s shot being too tame before Barkley was unable to finish after Abraham’s good hold up play.

In total, Chelsea had 10 shots to Bayern’s 18 but hit the target on just four occasions, while their hosts scored with four of their seven efforts on target.

A positive for Lampard and Chelsea is that they have already moved to fix this problem, signing Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech – two players that will add to their bite in front of goal. Werner has been known to miss chances of his own, but the German striker is also capable of creating a goal from next to nothing.

The Ugly

Defending

And finally, the problem everyone knows Chelsea have, and the one that has arguably cost them most: their defending.

Chelsea may have scored the third-most goals in the Premier League, but they also let in the highest in the top half of the table. The 54 goals conceded was Chelsea’s worst since 1996/97 when they conceded 55, and across all competitions they conceded at least two goals in a game 23 times.

Kepa Arrizabalaga has taken most of the blame, for his poor shot-stopping record, saving just 53.47% of the shots he faced – the lowest of any goalkeeper in the Premier League to have made more than five appearances. However, Lampard isn’t completely innocent.

At times, the Blues have looked lost defensively, and played into their opponents’ hands. Focusing on Saturday’s second leg, Lampard returned to a back four having used a three-man central defence in Chelsea’s previous four games – bringing two wins and two defeats. But it took Bayern just eight minutes to break through Chelsea’s defence, with the back four beaten by a simple ball from Serge Gnabry into Robert Lewandowski. The Polish striker was able to run into the box unmarked and was brought down by Willy Caballero, and the penalty confirmed by VAR after an initial offside call. Unsurprisingly, Lewandowski tucked the ball away calmly – his 52nd goal of the 2019/20 season.

Bayern’s second was almost as easy as their first, with Mateo Kovacic dispossessed in midfield and Chelsea wide open, allowing Lewandowski to play in Ivan Perisic to double the hosts’ lead. Despite showing more defensive competency in the second half, Chelsea still allowed their hosts chances to extend their advantage, particularly when Thomas Muller was left open inside the six-yard area from a cross and a free header for Thiago from a corner within minutes of each other. Bayern wouldn’t pass up a third opportunity, with Corentin Tolisso scoring from close range, again unmarked. And a fourth wasn’t too far behind, to complete the humiliation.

The four goals conceded at the Allianz means Lampard statistically has the worst defensive record of any Chelsea manager during the Roman Abramovich era.

While it may be unkind to compare Lampard’s record to that of Jose Mourinho’s first stint (0.63 goals conceded per game), Avram Grant (0.65), Luis Felipe Scolari (0.67) and Carlo Ancellotti (0.85) as they had the far superior options, the difference between the 42-year-old and Antonio Conte (0.96) and Maurizio Sarri (0.92) are still damning.

Having largely the same defensive personnel, particularly with Sarri, Lampard’s Chelsea are conceding at a significantly more frequent rate than his predecessors. A high line used in the FA Cup final against Arsenal drew comparisons to a style Andre Villas-Boas once donned, with players not fast enough to actually make it effective.

Chelsea are also being linked with signings to shore up their defence, but Lampard may also need to rethink his tactics and coaching to get the most out of them next season.

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