Frank Lampard, scorer of 211 goals for Chelsea, finds himself in unprecedented waters at the west London club. For perhaps the first time in his two-decade long association with Chelsea – first as a player, now as a manager – Lampard finds himself under the schoolmaster-like gaze of Roman Abramovich.
Following an enormous outlay in the summer it should come as a surprise to no one that Abramovich will be expecting more from Lampard. The young coach is only in his third season in management, but after the patience he was afforded last season (something that has seldom been offered to any other Chelsea manager in the Abramovich era) Chelsea management and fans could be excused for feeling slightly deflated about the campaign thus far.
It should be noted that these are a tough set of circumstances for anybody, let alone an inexperienced coach such as Lampard. However, Chelsea’s record over the past two months is not symptomatic of a club that spent close to £300m in the summer. While it should be acknowledged that the likes of Kai Havertz and Timo Werner were signed as part of a wider long-term project and are young players, it can certainly be argued that both have been extremely underwhelming.
A new £50m striker not being trusted to start away to Fulham or Leicester, in addition to being hooked at half-time away at Arsenal despite Chelsea being 2-0 down, reflects badly on Werner, but also on Lampard. When Werner’s ‘goal’ was disallowed against Leicester, one almost felt a bit sorry for him. Here stood a striker who is clearly talented, but for whatever reason it is just not quite clicking for him.
Despite all the money Chelsea spent last summer, Lampard has had to continue relying on Olivier Giroud and Tammy Abraham. Lampard has been trying to pull himself away from the former for almost 18 months now, yet seems incapable of doing so. His inability to do so says more about his coaching than it does Timo Werner.
Both Havertz and Werner put up unbelievable numbers in the Bundesliga last season, for Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig, respectively. Both have not only seen a drop off in their actual goals per game, but also in their xG and xA (expected goals and expected assists). In the goals per game department, Havertz has seen his rate drop from 12 goals in 30 games at an impressive 0.44 to 1 goal in 15 this campaign at a rate of 0.11. Werner’s drop off has been similarly alarming: last season he was scoring at a rate of 0.90 goals per game, or 28 in 31 appearances. This season that has halved to 0.44 goals per game.
There is an acceptance within football that this season is going to be difficult for players. The nature of it – the late start in September and a hard deadelin on the season finishing in May – requires many teams to play twice a week for most weeks. Chelsea are one of these sides. For Werner then, it is not an ideal set of circumstances to be playing your first season in a new country under, but Abramovich will have expected more, especially as Werner does appear to have been recruitment at Lampard’s personal behest. The Chelsea boss said, upon Werner signing: “I have certainly followed him for a while…before I took this job.”
An owner showing faith in their manager by buying the players who they want is a good thing, obviously. The harmony of a football club is much sweeter when a manager is given the reigns over signings. You only have to look at Jose Mourinho’s first term at Chelsea and Abramovich’s decision to bring in Andriy Shevchenko to see how sour things can get when the owner interferes.
However, it can also be quite damaging for a coach. Lampard’s fortunes are essentially tied up in Werner. If the signing does not come off then precedent at Chelsea suggests that it will be Lampard that pays with his job. Werner was not signed as a development player and the club would have expected more than the 4 goals he has so far contributed in the league. It is Lampard’s job as the head coach to milk these goals out of him. Inability to do so certainly would have an impact on the job of the former Chelsea man.
Precedent at Chelsea is an interesting thing to look at, specifically since Abramovich arrived in the early-2000s. Strikers have determined so many managers’ fortunes. Didier Drogba was Mourinho’s man, but then the Oligarch deemed Shevchenko better, so bought him instead. This essentially ended any semblance of a working relationship between Mourinho and his boss, as the manager deemed Abramovich’s involvement in on-field matters as being far too heavy handed.
Avram Grant and Luis Scolari’s failure to draw much out of Drogba saw them both face the sack, with Abramovich then hiring Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian’s first season was an overwhelming success, in which he led Chelsea to their third Premier League title, as well as seemingly unlocking an imperious Drogba, who scored 29 league goals. However, in the following season Ancelotti’s failure to make a success of the Fernando Torres transfer after the Spaniard joined in January that season was said to be a key facet of Abramovich’s decision to get rid of him. Expensive signings can excite a manager, but they can also be the end of them. Lampard will hope the same fate does not find him.
Lampard, despite his insistence on putting a lot of the blame onto his players, has to take some responsibility. Following the Boxing Day loss away to Arsenal, he lambasted his players, accusing them of lacking “character” and “energy”. Teams that the Chelsea boss played in certainly reacted to such comments, but I just don’t think that modern players respond to such criticism anymore. That style of management is no longer as effective as it once was. Mourinho’s struggles at Chelsea (the second time around) and Manchester United were symptomatic of that. Lampard coming out after the Leicester game and saying the “general theme of our performance was slower [and] and more sluggish” does not reflect well on the Chelsea manager.
Of course, occasionally that is a reason for a team playing poorly, but Chelsea have been poor for so long that – at least – some of the blame needs to be parked at Lampard’s door. He went onto say that there are certain players “not playing as they should do”. Abramovich sanctioned an extremely expensive overhaul of Chelsea’s squad, a show of faith in the manager’s coaching ability. It is therefore his job to start making his players play as they should.
Frank Lampard was given an easy ride last season. Much was made of the ‘transfer ban’, but Chelsea – through various loopholes – were still able to acquire Christian Pulisic and Matteo Kovacic. Lampard was certainly not working with blunt tools. However, there was an acceptance that whatever happened last season would act as a building block for this year and beyond. So far, Lampard is failing to contribute to these building blocks. The signings of Havertz and Werner excited Chelsea fans, rightly, and the same supporters will hope that it is Lampard, the club legend, who gets the best out of them. However, a continued inadequacy to do so will not spell the end for the young players, but the manager. That is always the way.