Frank Lampard’s managerial ability has been the subject of an intense debate ever since he joined Chelsea in the summer of 2019, and he’s not exactly done the greatest job of fighting his case.
The Blues play some enthralling attacking football but have been historically atrocious at the back. Since the start of last season, no side has conceded more away goals in the Premier League than Chelsea’s 42 – a tally which wasn’t helped by the humiliating 3-3 draw with West Bromwich Albion.
Plenty of fans have moved to reduce Lampard’s responsibility for that. After all, when Kepa Arrizabalaga posts a comically poor save percentage and Marcos Alonso, Antonio Rüdiger and co can’t stop making individual errors, what can the boss actually do to stop that?
Well, it’s not ‘nothing’ like Lampard seems to be determined to believe.
Since day one, Lampard has wanted Chelsea to play attacking football. He wants quick, intricate play in the final third in the hope that the Blues will put five or six past every team in the country. He’s worked under some of the best managers in the world who have coached their sides to do exactly that.
However, none of those iconic coaches have sacrificed defending quite like Lampard has.
A common problem for Chelsea is getting caught on the break. They throw so many players forward, fail to unlock a stubborn defence and then find themselves short-handed at the back, which leaves Arrizabalaga (or Willy Caballero) vulnerable to making mistakes.
Sure, your goalkeeper should be expected to make regular saves, but when it becomes apparent that he can’t (and trust me, it’s been apparent for at least 12 months), surely you should do something about that?
If you had a smashed window in your house, would you ignore it and try and live your life as normal, or would you put a board over it to try and keep the cold out?
It’s concerning to see Lampard’s lack of response to his side’s defensive struggles. He continues to throw his full backs forward with reckless abandon, which leaves his centre backs stranded and vulnerable when the attackers lose the ball.
It’s not like Lampard is the only manager with this flaw. Recently, we’ve seen this bleed into Pep Guardiola’s game, and Manchester City’s 5-2 loss to Leicester on Sunday is all the evidence you need of that.
Guardiola doesn’t always get away with his hyper-focused marriage to his system, but he usually does because his squad contains the quality and knowledge to paper over the cracks, and that’s the impact Lampard will hope to see from his new signings.
If Édouard Mendy can save just one shot, things might not look so bad. Ben Chilwell has the pace to get back and defend, and he’s got enough positional awareness about him to suggest he’ll be an upgrade on Marcos Alonso.
Even in attack, Chelsea might not give the ball away so much once Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic return, or when Kai Havertz and Callum Hudson-Odoi get up to speed. That might limit the amount of counter-attacks to which Chelsea will be subjected, and that would be good news for Lampard.
However, relying on your players to bail you out isn’t a healthy way to lead a managerial life. Chelsea saw Roberto Di Matteo rely too much on player power, and once the euphoria of the Champions League triumph faded away in late 2012, the Italian was left on an island and was quickly given the boot.
The signs suggest that Chelsea are ready to give Lampard the time he needs to steer Chelsea back to glory, and it’s not as if things are going overwhelmingly poorly at this point, but the fear is that the Blues won’t make the transition to Step Two of Lampard’s three-year plan.
This season, Chelsea are expected to show that they can hold their own against Liverpool and Manchester City ahead of mounting a genuine title challenge next year. But how can you compete with Liverpool if West Brom can put three past you in less than 30 minutes?
Lampard doesn’t deserve all of the blame, but he also doesn’t deserve none of it. Everyone has work to do. Everyone.
For more from Tom Gott, follow him on Twitter!