On the 5th of December, things couldn’t have looked much better for Chelsea. Frank Lampard’s new-look Chelsea were 3rd in the Premier League, just two points off leaders, Tottenham and a 3-1 victory over Leeds had extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to 16 games. However, the festive period saw things take a horrid turn. They found themselves with just one win in seven following a home defeat to a resurgent Manchester City side and pressure was mounting on Lampard who had spent over £200 million in the summer. An away defeat to Leicester City was the final nail in the coffin and in spite of a 3-1 win against Luton in the FA Cup, Lampard was sacked the next day.
Brendan Rodgers and Roy Hodgson were right in commending the job Lampard had done at Chelsea given the circumstances he had worked in last season, but this is the Premier League, and more importantly, this is Chelsea. There are no second chances for managers and your past achievements are irrelevant if recent results aren’t up to the hierarchy’s impeccable standards. Roberto Di Matteo’s dismissal just five months after winning Chelsea’s first and only Champions League trophy shows that more than anything. Roman Abramovich may be quick to turn over managers, but he knows what he’s doing, his model works. He bought the club in 2003 and has since overseen the collection of five Premier League trophies, one Champions League, two Europa Leagues, five FA Cups, and three League Cups despite going through 13 permanent managers. There must be reasons for Lampard’s dismissal that go beyond a one and a half month run of bad form, so what are they?
Big Game Failures
Chelsea’s struggles against the top teams this season are no secret. During their unbeaten-run, many were quick to point out their failure to beat any notable opponents. In football terms: a win is a win, but Lampard’s inability to replicate those strong performances against lesser teams in the big games might be what has cost him his dream job. Here’s his track record:
“Traditional Top Six” Games: Played 15, Won 4, Drawn 3, Lost 8
Top Six by League Standings*: Played 16, Won 3, Drawn 4, Lost 9 (*20/21 season goes by league standings as of Jan 26).
Cup Finals: Played 2, Won 0, Drawn 1*, Lost 1 (*Lost Super Cup to Liverpool on penalties)
Champions League: Played 14, Won 7, Drawn 4, Lost 3
Big games are decisive and in a Premier League season which is so closely contested at the top like this season’s, Lampard’s record just isn’t good enough. Of course, he isn’t fully responsible for this, he can’t control individual performances and mistakes like Tammy Abraham’s penalty miss in the Super Cup final, Christensen’s red card against Liverpool, or a collection of poor performances against Arsenal earlier this season. However, at the end of the day, the numbers speak for themselves and when the results aren’t there, pressure will inevitably build on the manager.
Poor form is understandable and can be fixed, but only with long winning runs which make up for those dropped points. Lampard’s 17 game unbeaten run earlier this season was impressive but his longest winning streak in the league during that run was three games, and its probably worth noting these were against three teams in the bottom five. Again, last season he managed six in a row but just one of those victories (Burnley) was against a team who finished in the top 10. Having such fluctuating results can upset the morale of the squad, just as confidence builds, there’s a setback. Lampard may not have the experience in management to create such dominant winning runs that the likes of Klopp and Guardiola have produced, but his ability to get consistent results like that appears to have only deteriorated since last season with little sign of that changing any time soon.
Perhaps Lampard’s biggest inconsistency which has cost him is his team selection. He hasn’t settled on a preferred formation yet, let alone a starting XI. He’s used three different keepers in the league since last season, and he’s still hasn’t decided on a first choice centre-back pairing. Both Fikayo Tomori and Kurt Zouma have been taken out of the starting XI after seemingly impressive periods while his rotation in attack doesn’t appear to cause the intended confusion among opposing defences. It may be harsh to compare such an inexperienced manager to the likes of Klopp and Guardiola but even managers further down the table have all got a quite concrete starting XI. New players, and especially young players need to develop relationships with one another, they need to find their feet and have the chance to recover from poor form. Lampard has upset the momentum of too many of his players by removing them from the XI after they’ve done very little wrong. Rotating your XI is part and parcel of competing in a congested football schedule, but you have to be sensible with it, Lampard has struggled with that aspect of management.
Maybe one of the biggest explanations for Lampard’s dismissal which has been somewhat overlooked is the impact that the Covid pandemic may have had on the club. Behind-closed-doors games cause huge revenue loss, even for wealthy owners like Abramovich. The financial fair play rules have been eased, but they still restrict major capital injection to make up for those losses. It shouldn’t be forgotten how much Chelsea invested in the summer, the club has put a lot of money into the likes of Havertz and Werner, and so far their performances haven’t justified their price tag or salaries in an economic climate like this. Chelsea need their football to bring in the money. They desperately need a top four finish, which will bring in prize money for Champions League qualification that can compensate for lost revenues. A decent run in the Champions League this season could help too. Perhaps the Chelsea hierarchy feel Lampard isn’t capable of doing that, and they might be right, but that isn’t his fault personally.
Lampard was brought into Chelsea before the pandemic hit and he was probably promised time, a promise which Abramovich genuinely intended to fulfil, but for the unforeseen circumstances. Times have changed, Chelsea need an expert, they need experience. They need someone to steady the ship while the club’s finances get back on track. At this current time, Lampard isn’t that man and it looks like they believe Thomas Tuchel is. There’s a good chance Lampard might have recovered this poor form but for how long could they have trusted him to not oversee another setback?
This certainly isn’t the end of Lampard’s story with Chelsea. He’ll get another chance in Chelsea’s managerial hot seat but he’ll need to prove himself elsewhere before he gets that opportunity. Despite his inexperience, he’s shown promising signs, especially with regards to youth development, so his next job can’t be too far away. Chelsea fans, what are your thoughts on Lampard’s dismissal? Was it the right choice, did he deserve more time, and is Tuchel the right option? Let us know in the comments.