Lampard: Chelsea director Frank Lampard should feel just like one of these Hollywood movie moguls who have constructed a star-studded cast intending to mop up all the awards at the Oscars.But what if these headline acts get bad reviews or when the plot is unconvincing and the script?
Lampard is the man in the director’s chair trying to call the shots to generate the happy ending demanded by Russian owner Roman Abramovich He has been backed to the tune of £215 million, a clear statement by the Russian tycoon that he is fed up with Liverpool and Manchester City ruling the Premier League roost. He will expect results — which heaps the pressure on Lampard to provide victory. Since Chelsea’s all-time high scorer, the smooth and likable manager has a great deal of credit in the bank with the Stamford Bridge fans, along with his first time as boss went well with a top-four complete and a spot in the FA Cup final.
Now it is different. Significant spending raises expectations. A name challenge is a must as well as a bit of silverware. Chelsea lie 10th in the early table with two wins over Brighton & Hove Albion and Crystal Palace, stressing 3-3 draws with West Bromwich Albion and Southampton, and a respectable 0-0 draw at Manchester United. The only defeat was at home to league champions Liverpool.
From the Champions League, the team fought to impose itself in a draw against Sevilla FC last week before a flattering Wednesday’s 4-0 win at Krasnodar in Russia (and Abramovich in attendance). They will surely sail into the knockout stages but may want to perform better compared to the 7-1 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich in last year’s round of 16.
The big plus for Lampard is just three consecutive clean sheets, something that looked almost impossible two weeks ago. Lampard is, at last, addressing the problem, with the experienced 36-year-old Thiago Silva emerging a classy organizer of the rather unstable defense. He was especially impressive in foiling Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Keeping the Brazil global fit and handling his match time will be critical to Chelsea’s season. Edouard Mendy has come from Stade Rennes to seemingly address the goalkeeping issue. So far he’s conceded only one goal in five matches and looks a far more stable last line of defense compared to error-prone Kepa Arrizabalaga. And England left Ben Chilwell, even though a nagging ankle issue, has settled smoothly.
Further forward, the manager has this embarrassment of riches that it may be difficult to keep everyone happy or to choose that four of eight contenders actually makes the beginning line-up. Timo Werner, so prolific at RB Leipzig, has scored four in nine matches and seems to get the key striking character all to himself. He is quick and predatory but maybe not a conventional No. 9 like Olivier Giroud (five goals in six starts at the end of last season) who’s hardly had a kick, also Tammy Abraham, that has been mainly restricted to the bench despite top-scoring last year.
The young German playmaker Kai Havertz has drifted around elegantly and scored four goals already. He’s also sometimes looked somewhat lightweight, losing and giving away a goal from Southampton. However, like his supervisors, he’ll deliver goals from midfield for Lampard, such as he did for Bayer Leverkusen’s Peter Bosz. Havertz is an identical kind to Mason Mount, who may now fight for as much game time as his abundant talent deserves. Are Havertz and Mount too alike in style to perform together?
Lampard faces other dilemmas with his wide players. Christian Pulisic is most likely in place to start because of his incisive runs and ability to make something out of nothing. Hakim Ziyech, player of the year in Ajax Amsterdam for the previous three seasons, is fit again now and obtained his first start and aim at Krasnodar. His capacity to function up chances from the right with his wand of a left foot is going to be a tempting solution for Lampard. That leaves Callum Hudson-Odoi, the young winger who at one time was so coveted by Bayern Munich. He would be an automated pick for most Premier League clubs, but maybe not this one.
All these are top players, a number of whom have arrived for big fees. They want and expect to perform, but not all of them can. Egos will be bruised. Lampard has to create this team gel and prevent spirit-sapping media tales of players that are overburdened. Not easy in this social media age. “We need to enhance and we will improve. I believe in such players,” he’s said.
A private hunch is that Lampard is a lucky general using a knack of earning things work and that he has too much quality at his disposal to fail. He will also know the price he’s certain to cover if he falls short.