Frank Lampard defying expectations with a young Chelsea squad bereft of star names

Karan Tejwani 23:58 29/10/2019
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Frank Lampard's Chelsea reign is turning out to be an excellent one.

It started with a 4-0 hammering by Manchester United, with a few more blips in between, but Frank Lampard’s initial months as Chelsea boss have probably been just what he had dreamed of.

Despite coming into the 2019/20 season with a transfer ban, the loss of their best player in Eden Hazard and injuries to Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi, Chelsea have now recorded seven wins on the bounce in all competitions, sit top of their Champions League group and are comfortable in fourth place in the Premier League.

Lampard has been clear with his ideology since his arrival, putting faith in the quality that the club’s academy has produced over the years and finally providing them with opportunities in the first team they very well deserve.

This same weekend last year, Tammy Abraham was out on loan at Aston Villa and lost to Queens Park Rangers, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori were with Lampard at Derby County and drew against Middlesbrough, Reece James was at Wigan Athletic and lost to Sheffield United, while Hudson-Odoi was still struggling to break into the Chelsea first team. Fast forward a year, and they were all instrumental in the Blues’ win at Burnley.

Tomori has been a particular topic of interest. Since his breakthrough in the first-team this season. The 21-year-old has been astute at the back, showing maturity well beyond his years and looks comfortable in his first proper season of top-level football. The English defender averages 2.3 interceptions and 2.6 tackles per game – among the most effective in the league – and his last-ditch tackle on Burnley’s Jeff Hendrick this weekend was an example of his composure in difficult situations.

Chelsea have a solid youngster at the back, and should they delve into the transfer market for an experienced partner, they could have a strong core for years to come.

Since Lampard took over, Chelsea have also become far more clinical. In the Premier League, their xG suggests they’re expected to score two goals a game, but in real terms, their 23 goals in 10 games puts them at a slightly better 2.3 goals a game, which is a testament to their efficiency in front of goal.

That is perhaps a testament to the likes of Tammy Abraham. The forward was written off earlier in the season having started poorly and having missed in the shoot-outs of the UEFA Super Cup match against Liverpool. Since then, he has returned strongly, netting eight times in 10 matches at an average of a goal every 92 minutes. He has proven to be testing in front of goal, having a 61.5 percent shot accuracy – a decent return for a forward who is still only 22 and is very likely to improve even further in the future.

It’s worth noting how well Lampard has managed the side as well. The Englishman gave Christian Pulisic the time he needed to settle in, holding the player back on the bench before unleashing him. In his last two appearances, the American came out determined to prove himself and he responded with an assist for Michy Batshuayi’s goal against Ajax before netting his first professional hat-trick over the weekend.

Some of the players that have been there for a while have responded strongly too. In a youthful side, the older names such as Willian and Jorginho have stepped up, showing their willingness to be a part of this exciting project and carry the club forward. Willian’s contributions on both halves of the pitch and tireless work-rate have been praised by his manager and despite criticism over the years, the Brazilian is a vital part of Lampard’s plans.

This team still does have its flaws. Defensively, despite seeing the rise of Tomori, they need bolstering. In wins such as those against Wolves [5-2], Norwich [3-2] and Burnley [4-2], they were bailed out by the attacking department. Maturity will come to these players in time and perhaps towards the middle of the season, we will see a more fluent and consistent defensive set-up. Kurt Zouma, too, has seemed susceptible at times. Burnley’s first goal over the weekend showed how disorganised the Blues’ backline was, with Zouma looking out of place.

Perhaps with time and a transfer window, this is something that will change. Chelsea have been linked with moves for Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake, a former player, while the likes of Benfica’s Ruben Dias and RB Leipzig’s Ibrahima Konate could also be in their sights. Either of these viable young options could be strong additions alongside Tomori.

The full-back positions are another reason for their fragility. Cesar Azpilicueta has lost a touch since his best days a few years ago and the emergence of Reece James, who had a positive 27-minute cameo over the weekend, has created optimism. In the time he played, James blocked two shots, completed a tackle and clearance each and showed great commitment to the cause. Marcos Alonso on the other side, while good offensively, has always been vulnerable defensively.

Perhaps the return of Emerson Palmieri from injury could aid Chelsea. Otherwise, they could delve into the transfer market there, too. Lampard is still in the early days of his managerial career, so it’s only natural that structural organisation and clarity will come with time. There were instances of shakiness while at Derby and even with Chelsea so far, but with time and a transfer window, it is something which can be improved.

Injuries have naturally played their part in some of the struggle. N’Golo Kante has struggled with concerns and his manager is unsure of when he will return. Once he’s back, the Blues will have a massive upgrade in their midfield. There have also been similar problems for others like Ross Barkley, Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger so perhaps, Lampard could be faced with some positive selection issues in the near future.

For now, though, the signs have been good. This team is refreshing to watch, and Lampard’s stint so far has been a success. Their next three league games provide tests against Watford, Crystal Palace and Manchester City, while Manchester United and Ajax await them in the League Cup and Champions League respectively. The winning run will inevitably come to an end but knowing this team and its manager, it can be certain that they will recover strongly.

Of the four Champions League-chasing teams that ended last season poorly – Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United – Chelsea have been the most unfancied to recover, but this season has proven them to be far better than the rest. The manager is smart, the club have made use of their resources and the team is a breath of fresh air. The Blues have a lot to look forward to in the coming years.

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