A couple of months ago, Frank Lampard was labelled hot favourite to be named next Chelsea manager as soon as the rumours about Maurizio Sarri’s possible exit after just one year at Stamford Bridge started to surface.
The bookies confidence in Lampard being installed as the new man at the helm was justified, with Lampard taking the reins at Stamford Bridge ahead of the 2019/20 season.
There will be some who feel his appointment as Chelsea manager came just a little too soon and that it wouldn’t have been a bad idea for both club and player to have waited at least one more season before taking what would still have been, a pretty big gamble.
This is after all a club legend, Chelsea’s all-time leading scorer no less, returning to the club as manager under huge pressure to deliver almost straight away.
But maybe one season of management is enough after all. Yes, they were different times but back in 1993 Glenn Hoddle joined Chelsea as player-manager having had just one year of management experience at Swindon. When Hoddle left to become England manager in 1996, Ruud Gullit took over in the same player-manager capacity despite having no experience of being a manager at all. Both were relatively successful.
Lampard will have learnt a lot from his season at Derby. The routine of training sessions, press conferences, travelling, match day preparations and the games themselves over a nine-month cycle.
The highs and lows, the systems that work and the ones that don’t, the sort of players he wants on board and those he doesn’t, the type of opposition teams he finds hard to beat… and those he finds easier.
He will also have learnt plenty about all the pressure and fatigue that comes with the job.
The Championship is a good league in terms of cutting your teeth as a manager but Lampard may just find that Premier League management, where he has more technically gifted players to work with, suits him even better.
Will Lampard Strengthen Legendary Status with Successful Spell as Manager?
Lampard will have nothing if not good will on his side, at least to start with. Not only was he a huge part of the most successful era in Chelsea’s history but he was also always an extremely popular player with managers, other players, the fans and the Chelsea hierarchy during his playing days at Stamford Bridge.
Contrast that with Maurizo Sarri last year, for example. How suspicious everyone was of the chain-smoking Italian who had won absolutely nothing after a relatively long career, had a Plan A but no Plan B and seemed obsessed with asking midfielder Jorginho to run the show, whether that brought success or lack of it.
Lampard knows the ground, the training facilities, the fans, the Board members and to use that tired cliche, the tea ladies. Familiarity can go a long way in football and that’s without even mentioning the players.
Of those who were at the club in his last season at Chelsea back in 2013-14, only Willian and Cesar Azpilicueta are left but as senior figures in the dressing room, that could be an important link between his days as a player and his time as Chelsea boss.
You may have noticed the absence of David Luiz from that list of two. That’s because Lampard decided that the quirky Brazilian was becoming a disruptive influence in the Chelsea dressing room and was someone he didn’t want around. Apparently, Luiz was quite vocal in his support of Sarri, the job the Italian did and his conquering of the Europa League; unsurprisingly, that didn’t sit well with Lampard. Which is why, he sold him to Arsenal for a reported £8m deal.
As it happens, it seems the former PSG defender was keen on the move anyway but what it does also show is Lampard’s ruthless side. He’s not there to treat old team-mates differently or provide jobs for the boys and is confident enough in his management style and personality to do things his way, even if that means upsetting some people along the way. But what is his management style?
What’s Lampard’s Style?
Last year in the ‘regular season’, Derby scored just 69 goals, less than anyone else in the Top Six and a full 24 goals less than champions Norwich City. However, at the other end of the pitch, they conceded just 54 goals, which was less than three of the five sides who finished above Derby, including Norwich.
It suggests Lampard favours a balanced approach. No Gung-ho all-out attack style that you may have expected from a former attacking midfielder but on the on other hand, you’re unlikely to see performances that resemble some of those under Jose Mourinho at his worst: teams set up to play for 0-0 from the off and animated celebrations when the game actually ended up goalless.
The former England midfielder tended to prefer playing a 4-4-2 system and liked to use a blend of youth and experience. Proof of that is that 36-year old Ashley Cole came in to do a job in their promotion push and that at the other end of the age spectrum was Mason Mount. Still a teenager at the start of the season, the Chelsea-owned player featured 35 times in the league. It would be no surprise if Mount ends up getting some game time under Lampard again, this time at Chelsea.
Similarly, his top scorer in the league, Harry Wilson, was just 22 while two of his more trusted midfielders in Tom Huddlestone and Bradley Johnson, were both 32.
So as we said already, he enjoys having a good mix of young and older players.
The Plan for Chelsea
It will be interesting to see if Lampard sticks with his favoured 4-4-2. On the one hand, no-one really seems to use that formation in the Premier League anymore and he could be criticised early on for using a somewhat out-dated system. On the other hand, he has players suited to playing it. A front two made up of two from Olivier Giroud, Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi would provide power, aerial presence and goals and it might just be the one that he starts the season with.
The more likely scenario however would be playing just one of those as a target man, supported by a trio of attack-minded players in support: new man Christian Pulisic and two from Willian, Pedro and Ross Barkley. He’ll have a lot more options once Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek return from injuries.
That three would then play in front of the brilliant N’Golo Kante with either the prolific passer that is Jorginho alongside him, or the more mobile Mateo Kovacic.
The four-man defence pretty much picks itself now that Luiz has left and Antonio Rudiger is injured. Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen will be looking to impress and make sure that they stay in the XI once the German international returns.
Finally, and no sniggering at the back, Lampard is famed for his absurdly high IQ. Football management is of course rarely about deciding which two shapes from a selection of six are the same (but have just been rotated), or other such exercises typical of an IQ test.
But alongside his outstanding playing career, decent start to his life as a manager at Derby and calm, likeable demeanour…that analytical mind and ability to work things out quickly may just be the missing part in the jigsaw on his way to being a top manager.