Chelsea are approaching a crossroads with Frank Lampard. The Athletic reported that the club have started to make plans for life without the legendary midfielder. They have looked at potential replacements, due to their recent slump in form. It has started to quieten down since the weekend, which suggests he will be given a few more weeks to turn the club around and get back to winning ways. The recent improvements shown by Manchester United and Arsenal do show that there can be benefits to showing patience with management. However, this is something not associated with Roman Abramovich.
For a long time under Lampard, Chelsea have been performing well in the underlying performance indicators, such as expected goals (xG). Last season, they had an xG for of 76.23 and an xG against of 41.09. This shows that they were underachieving in both halves of the pitch, as they scored 69 and conceded 54. Although Lampard led them to a top four finish and laid solid foundations, there were clear issues in defence and a lack of a clinical edge in attack.
The big issue was at the back and a major reason for that was inconsistency in selection in defence, coupled with Kepa Arrizabalaga’s poor form. This was addressed this summer and they have managed to find more consistency at the back, which has improved matters. Their starting back five of Edouard Mendy, Reece James, Thiago Silva, Kurt Zouma and Ben Chilwell provides solid foundations, that they lacked last year. The full-backs have provided more dynamism and an added edge to their game in possession.
In terms of how this has translated to their defensive underlying metrics, Chelsea have an xG against of 17.59, ranking them as the third best in the league. They have been slightly underperforming that in terms of goals conceded, as they have let in 21, but this is a big improvement on last season. There was a period when they kept nine clean sheets in 12 matches across all competitions. Although there has been a drop-off recently, there is reason to believe Lampard has managed to fix the defensive issue that plagued them in his first season in charge.
One of Lampard’s biggest challenges has been integrating the new signings to the team this season. In his first season in charge, he did well at working with the tools he had and he brought through a number of academy players to the first-team squad. That showed a talent that previous managers at Stamford Bridge haven’t had, with Reece James, Mason Mount, Billy Gilmour, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tammy Abraham showing they have the quality to contribute.
However, it wasn’t feasible that Lampard could be a success at Chelsea without the ability to integrate big-money signings. This may be one of the biggest doubts that the hierarchy may now have is whether he is able to re-generate the squad and playing style with world class additions. There was a lot of hype in the summer about the Blues’ recruitment, especially centring on the signings of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz. They were regarded as coups for the club, with both expected to move elsewhere.
The pair have combined for five goals and six assists in the Premier League, with a goal involvement every 198.4 minutes. It isn’t a bad return, with both showing flashes of quality. However, a lot more was expected of both players and neither have been used in the same way they were in the Bundesliga. Lampard has faced criticism for using both players out of position and failing to build a system that can get the best of both. As Abramovich has spent a huge sum on the German pair, it is only natural that he will be worried about their starts at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea are in a poor run of form, but they are only seven points behind Liverpool in first place. They shouldn’t panic, especially as they brought Lampard in to lead a rebuild and the squad has been improved during his tenure. The next four Premier League fixtures are key, as they have winnable matches. This is the time for Lampard to prove that he has the quality to take the next step.
If he was to be sacked now, Chelsea fans would look back at this period with some fondness, as Lampard has done some positive things as manager. The question is whether he can now lead a talented group to consistency in performance and challenge for honours.