Frank Lampard feeling pressure after Chelsea’s defeat to Leicester – what is Blues’ style?

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Leicester City’s 2-0 win over Chelsea increased the pressure on Frank Lampard; the Stamford Bridge legend’s side is lacking signs of a coherent style right now, writes Adam Bate

Frank Lampard saw his side beaten at Leicester on Tuesday

Chelsea succumbed to their fifth defeat in eight Premier League games, against Leicester on Tuesday evening, and it was a deserved one. While Brendan Rodgers’ side moved to the top of the table, Frank Lampard’s men are left languishing in eighth and in the worst form of any top-half team.

Talk of a title challenge has stopped and, as the man himself admitted, it is Lampard’s future as manager that is under scrutiny now. Club legend or not, that is currently little surprise and not just because of the lavish summer spending. Without an improvement over the second half of the campaign, only Jose Mourinho’s abysmal final season will spare Chelsea their worst points haul of the century so far.

How much time will Lampard be given to correct course? The unique circumstances of this season should ensure some sympathy as he tries to assimilate players. But are the signs clear enough that Chelsea are on the right path?

The heated discussion on Monday Night Football between Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville focused on Manchester United but it feels just as relevant to Chelsea. Neville made the point that United need their backline to step up five yards to become a title-winning team and proceeded to argue that it was the identity of the personnel that was preventing that from happening.

Carragher saw it as a coaching issue. Why can’t Manchester United do that now? Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof are not the quickest but neither are Ruben Dias and John Stones. Liverpool remain committed to squeezing the play despite having Fabinho and Jordan Henderson at centre-back.

History is full of coaches who will argue that they would have played completely differently if they had only had the players. But the best ones tend to establish their style of play first – embed it in the team culture, drill their team in a specific approach – and then upgrade the players over time.

Pep Guardiola did not shy away from passing out from the back when he arrived at Manchester City and he was not afraid to leave his team vulnerable to the counter-attack despite having ageing full-backs who were unable to get up and down the pitch effectively. He established his way of playing.

When Guardiola acquired the full-backs who could make sense of his style and a goalkeeper able to inspire confidence even while allowing space in behind, success soon came to be seen as inevitable.

Jurgen Klopp had to wait four years for his first trophy as Liverpool manager but the transformation in the team’s style was apparent within days of his arrival. He committed to counter-pressing with a line-up that was unrecognisable from the one that would go on to become champions of the world.

When Klopp signed a reliable goalkeeper of his own and a centre-back able to be commanding while squeezing the space, the squad’s faith in his methods was vindicated and consistency followed.

In the interim, it was the clarity of the idea that sustained the players, the supporters, and the owners, inspiring what turned out to be justified belief that success was just around the corner.

Are Lampard’s Chelsea on that same journey? They have added a new goalkeeper of their own in Edouard Mendy but that superficial similarity might be where the comparison begins and ends.

There is little sense of a clearly defined style of play right now.

Under Lampard, Chelsea pass the ball around for long periods but not as much as they did in that season under Maurizio Sarri and not as much as Manchester City or Liverpool.

They press high up the pitch to force errors but not as much as their rivals do, and certainly not as much as a team with a clearly defined philosophy such as Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Southampton.

It might generously be regarded as a hybrid model but does that mask the lack of an idea? There are principles, of course. Lampard calls for hard work and an attacking mentality, but what manager doesn’t? Where is the overarching plan that will deliver the success that is demanded at Chelsea?

Whether in victory over Fulham at the weekend or in defeat against Leicester on Tuesday evening, it has been difficult to see it so far.

“They were sharper than us, ran more than us,” Lampard told Sky Sports. “The basics and the bare minimums are to run, sprint and cover ground – too many of our players didn’t do it.”

For what it’s worth, despite his languid-looking movements, Kai Havertz covered more ground than anyone on the pitch prior to his second-half substitution. Christian Pulisic made more high-intensity sprints than anyone else, running 11 kilometres. Mateo Kovacic and Mason Mount both hit that total too – the latter appearing physically exhausted in the closing stages of the match.

One wonders what they might make of the assessment of their efforts, the conclusion that the result might have been different if only they had worked harder. “It is a big lesson for some of our players,” added Lampard. But on the journey back from Leicester, maybe there are other lessons too.

James Maddison gave an illuminating interview to Sky Sports afterwards in which he touched on similar subjects such as unity and work rate, but he also explained how the team had analysed Chelsea’s set-pieces as well as pointing to the significant tactical adjustment made at the interval.

“Credit to the manager as well,” said Maddison. “We made a bit of a switch at half-time to almost go 4-4-2 out of possession, 4-3-3 in possession. Just little things like that, thinking on our feet. We dealt with the threats that came our way and I thought we deserved the three points.”

Chelsea were outcoached on this occasion as much as they were outplayed.

Lampard had started with both Jorginho and N’Golo Kante on seven occasions this season but opted against that away from home against Leicester.

In the absence of a more natural holding midfielder, it was far too easy for man of the match Maddison to find space in front of the Chelsea defence or for Youri Tielemans to break into it.

The result was that – for the sixth time this season – Chelsea failed to win a game against the current top six in the Premier League. Throw in last month’s defeats to Wolves and Arsenal and Lampard’s side have yet to beat any of last season’s top eight. When they have to rely on more than individual ability, when they come up against well-coached opponents with quality, they are coming up short.

In the Sky Sports studio, Jamie Redknapp conceded that the team appeared to have been thrown together and that is a feeling that, halfway through this season, is difficult to shake off.

Thiago Silva and Antonio Rudiger, now back in favour, played together for the first time at Fulham so perhaps it is unrealistic to expect them to have forged an understanding in a matter of days.

But partnerships appear awkward all over the pitch for Chelsea. The forward line has also changed from game to game in the apparent hope that something will click. This was the first look at the Pulisic, Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi combination; what will be seen next?

Chelsea’s ever-changing forward line

Premier League 2020/21

Brighton 1-3 ChelseaWernerLoftus-CheekHavertz
Chelsea 0-2 LiverpoolWernerHavertzMount
West Brom 3-3 ChelseaWernerAbrahamMount
Chelsea 4-0 C PalaceWernerAbrahamHudson-Odoi
Chelsea 3-3 So’tonMountWernerPulisic
Man Utd 0-0 ChelseaPulisicWernerHavertz
Burnley 0-3 ChelseaWernerAbrahamZiyech
Chelsea 4-1 Sheff UtdWernerAbrahamZiyech
Newcastle 0-2 ChelseaWernerAbrahamZiyech
Chelsea 0-0 SpursWernerAbrahamZiyech
Chelsea 3-1 LeedsWernerGiroudZiyech
Everton 1-0 ChelseaWernerGiroudHavertz
Wolves 2-1 ChelseaPulisicGiroudWerner
Chelsea 3-0 West HamWernerAbrahamPulisic
Arsenal 3-1 ChelseaWernerAbrahamPulisic
Chelsea 1-1 Aston VillaPulisicGiroudHudson-Odoi
Chelsea 1-3 Man CityPulisicWernerZiyech
Fulham 0-1 ChelseaPulisicGiroudZiyech
Leicester 2-0 ChelseaPulisicAbrahamHudson-Odoi

There will be pleas for time and Lampard mentioned that word ‘transition’ again in his post-match interview. There is truth to that and it would be a pity to abandon completely the notion that his Chelsea are still taking shape – particularly after the optimism of his opening season in charge.

But while Guardiola and Klopp had their stellar work at previous clubs to help add to the belief that investing in them for the longer term would reap rewards, trust in Lampard requires a leap of faith.

“Our sharpness wasn’t there,” he said of this latest defeat.

“Sometimes that relates to poor form, but those are moments where you have to dig in. Five losses in eight, that’s not where we want to be, it’s going to take a lot of character to return from that.”

Nobody can doubt Lampard’s character. But maybe the character of his players is not the explanation for their struggles either.

“When I came into this job, the job of management, you understand some things are beyond your control.”

But Chelsea’s style of play really should not be one of them.

2 thoughts on “Frank Lampard feeling pressure after Chelsea’s defeat to Leicester – what is Blues’ style?

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