As the club’s record scorer and one of its greatest and most popular players, Frank Lampard was always going to be given plenty of goodwill and leeway in his first few months as Chelsea manager.
Less than a week into the new English season, it seems like he’ll need it.
Two losses in four days — one, admittedly, via a penalty shootout — is hardly the way Lampard would have envisaged his tenure starting at Stamford Bridge. For someone who held such high standards and expectations as a player at Chelsea, they’ll certainly hurt.
Yet the 4-0 defeat at Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday and Wednesday’s shootout loss to Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup in Istanbul, after the game finished 2-2 after extra time, contained enough positive moments for Lampard to remain bullish about Chelsea’s chances this season.
“It’s been a strange two games,” a smiling Lampard said Friday, two days before taking charge of his first competitive home game back at Stamford Bridge.
And it doesn’t get much easier for Lampard, whose team will next play a young and vibrant Leicester side widely regarded as ready to break into England’s so-called “Big 6” under Brendan Rodgers.
Even if there is a third straight setback on Sunday, it’s unlikely to blow Lampard off the course he is plotting at Chelsea.
He clearly has issues in his team. The defense is a problem, with central defenders Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen an inexperienced pairing, left back Emerson better going forward than defending, and mistakes even creeping into the game of dependable right back Cesar Azpilicueta.
Are there enough goals in his two main strikers, Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud?
And does Lampard yet know the ideal make-up of his midfield? Against Liverpool, he reverted to the 4-3-3 favored by predecessor Maurizio Sarri whereas against United and in preseason, Lampard deployed a 4-2-3-1 with Ross Barkley usually the preferred player in the “No. 10” role.
Yet outplaying United for large parts at Old Trafford — Chelsea conceded the final three goals from the 65th minute — and then being more than a match for European champion Liverpool has buoyed Lampard, even if the results haven’t followed.
England Under-21 international Mason Mount is one of the youngsters Lampard is blooding this season — with Chelsea having to operate under a transfer embargo — and has looked good on the ball. Another attacking midfielder, U.S. international Christian Pulisic, stood out with his movement and touch against Liverpool on his first competitive start. N’Golo Kante is back fit and was arguably man of the match against Liverpool, a marauding presence in his box-to-box role.
Lots of chances were created in both matches and the passing was more incisive than it often was under Sarri. Lampard is clearly having an effect but he still needs results, as he knows all too well.
“This is Chelsea,” he said in some of his first comments after being officially hired last month, “and we can’t lower our levels too much.”
But without Eden Hazard, who left to join Real Madrid in the offseason, Chelsea hasn’t got that world-class attacker to get the team out of trouble and produce something from nothing.
Abraham and Mount need time to get used to this level after spending last season on loan in the second-tier League Championship, Mount with Lampard at Derby. The new-look defense needs time to gel, and will be boosted by the imminent return of Antonio Rudiger. And is this the season that Barkley truly emerges and realizes his potential?
“What’s important now,” Lampard said Friday, “is the reaction and we’re looking to get our first three points.”
Leicester began with a 0-0 draw at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Lampard has come out in support of Abraham after the striker received racist abuse following the Super Cup loss to Liverpool.
The England international, who is black, saw his shot saved in what proved the decisive penalty in the shootout and was targeted on Twitter as a result.
Chelsea described the posts as “abhorrent,” with the club promising the “strongest possible action” if any of its fans are proven to be involved.
“Obviously Tammy is disappointed,” Lampard said. “Who wouldn’t be? He’s more than disappointed, that’s probably the wrong word. I am particularly disgusted by the (one) so-called Chelsea fan.”
“I don’t know how these platforms are allowed that you can do it,” Lampard added. “It is too easy to be done … I am so angry for Tammy, angry for us as a club because that’s not what we are about.”
HOPE FOR SANCHEZ
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has backed Alexis Sanchez to turn his career around at the club this season.
Sanchez has failed to get anywhere near the heights scaled at Arsenal following his high-profile move in January 2018, mustering just two goals in an injury-disrupted campaign last season. There is widespread speculation about his future, with a move to a European side still possible until Sept. 1.
Solskjaer remains confident that United will eventually see the best of the Chile forward.
“Alexis is such a professional and he comes in working every single day, really hard, and he wants to be a part of this,” Solskjaer said.
“It’s these stories again that he’s been put in the reserves and all this — of course he hasn’t. He’s part of our squad.”
Sanchez looks unlikely to play at Wolves on Monday, however.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80