Roman Abramovich has been here before. Since taking over at Chelsea in 2003, he has been ruthless in firing managers and now he’s hovering over the trigger again.
It was Chelsea’s fourth defeat in six Premier League outings and continued their alarming slump in form over the festive period that has, if teams win their games in hand, opened a slight gap to the top end of the congested table.
Frank Lampard’s position at Chelsea is said to be hanging by a thread after another defeat
Owner Roman Abramovich has been ruthless with managers since taking over in 2003
This was not how Lampard’s second season was supposed to go. After negotiating a FIFA-imposed transfer ban to lead the club to fourth in 2019-20 with a youthful squad, the shackles were finally released and Chelsea went big in the summer.
Lampard splurged over £250million on Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell, Edouard Mendy and Thiago Silva but they just haven’t clicked together and performances are falling flat.
The club legend insists he is unflustered by speculation over his future but things are not going to get easier with matches against Leicester, Wolves, Burnley and Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham on the horizon.
Lampard knows as well as anyone from his playing days that Abramovich can be ruthless if things aren’t going his way. But just what are the key issues angering the Russian and edging Lampard towards the brink?
Big money signings are failing to shine
There was genuine fear among the rest of the Premier League that Lampard had assembled a squad good enough to dislodge Liverpool at the top of the league this season.
He had signed one of the most in-demand forwards in Europe in Werner, who let’s not forget was desperately wanted by Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool before Covid-19 put paid to that move.
Big money signings Timo Werner (L) and Kai Havertz (R) have struggled for any kind of form
In also came Havertz off the back of a stunning breakthrough campaign with Bayer Leverkusen, which saw him score 18 goals, and Ziyech – a crucial man in Ajax’s run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2019.
Lampard finally addressed the issue at left back with Chilwell and Silva gave them that invaluable experience in central defence just months after losing in the Champions League final with Paris Saint-Germain.
Kepa Arrizabalaga was also cast aside in goal with Edouard Mendy arriving from Rennes. Lampard’s squad looked balanced, full of quality and ready to mount an assault on the title.
Fast forward a few months and the two most-expensive acquisitions, Werner and Havertz, have been condemned as flops.
Hakim Ziyech has shown flashes of his quality but his momentum has been halted by injuries
Their failure to adapt to English football has been a cause for much frustration, especially when they cost a combined £142m.
Werner has not scored in 12 games and Havertz hasn’t found the back of the net since October. They also look woefully short of any creativity in the final third.
Lampard seems unsure whether to play Werner on the wing or through the middle and Chelsea’s style does not bring out his pace on the counter attack that terrifies defences. He also looks brutally short of confidence in front of goal.
When Werner has played out wide, Lampard has called upon Tammy Abraham or Olivier Giroud to play through the middle but neither look long-term solutions up front.
Havertz has also been dropped to the bench in the last four league games and doesn’t slot into a three-man midfield, which Lampard has turned to in recent weeks.
His best performances with Leverkusen last season were as a No 10 or a makeshift centre forward.
Ben Chilwell has been one of the better purchases, solving Lampard’s problem at left-back
Lampard has publicly defended Havertz and the youngster’s lack of a pre-season could be to blame as he tries to get up to speed in a season where Chelsea are playing twice a week almost every week.
Despite that, the other four signings have made promising starts but are yet to really show their best form.
Ziyech has been a bright spark but has had fitness issues, Chilwell has contributed both going forward and defensively, Silva’s leadership has been noticeable and Mendy looks like a safe pair of hands in goal.
It remains to be seen whether Lampard will re-enter the transfer market this month but surely, after such a huge outlay in the summer, the funds will not be there while question marks remain over his future.
Tensions with fringe players
It was reported by The Athletic on Sunday night that Lampard’s relationship with players on the edge of his squad has deteriorated in recent months.
Tensions in the squad have been compounded by recent results and the hierarchy are considering the atmosphere at Cobham when deciding whether or not to part ways.
Lampard has trusted a core of players so far this season with Werner, Kurt Zouma, Mason Mount, N’Golo Kante, Mendy, Chilwell and Silva leading the way in minutes played.
But after his summer spending and bid to incorporate his new signings into the team there have been a number of players cast aside and left largely unused.
Lampard’s relationship with his fringe players has deteriorated in recent months, it’s claimed
Antonio Rudiger was a first-choice defender last season but has played just 427 minutes this time around while Marcos Alonso has been completely cast aside and looks likely to leave the club.
Fikayo Tomori has also fallen way down the pecking order this season and could be set for a loan move while Kepa has been put in the wilderness following Mendy’s arrival.
Callum Hudson-Odoi has also been rarely afforded opportunities to showcase his talents and the constant flip-flopping between Werner, Abraham and Giroud must be frustrating for all involved.
Like always after a swathe of new arrivals, Lampard now needs a major clear out of the dead wood at Chelsea.
A less bloated squad with players getting regular game time may brighten the atmosphere within his squad.
Worse off after 17 matches than last season
Only a month ago Chelsea were on a 17-match unbeaten run across all competitions and, while their signings weren’t setting the world alight, they were grinding out results.
But the wheels have fallen off over Christmas with away defeats against Everton, Wolves and Arsenal while their last win in seven games, 3-0 at home to West Ham, was not as comfortable as the scoreline suggests.
It has left them with 26 points from 17 league games, three points worse off than at this stage last season.
Six Premier League wins in a row between September and November 2019 after a shaky start catapulted Chelsea into fourth place after 17 games last season.
Away defeats against Everton, Wolves and Arsenal have made for a miserable festive period
Chelsea were fourth after 17 games last season but are three points worse off this time around
They had won nine and lost six after 17 games last season, scoring 31 goals and conceding 25.
This time around they have scored 32 and let in 21 but have won just seven of 17.
It shows how competitive this season is going to be that, even though they are three points worse off than 12 months ago, Chelsea sit just seven points behind leaders Liverpool.
Yes Chelsea are in free fall but Lampard should be quick to point out that, like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has done under enormous pressure at Manchester United, a quick burst of form can put you right back into contention.
No fans to back him at Stamford Bridge
Empty stands at Stamford Bridge are both a blessing and a hinderance for Lampard at the moment.
The reaction to Sunday’s performance against City – and recent results – would have been hostile to say the least.
As Maurizio Sarri will testify, Chelsea fans are not afraid to make their feelings known when they’re unhappy with the style or substance being produced on the pitch in front of them.
But the stands are also empty at a time when Lampard needs all the public support he can get.
Lampard is unable to call on the public support of Chelsea fans as they are still locked out
Hiring Lampard was definitely a PR win for Abramovich and left the fans, who were at the end of their tether with Sarri’s regime, elated.
Remember that Lampard had only one season as a manager – with Championship Derby – under his belt before being given the job at the club he is considered a legend.
Roy Keane claimed on Sunday that Lampard had a ‘free pass’ in his debut campaign as Chelsea boss because of the transfer ban. He is not getting such an easy ride this time around.
With fans still locked out of football grounds it remains to be seen just how the fan base feels about Lampard at present. But it must hurt for them to be critical of a man who was so integral to the club’s rise to power, both domestically and in Europe.
Would it make it tougher for Abramovich to sack him if supporters were at Stamford Bridge? Most likely.
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