Frank Lampard reviews Real Madrid's win against Chelsea
Frank Lampard has received a hero’s welcome from the Chelsea faithful after returning to the club as interim manager until the end of the season, but there is work ahead for the Blues icon to prove he is not just another one of Todd Boehly’s mistakes. The 44-year-old has not enjoyed the impact he might have hoped for after two defeats from two games, and he may require some inspiration from his former boss Guus Hiddink to turn things around.
Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio scored the goals that did the damage and Ben Chilwell was sent off in the second half as Chelsea succumbed to a 2-0 defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final first leg. Lampard credited his players for their response to going a man down, but alluded to the lack of self-belief as a reason behind their lack of chances in the final third.
Lampard may be tempted to implement his own plans to improve that, but with only nine games remaining of the Premier League season and one Champions League home tie to navigate, there is no point working on complex tactical systems with such a small amount of time available.
There were signs of the work done on the training pitch to prepare against Real Madrid. In a 3-5-2 setup, Lampard used N’Golo Kante’s expert ability to intercept balls in transitions to thread it through to Joao Felix and Raheem Sterling. In more direct counter-attacks, Enzo Fernandez would lift the ball over the top in search of his team-mates.
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But aside from an excellent Thibaut Courtois save to deny Sterling early on, it had little effect as Madrid managed to nullify the tactic after being initially caught by surprise. Chelsea looked devoid of confidence in the final third and their wing-backs were stifled as Reece James barely ventured beyond Eduardo Camavinga, while Ben Chilwell was pegged back by Rodrygo and Dani Carvajal.
Chelsea possess a squad filled to the brim with talent in every area, so to go four games without a goal for the first time in 30 years is extraordinary – and it points to the crisis Lampard finds himself embedded in. How can a frontline containing household names such as Felix, Sterling, Kai Havertz and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang prove to be so profligate in front of goal given their status?
The solution might appear simplistic, but the Blues need to rediscover their joy on the pitch again. At present, their demeanour is comparable to a schoolchild dreading the first day back after the summer break, and it’s up to Lampard to make the situation as bearable as possible to improve morale. If he can do that, he knows from his own experience the results will come.
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Back in the 2008-09 season, Lampard was part of the Chelsea squad managed by Luiz Felipe Scolari before his sacking after just eight months in charge. In February 2009, Guus Hiddink was hired by Roman Abramovich to steer the ship clear of troubling waters and the Dutchman’s appointment proved to be a masterstroke.
His experience of managing in Spain, the Netherlands and at international level gave him an air of respect to command the dressing room. Instead, he used a lighter touch and became almost like an uncle to the players, and stars such as Didier Drogba credited Hiddink in helping them find their confidence.
Hiddink did work on bringing in a more compact defensive shape, but he also focused on improving the team chemistry to make the squad feel whole again, having been split into factions under Scolari.
Likewise, when Roberto Di Matteo replaced Andre Villas-Boas in the 2011-12 campaign, the Italian took a relaxed approach to man management and let the players express themselves with attacking football.
That year, Chelsea won the Champions League.
As an interim boss, Di Matteo ticked the boxes in giving Chelsea the lift they required to rescue their season. He now has his place in Chelsea folklore and Lampard can still secure his too as a manager after being handed a second chance by Boehly. Indeed, Hiddink believes he should be handed the reins beyond this summer if he impresses.
“Honestly, I would like him to be considered not just as an interim coach but also to be given the confidence to continue with the project next season,” he told The Telegraph.
“He knows the club like nobody else and it’s important to give continuity to things. Like anyone, Lampard is going to need time. Chelsea have invested a lot of money but now need to adapt to an idea.”
That will only happen, however, if there is a vast improvement in Chelsea’s fortunes on the pitch. Lampard may not be skilled enough to bring a Tuchel-style effect to their tactical efficiency, but what he does have is a command of respect from players within in the squad. That alone might be not enough to land Lampard the permanent job, but as Hiddink and Di Matteo have proved, a healthy legacy as an interim boss is a great deal better than being remembered for two failed managerial stints.
With only six weeks left of the season, Lampard should throw away his playbook and encourage his players to enjoy their football again in the systems they already know. By relieving the players of the pressure from their underachievement this season, Chelsea’s form could finally take a turn for the better.
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