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Can Frank Lampard handle the increased expectation at Chelsea?

The manager is now facing more scrutiny than at any point in his short coaching career thus far.

Frank Lampard during last weekend's FA Cup win over Hull.
Frank Lampard during last weekend's FA Cup win over Hull.
Image: Richard Sellers

THE TABLE DOESN’T lie, right? 

Maybe not…but during the season it does have a habit of talking from both sides of its mouth. Chelsea have spent much of the season in the top four in what, to the casual observer, looks like a season of consistent achievement. Nothing stunning, obviously – that’s Liverpool’s adjective – but slightly above-par, humming along at a better rate than expected. 

Enter Roy Keane, who decided to poke around for the falsehoods of fourth place. 

“Frank Lampard has lost eight games, but for some reason, Frank is doing alright, because he is English, I don’t know”, spat Keane in a full-throated Sky Sports defence of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. 

Lampard didn’t agree, obviously, saying “I don’t think being English gives you any sort of a bye from criticism. In fact, I’ve heard quite a lot when I first got this job of writing me off precisely because I’m young and English and only had a year at Derby.” 

He may not have been first-choice for Chelsea in different circumstances, but for a club in the throes of a transfer ban having just sold their best player to Real Madrid, his ties to the club made him a fine candidate to unite the base in a season that may well have very little to shout about. 

At the start of his reign, however, Lampard and his young players gave fans plenty to shout about: “We’ve got our Chelsea back”, to be specific. 

Now, however, Lampard’s job at Chelsea is different to the one he was handed six months ago. They have something to lose now, and the only reason they haven’t lost it is down to the blundering generosity of their rivals. 

Chelsea have won just 5 of their last 13 Premier League games, losing six of them against an assortment of deeply average teams. They didn’t even score in losses against West Ham, Bournemouth, Southampton, and Newcastle, three of which were at home. 

chelsea-v-arsenal-premier-league-stamford-bridge Kepa kicks the post in anger having conceded a recent equaliser to ten-man Arsenal. Source: Bradley Collyer

Some of these results can be explained by the twin problems of being too weak in both boxes. The Newcastle defeat cleaved to this trend: they missed a hatful of chances at one end and Newcastle won with one of their only chances of the game. 

Lampard has seethed at his side’s failure to finish chances, but he has to take responsibility for their lack of organisation defensively, particularly on set pieces. 

The early lifting of the transfer embargo poses its own problems, too. Lampard has been oddly open about Chelsea’s desire to sign players in the window, and now that it looks like they won’t sign anyone, that may backfire.

To privately believe he needs to upgrade the squad is entirely fair and realistic; to go public with that belief is a risk. 

He has been bullish in saying to now that he is picking his young players solely because they deserve to play, but that he has recently been so open in saying the squad needs reinforcements may undermine that confidence he showed earlier in the season. Young managers can ill-afford to be seen to have lost the courage of their convictions, something that was impressive about Lampard earlier in the season. 

Ultimately, it will all come down to results. Chelsea, incredibly, remain six points clear of fifth-placed Manchester United but are facing into a run of fixtures that will go a long way to defining his first season in charge of the club. 

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First up is a trip to Leicester tomorrow and that’s followed by home games with Manchester United and Spurs. 

There is considerable pressure attached to keeping fourth place: recent accounts showed that Roman Abramovich pumped £247 million into the club to cover a season in which they were outside the Champions League. Without competing in Europe’s elite competition, the club can’t stand on their own two feet. 

Thanks in part to Roy Keane, Lampard is now facing more scrutiny than at any point in his embryonic management career. 

Can he deal with it? 

Premier League Fixtures (Kick-off at 3pm unless stated)

Saturday 

Leicester v Chelsea (12.30pm) 

Newcastle v Norwich 

Crystal Palace v Sheffield United 

West Ham v Brighton 

Bournemouth v Aston Villa 

Watford v Everton

Liverpool v Southampton 

Manchester United v Wolves (5.30pm) 

Sunday 

Burnley v Arsenal (2pm)

Spurs v Manchester City (4.30pm) 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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