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Frank Lampard

Chelsea, 2019–

Frank Lampard had a promising first season in management at Derby County, where he was appointed in May 2018. His team won 24 of their 57 matches in all competitions, finishing sixth in the Championship before reaching a playoff final they lost narrowly to Aston Villa. They also progressed to the fifth round of the FA Cup, where they lost to Premier League Brighton, and eliminated Manchester United from the League Cup before losing to Chelsea in the fourth round.

His predecessor Maurizio Sarri, since recruited by Italian champions Juventus, led Chelsea to both third in the Premier League and the Europa League trophy in often hostile circumstances. Their best player, Eden Hazard, was sold to Real Madrid, and a transfer ban meant that the pre-arranged signings of Christian Pulisic and Mateo Kovacic were the only ones made to strengthen Lampard’s squad. The circumstances were therefore right to finally test the club’s many promising young players, who so far have delivered, suggesting that Lampard is capable of building on the optimism that came with his appointment as the successor to one of Europe’s most respected coaches.

Playing style
Lampard has so far at Chelsea regularly used the same approach he favoured at Derby, particularly when his team progresses into the final third. They most commonly use a 4-3-3 that involves their full-backs advancing and wide attackers either drifting into narrower positions to encourage overlaps, or their wide attackers moving wider to create underlaps.

The left of Chelsea’s structure, as with Derby’s, has been significantly more fluid than its right, where either César Azpilicueta or Reece James largely offer overlapping runs to complement a right-sided attacker adopting a more central position. There have also been numerous occasions when that 4-3-3 has become a 4-2-3-1, and even experiments with a back three that didn’t happen at Derby. One of Chelsea’s attacking midfielders – usually the one positioned towards the right – withdraws to cover the spaces around what had previously been the single pivot.

Ross Barkley, Kovacic, N’Golo Kanté and Billy Gilmour are all particularly suited to such a role alongside Jorginho, who continues to provide the link between defence and midfield. Their back three (below) has been favoured against opponents also adopting a three-strong defence, ultimately to start with an increased number of central midfielders without sacrificing the balance demanded in defence.

A central midfield box has also been used when they have done so, encouraging them to retain a protective double pivot in front of that back three, and two permanent attacking midfielders, alongside their wing-backs. Mason Mount, Barkley and Pulisic have all featured regularly as those attacking midfielders; a second withdrawn midfielder alongside Jorginho also discourages opponents from man-marking him – an approach that, under Sarri, undermined his influence.

There have also been occasions when a back five has been used. Doing so provides Lampard with a means of using the promising Reece James and Azpilicueta in the same XI – the Spaniard, particularly, is as capable of offering defensive support and organisation as the right-sided of the central defenders as he is of carrying possession into midfield and crossing from deeper territory.

The multiple options they have in the final third – Callum Hudson-Odoi, Pedro and, eventually, the incoming Hakim Ziyech further strengthen those options – regardless contribute to a 4-3-3 (below) or 4-2-3-1 more consistently being favoured. Olivier Giroud, Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi also all represent suitable options as a central striker, and a target for crosses. If Chelsea can improve their ability to defend crosses and at set-pieces – Derby were capable of being similarly vulnerable – they can build on their encouraging start to Lampard’s reign.

The case for youth
Jody Morris’ appointment as Lampard’s assistant, as much as their transfer ban, has contributed to the development of so many of the talented young players he knows so well from his previous spell at Chelsea, despite them possessing senior players in the positions their younger options show the greatest potential. If Gilmour is the latest to emerge, Mount has perhaps come to symbolise Lampard’s team more than any other, and has become increasingly influential. Impressive as an attacking midfielder or left-sided attacker, his movements towards the left inside channel complement both their left-sided forward – if not him – and left-back, and create space for a further attacking midfielder to advance into.

His increasing use in a central position emphasises how fluid the left side of Chelsea’s team is becoming, and also creates a potential starting role for Hudson-Odoi, another fine prospect who is vying for selection with Willian, Pulisic and Pedro. When Ziyech arrives Chelsea can be expected to become similarly potent and adventurous towards the right, particularly if he develops an understanding with James. With Abraham established as their leading striker, Fikayo Tomori regularly selected in central defence, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek expected to soon be given chances in central midfield, Lampard’s team has quickly been given a dramatically different identity.

Frank Lampard

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