Just as Chelsea’s transfer ban dampened manager Frank Lampard’s expectations in his first season, the £220m the club spent in the summer is the main reason he is now under pressure.
Lamford, having played in West London for 13 years, knows that Stamford Bridge is a ruthless place for any manager. Of the 12 players named since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003, only José Mourinho (212 games in two spells), Antonio Conte (76) and Carlo Ancelotti (76) have played more Premier League games for Chelsea than Lampard (55).
Lampard’s position at the helm of the most successful era in the club’s history – not to mention being the club’s top scorer – should give him more time than most in that role, but history tells us the clock is ticking.
The club initially responded well by letting talisman Eden Hazard leave for Real Madrid in 2019 for €100 million. Lampard managed to bring together several young players from the club’s academy to reach the fourth round of the Premier League in his first season. But in Saturday’s relegation battle, Fulham must improve on Lampard’s dismal run of just one win in six league games, which has increased speculation about the club’s ninth place finish, ten points behind the leaders.
There is a feeling in some circles that a team naturally takes time to form, but that an experienced manager can get more out of such an expensive band in the short term. But with the purchase of six players for £220m this summer, a repeat of last season should be the minimum target. How are the new guys doing so far?
Kai Havertz, MF (£71m, Bayer Leverkusen).
Error! The file name is not specified. Kai Havertz strove to meet expectations. Photo: Toby Melville/Pa Images via Getty Images
The 21-year-old arrived with a good reputation and a price tag just under the £71.5m transfer fee (spent on goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga in 2018), but Havertz failed to impress in the early months of his Chelsea career. There are mitigating factors, not least the adjustment to the new league and the COVID-19 contract in November, where he missed several weeks of training. But Havertz’s difficulty seems to lie in the fact that the Lampard enigma remains unsolved.
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Clubs don’t usually spend that much money on a player and then try him out in different positions, but Havertz may have had more experience than any other player. He is used to switching roles as a false No9, No10 or right-back at Bayer Leverkusen, but in a tougher league with reshuffles and personnel changes around him, Havertz has yet to see the house.
Lampard’s change of formation from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3 removes the No10 position as an option, and a deeper central midfield role does not put Gavertz in better shape, not least because it means he has to take on more defensive duties. The German is now the most expensive piece of the puzzle that Lampard is trying to solve, how to combine all of his forwards into a team and form a cohesive unit.
It’s time for Gavertz to develop as a player, but Lampard has a responsibility to give him the best development opportunities.
Ben Chilwell, DF (£50 million, Leicester City).
Error! The file name is not specified. Ben Chilwell, right, has settled in well in London. Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Chilwell was probably the most successful addition of the summer. He missed the first four games of all competitions due to injury, but has been out since the third round. October: a meeting with the Premier League.
The position of the left rear was quickly identified as a problem by Lampard, with Marcus Alonso and Emerson Palmieri both inconsistent. Cesar Azpilicueta adapted well to the change in position, but as a right-back with limited options in the final third, he failed to provide the width and attacking threat combined with Rhys James on the opposite flank that the Chelsea boss is so fond of.
Chilwell has two goals and four assists in 14 league games. Even in the clear defeat to Manchester City at the 3rd. In January, the 24-year-old showed plenty of commitment and provided more centres (six) than any other Chelsea player. He is often the biggest threat from wide positions, and sources told ESPN that Chilwell has quickly become a popular team member, with Lampard hailing his attitude behind the scenes.
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Janusz Michalik believes Timo Werner’s performance is no guarantee of a starting place, despite his goal against Morecambe.
Timo Werner, Florida (£47.7 million, RB Leipzig).
In last weekend’s 12 goalless games in the FA Cup against Morecambe, Werner took stock. Those who call the 24-year-old an unqualified outsider forget that he has started the season well, with eight goals and three assists in his first 12 games.
Werner turned down the opportunity to play for Leipzig in the postponed Champions League quarter-final to get an early start in London this summer. However, his loss of form has gradually reached alarming levels, highlighted by a catalogue of shocking misses that make him look like the shadow of one of Europe’s most promising strikers.
Maybe Lampard needs to take some responsibility there. Werner’s best form is as a front centre, but he is increasingly used on the left wing. Although he regularly drifted to the left as a forward, he was rarely used as a designated left back in Leipzig.
The German international admitted he found it difficult to cope with the physical intensity of Premier League football, but was one of Chelsea FC’s starting eleven in 17 league games. Whether a break is needed or not, Lampard needs to find a way to reinvigorate the man who initially seemed most likely to revive his attack.
Hakim Ziyech, MF (£36m, Ajax).
Error! The file name is not specified. Hakim Ziyech was key to Chelsea’s attack. Ben Stansall/Pool/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock.
Ziyech played a key role in Chelsea’s nine-game unbeaten run in the Premier League before his absence coincided with the current slump. It’s not a coincidence, Lampard said. We can’t rely on him completely. It has been very effective on our part in terms of creation and objectives. It helped, we were very fluid until he got hurt.
Ziyeh played 64 minutes against Manchester City and although the 27-year-old could not avoid relegation, his return will give Lampard hope that improvement is on the horizon. Ziyeh is almost helpless when he is fit. Morecambe witnessed this clash last weekend in the FA Cup third round, but he will have to repeat it against more high-profile opposition in the coming weeks.
Injuries have limited Zeeh’s progress as he suffered a knee injury in a pre-season game at Brighton and was limited to a total of nine starts in all competitions, but maintaining the Moroccan player’s international fitness could be crucial in the challenges ahead.
Edouard Mendy, GC (£20 million, Rennes).
Error! The file name is not specified. Edouard Mendy is definitely an improvement over Kepa. Getty
Mendy first brought peace to a goalkeeping position that seemed increasingly disastrous during Kepa’s game. Mendy arrived, desperate to make up for lost time at the highest level. He fears his career will be over in 2014 after being released by Cherbourg and spending a year without a club. The Senegalese stopper kept three clean sheets in the Premier League from his first attempt and established himself as Chelsea’s No1, with Kepa leading the way since the 17th minute. October made only two appearances.
In total, Mendy has kept a clean sheet six times in the league – a record only broken by Emiliano Martinez (8) at Aston Villa, Alex McCarthy (7) at Southampton and Ederson (7) at Manchester City. Legendary Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer described Mendy as a world-class player last month, but his play has been marred by errors lately: He was too quick on the starting line against Leeds, when Chelsea’s victory ultimately didn’t matter, but also against Everton, when it did.
It’s still an improvement over Kepa, but Lampard has to hope that his drop in form is just a speck.
Thiago Silva, DF (for free, Paris Saint-Germain)
Error! The file name is not specified. Thiago Silva’s experience has helped, but Chelsea still have problems in defence. Photo by Mark Atkins/Getty Images.
Signing Silva was a bit of a gamble, as he turned 36 in September. Nobody doubts his pedigree, having won seven Ligue 1 titles and 88 caps in Brazil with Paris Saint-Germain, but there is inevitably some doubt about his ability to cope with the pace of the Premier League at this late stage of his career. Those fears were heightened when a terrible mistake in his Championship debut gave West Brom a 3-0 lead. But as Chelsea recovered from a slow start that day to draw 3-3, Silva quickly established himself as an influential player on the Chelsea back line.
Chelsea have been setting themselves up for too many goals of late, but Silva is still in the process of repaying a loan from the first half of the season, not least because he seems to have helped central defender Kurt Zouma discover a new level of consistency with him. There have been rumours that Chelsea would take the option of keeping Silva for a second season – a clear indication of the mindset in which he is held – but ultimately he will be judged on the team’s defensive performance, and after the recent race there is considerable room for improvement.