Newly minted (and future Chelsea?) football manager Frank Lampard lost two of the first three league games of his career, then proceeded to lose just four in the next four months as Derby County, against the odds and expectations and lower budgets, mounted a solid promotion challenge from the Championship to the Premier League (key word: Mount, but more on that later). Lampard was a natural at this management lark it turned out to little surprise — making smart signings and smart hires and playing attractive yet also (relatively) winning(-ish) football — and he even guided his new team to a famous victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford in the League Cup.
Lampard: “I’m not going to sit here and go on about possession, if you want to win then you have to do more. It became condensed and we weren’t bright enough.”#DCFCvMFC— Derby County (@dcfcofficial) February 20, 2019
The trouble with raising expectations however is that you cannot go back if and when things go a bit awry. So when Derby lost for the third straight time without even scoring a goal (and fourth in all competitions) last weekend, making it 5 losses against just 3 wins in their last 13 league outings, Lampard was starting to truly feel the heat for the first time in his coaching career. Derby had made a habit of collapsing in the second halves of season in recent years, and look(ed) to be well on their way again, famous name in the dugout notwithstanding (which clearly tickled rival fans, Twitter troll accounts, not to mention upsetting an ever-growing portion of the fanbase).
It appears that Frank Lampard’s name has been disassociated as the prefix to Derby County, as it’s clearly the same old Derby County in disguise.— Tim Gough (@Tim_Gough) March 5, 2019
The Rams were back on all four feet on Tuesday however, with a rousing 2-1 comeback win over Wigan Athletic, after which Lampard called out the nervous nellies and “doom merchants” ... but not among the crowd (he understands the fan reaction) but rather “in and around the club”.
“It’s easy when we are winning. When we went to Manchester United and got a result, everyone is excited but it is hard when it’s a difficult patch. That is when you see the strong ones stick together and fight, or ones that don’t want to and talk behind people’s backs. [...] I am talking about people who are in and around the club who all of a sudden are negative straight away. That can’t be the way.”
“[It is about] how quickly some people will be doom merchants, saying we are finished when we actually have a young team, when we have a transitional team. We know that.”
That’s certainly a bold strategy, Super Frank! Let’s see if it pays off.
“This club absolutely wallows in it in different departments, and it is about trying to make sure as a squad and as a staff we don’t suck that in too much. I know, I understand that recent history says (there have been) difficult times at Derby and they start well and then they don’t do so well in this month, and in that month.
“There are some negative people around, very close around the club, that shouldn’t be like that. As a team and as a staff, we have to be the ones that aren’t. It is important as a club that we are really all together.”
-Frank Lampard; source: Derby Telegraph
In his brief time as manager, Lampard has had to deal with a large variety of issues already — including being the (over?)aggrieved party in the Marcelo Bielsa spying scandal — but calling out his own club in such a strong way is certainly an advanced-level move for the rookie boss. Derby meanwhile may be facing some financial difficulties and upheaval in the near future as well, so it could get very interesting for him indeed.
All hope is not lost for Lampard & Co however. They are still well within the hunt for the top six in the ultra-competitive parity of the Championship, currently sitting seventh but only behind sixth place Bristol City on goal difference (although Bristol City do have a game-in-hand). Derby have three home games coming up the rest of this month: even a short little winning run like that would easily reignite the challenge and restore confidence.
Another massive boost for their hopes will be the return of Chelsea loanee Mason Mount from a hamstring injury that’s ruled him out since the end of January. Mount should be back in a couple weeks, after the international break. That Derby only have two wins in the eight games he’s missed (in all competitions) is probably not coincidence. While fellow loanee Fikayo Tomori has also been great, Mount has been simply outstanding all season in the most important position on the pitch, in the center of midfield.
It's not all about him, but Derby's form has absolutely plummeted since Mason Mount got injured. As much as he wasn't on the scoresheet regularly, they miss the balance he brings to the midfield and the other players he frees up to attack more directly, particularly Wilson.— Chelsea Youth (@chelseayouth) February 25, 2019
“When I came here, I knew we needed an injection of energy in the team for the way I wanted to play. We had to look at younger loans, for the budget we had. As I said, they (Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori, Harry Wilson) have been very impressive for us and we must take the rough with the smooth.”
-Frank Lampard; source: Liverpool Echo
Derby's playing style with and without MM this season— Andy Forrester (@AndyForrester1) February 27, 2019
Games with him this season show that they play in more dangerous areas (ST), press higher and play with a slightly higher tempo. pic.twitter.com/j6KirPFG56
Mount has 6 goals and 3 assists in 32 appearances in all competitions for the season, but his influence extends far beyond just the scoresheet. He was recently singled out for praise by Chelsea loanee coach Eddie Newton as well — alongside Tomori, Torino-bound Ola Aina, Kenneth Omeruo, and Kurt Zouma as well — and could be one of the key beneficiaries of Chelsea’s incoming transfer ban as well.
“I think it has been one of our most successful (loan army) seasons. We have got the boys in the Championship,. They are all playing really well. Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount, notably at Derby County.”
-Eddie Newton; source: Goal
Mount clearly has Premier League talent; we just have to do better in ensuring that he gets a chance to show that in a Chelsea shirt.
P.S.: Derby’s comeback on Tuesday was started by one of the greatest goals you’ll ever see; shades of Gareth Bale in the Champions League final as Lampard, and many others, pointed out.