One week and two games into the preseason, Frank Lampard’s initial steps as the new head coach at Chelsea are looking quite promising.
The good vibes have been plentiful, the high spirits obvious, and the effort and joy already shown on both the training ground as well as the matches themselves a marked change from large portions of last season. Granted, our opponents haven’t exactly been top shelf competition, but as far as fitness tests go, they have been perfectly adequate.
Chelsea’s 4-0 win over St Patrick’s on Saturday was no different, especially in the most dominant first-half where Chelsea were unlucky to find the back of the net just twice. Coach Lamps was more than pleased with not just the amount of work but the quality of work shown as well.
“Big elements of the performance [were positive], particularly in the first half. The negative is that we should’ve scored more goals [but] some of our build-up play and combinations in midfield and around their box was fantastic and really enjoyable to watch.
“These games are important to win, for the feeling, but they’re most important for the lads to get something out of physically. This was a good exercise in terms of that: we’re one step further on. We saw better passages of play, better quality, but the fitness is still something that we need to strive for. Particularly in the first half — less so in the second — we got everything out of the game we could.”
Lampard has basically played four 45-minute games so far, changing then entire team and formation at half-time in each of his games, ensuring that most every player gets a chance — Drinkwater, Ampadu, Maatsen were the only non-injury position player absentees today — but also starting to re-familiarize the team with the notion of adaptability after last season’s dogmatic adherence to basically one and only one plan.
“We want to be adaptable, we want to be able to change in game or for games. I want the players to be able to do that. We train that way; we train to be able to change things.
“We know where we’re at. We know we’re not bringing in any new players this year, so we need to find little ways in preseason [to gain an advantage]. It’s good to test ourselves in preseason in different ways and make it difficult for teams to play against us. [...] As we get fitter, as the combinations get better, as we train more, hopefully we’ll see more that [first-half dominance].”
In addition to early motifs of hard work and adaptability, Chelsea’s summer theme has been one of an impending youth revolution. On Saturday, the younger players were, to a man, the stars of the day, meshing well with the older players in the first-half and at times carrying the team in the second. Lampard singled out a few of them for praise afterwards, reserving special mention for barely 18-year-old Billy Gilmour (who, unsurprisingly for a midfielder, already idolizes the manager).
“Tammy’s energy up front, alongside Michy was really good. Between the pair of them, they showed exactly the sort of stuff I want, energy off the ball and quality on the ball. Mason showed what I saw at Derby last season, his energy — him and Ross. There were a lot of good performances.
“In the second half: Billy Gilmour. He’s had a brilliant trip and has shown real personality at the level that he’s played for a young lad in these two games. He’s been great. I just hope Billy keeps pushing on with that this season.”
-Frank Lampard; source: Chelsea TV
Lampard had made it clear from his very first press conference that the door is open for any young player who impresses and while Gilmour probably won’t be staying with the first-team beyond this weekend, it shouldn’t be the last we hear of him this season and in the future.
Lampard and the rest of the Chelsea hierarchy have plenty of tough decisions to make with a logjam of older players at various positions, especially in midfield, combined with strong performances from the younger players pushing for the promised meritocracy.
Chelsea’s preseason schedule gets tougher next week, with games against J-League champions Kawasaki Frontale and a tiny little outfit called FC Barcelona, which hopefully will help separate the wheat from the chaff and keep this positive summer momentum going and building for the start of the season itself in four weeks.