Two losses in just as many games have been more than enough to sour the mood around, and even bring out the naysayers and the doomsayers about Lampard and (some of) the players. As ever, such overreactions are non-constructive, at best, and often obscure valid potential criticisms of the team as well.
One such criticism could be Lampard’s insistence on sticking with his 4-3-3 system. Granted, a 17-match unbeaten run is not something to be discarded overnight, though many would (rightly) argue that a winger-dependent strategy is less effective with no actual fit wingers, so perhaps a wing-back-centric, three-back setup would’ve been a bit more useful against Everton and Wolverhampton, especially with the attack misfiring of late.
But as Lampard sees it, the blame shouldn’t be focused on the tactics, but rather our execution of said tactics.
““The basic demands of football are the high-speed runs, sprints and being competitive, and we dropped our level for 15 or 20 per cent. The understanding of it for me is clear...”
“In terms of collection and system, the day that I pick a system and select a team that will make every Chelsea fan happy, it’s impossible, that day will never come and I understand that.
“So I have to do what I believe in and what we have done this season, and the unbeaten run coincided with us going to 4-3-3, and I felt it was the way forward for us. It was bringing out the strengths of the players and we were doing it very well, there were things within that system that I wanted to do and how we were moving the ball and building up play, we were pressing, but like I said before, we came off that a little bit.
“So it’s not as if we were doing things terribly; we were just doing them at 70 per cent.
“For instance, the second goal against Wolves, we’re four against two, so you have to make sure you don’t allow the player to turn. There are counter-pressing positions which against Tottenham we absolutely nailed for 90 minutes.”
“So there are little things and that’s the lesson for the players to have to react in-game and pick up those moments and get them right. So players have responsibility but I have to take it overall.”
The ultimate responsibility will always fall on the manager; that’s part of the job definition. The mob is fickle, even more so than the owner’s famous itchy trigger finger (less itchy these days, in fairness).
But results eventually do have to come. Lampard had a “free” first year, given the transfer ban and the circumstances stemming from that, but after the summer’s investment, he knows, the players know, we all know that shiny trophies are needed, wanted, expected.
And he has to manage those expectation.
“Everyone was talking about us going on a great run and we should win the league. Part of my reasoning to dampen that was other teams have probably been together longer and built for longer which builds confidence within the group of players that they can deal with things better in games.
“Part of where our progression is that where we have some younger players and newer players, and I think as times goes on, they will definitely get stronger in those moments. That’s why you have to take lessons from things like the other night when we lose.
“Liverpool in their period now, they looked like an absolute machine last year, but there would have moments that they would have gone through over those four or so years as a club where they would have looked at themselves.”
Lampard can speak with first-hand experience about building a winning team. He was part of one for several years as a player on the same pitch where he now stands on the sidelines. That experience says that this Chelsea are not yet at a point where we can talk of victories as a normalcy, and not as a remarkable feat.
“I played in a team that had that. The early Abramovich years, we didn’t win the league the first year, we came second and next year we felt a bit stronger and learnt a bit more. I think that is football.
“It’s never easy to quantify as such but you certainly can work on it and build it and I think the responsibility is definitely with manager, staff and players altogether.
“The realism is we are not a Liverpool of last year or a Manchester City of the year before where you can just go out and win, win, win, win, win. In periods, you have to be ready for some tough moments.”
This might look like the kind of defeatism that a coach who settle for not fighting for anything beyond a top-four spot, accepting losses as they come. But we are not Arsenal.