By Jason McKenna
By all accounts Chelsea did not have a bad 2018/19 season. They finished 3rd, and by xG data they were the third best team, they posted healthy stats plus they ended the season beating rivals Arsenal for a European trophy. But Sarri did not seem to fit with the club for one reason or another and so he departed back to Italy to manage Juventus this summer. Today we saw the announcement that club legend “Super Frank” Lampard has returned to take the managerial role at his former side. The man is a legend of the club and he will hope that his story can continue to be a positive one at Stamford Bridge.
The big story of the summer so far for Chelsea has been the loss of Eden Hazard. The narrative of his departure seemed to be set in stone for some time; his desire to play for Real Madrid was a poorly kept secret. The team has lost a world class player and their main contributor of last season with Hazard scoring 15 goals, assisting 16 times and providing 97 chances for his teammates. With no transfer market to dip into Lampard will have to manage a depleted squad from the get-go. Chelsea were third but were a huge 25 points off second placed Liverpool and Manchester City. The Blues should not feel too bad as these were the second and third best points performing sides in Premier League history, but the gulf between the top is something that the team needs to address. Chelsea and Lampard have a hard task of doing this without any transfers this summer.
Ideologically though Lampard could be brilliant for Chelsea as he seems to want to give youth a chance. It can be the start of a new era for the club if he is a success. The move actually fits with the situation the club finds it in and he could move the club in a direction it should going towards in the future. Chelsea are famed for their huge numbers of talent they have in their academies. The side has plenty of talent stored away in their youth ranks, and Lampard seems to be the manager to unlock this. In 2018/19, at Derby, the new Chelsea manager gave 13,137 minutes to players aged 21 and under in the Championship. This could be especially good for players like Mason Mount who played under Lampard at Derby or Tammy Abraham who the former Derby manager would have seen play for Aston Villa through the Championship season. Lampard in his first press conference has also singled out Mount and other youth player Tomori showing his commitment to bringing through young players. This could also potentially make for some great, cheap FPL assets too.
One thing Chelsea will immediately need to work on this season is their away form. This was not helped by an intermittently performing defence. At times Chelsea’s back line was a huge problem, 6-0 and 4-0 losses on the road highlighted this. The blues lost 8 times in 2018/19 and 7 of those loses away from home. Indeed Chelsea had a +31% points per game average in home matches. Lampard’s style of play has the potential to rectify this.
Through the 2018/19 season Lampard’s preferred formation at Derby was 4-3-3 which was compact at the back but high pressing and with a quick tempo to their style of play. Defensively he tried to be very tight and hugely pressing. Derby averaged 8.2 Passes Per Defensive Action (PPDA) showing how pressing his side was not allowing their opponents much time on the ball. But Lampard had a unique style of his two centre half playing close together even though Derby played out form the back. Most teams who play from the back like to have the centre backs wide apart from each other. Lampard however favoured low risk passes between his defenders. These two central defenders were close and he instructed his defensive midfielder to come back when playing out offering passing opportunities to his defenders. When defending the wing-backs tucked in compressing the space through the centre to try and force teams out wide. This then allowed the defensive unit to shift across and press the attacking side. Even if the ball is switched between one side or the other the unit moves as one quickly over to the attacker. What is also interesting, and somewhat rare for a pressing side, is that Lampard liked to have 4 players back at all times in defence. He did not want his team to be outnumbered in defensive situations or be caught out by a counter attack.
However play style and data have not matched up. Although Lampard tries to limit his opponents by having a strong defensive shape at the back his team last season let in too many good chances. The Derby defence let in 54 goals which was not brilliant, but it was still in the top 7 for Championship defensive numbers. The team though was lucky to only let in this many, they allowed 12.78 shots per game, midtable for the Championship, but allowed 64% of all shots against them in the box, 19th in the League. 16 goals came from set pieces, 10th worst in the league, so Chelsea should maybe hire a coach like Manchester City and Liverpool. Most worrying though is that Derby seemed to have over-performed. Their xG data suggests the side should have let in 10 more goals than they did as their xCon was 64.43.
Turning our attention onto the attack Lampard once again has a well developed philosophy. Moving up the pitch, and playing out from the back, Lampard liked his team to create passing triangles plus space for vertical movement of the ball to running midfielders or forwards. After regaining possession the Derby full-backs move out into wide positions. This again is for the low risk passes that Lampard prefers. When building up into the opponents half Lamaprd like to play as wide as possible trying to entice pressure from opponents and to create space for the forward players to exploit further up the pitch. As the team moves up there is plenty of movement from the wing-backs, wingers and midfielders as they search for attacking runs. As the ball is moved up further the pitch the team like to have as many passing options as possible with at least 4 or 5 openings but with a preference of getting the ball into the middle. This would translate at Chelsea to the chosen starting attacking midfielders and striker getting a lot of service. In many ways he liked the Derby players to replicated how he performed at Chelsea when attacking from the midfield. Special mention has to be given to Mason Mount, a player returning to Chelsea after being on loan to Derby. He was playing a Lampard style making runs into the box and being a potent threat up front for the Rams. With 9 goals and 4 assists Mount had a good return, but his data of 1.2 penalty area shots per 90, 1.9 key passes per 90 and 1.2 dribbles per 90 also shows what a high performer he is.
Once again though the data does not inspire hope. Derby managed to score 74 goals this season, the 6th best total in the league. But the data shows they were lucky to get this haul. Their 13.3 shots per game was 10th best, 4.6 shots on target per game 7th and their 309 total shots in the box was 15th best in the league. The xG of the team was 56.6, the 19th highest, thus it shows that the team was not creating good chances for their forward players. This is in direct contrast to Sarri’s style that meant that xG and goal output was matched in the 2018/19 season for Chelsea. The team played sometimes frustratingly but with the goal of always to creating the best goal scoring chances. Also the Derby team were second top for shots outside the box, and nearly half of their total shots came from outside this area. They were too reliant on an inefficient way to score goals.
Although the numbers does not look encouraging it has to be factored in that Derby are playing in a division below and so their players may have made more mistakes than the current Chelsea players will. It seems that Lamaprd is trying to play the right style, maybe he just didn’t have the right players at Derby. He will have a large academy of players to choose from to fill in problem areas of the team plus the players he has at his disposal at Chelsea are a level above those at Derby.
A positive of Lampard is his adaptability. One of Sarri’s downfalls last season was his insistence of sticking to the same plan. This was symbolised by the constant playing of Kante out of position, but it was a wider issue as a whole in the team. He stuck to his tactics and ideology every week and did not even change it during matches when his team were being defeated badly. Frank Lampard is much more pragmatic in his approach. This was especially on show when Derby took on Leeds in the Play-Off’s Semi-Final. Lampard switched his approach up as his Derby side had already lost 3 times to Leeds and so a different style was needed to defeat Bielsa’s men. In the game against Leeds Derby allowed their opponent to have the ball and sat deep defensively, a total change to the usual pressing and retention of the ball. Lampard instructed his players to instead congest the midfield but not step out like usual and keep their opponent contained so that Leeds could only play back passes. Derby then broke quickly on the counter with long balls over the top to counteract the press of Leeds.
The fixtures before the season starts will be a huge indicator for how the team will line up. What is good for Lamaprd is that he has a whole pre-season to look through his players and instil his style of play. This is a whole 10 days more than Sarri had at Chelsea who’s signing was delayed over the uncertainties over Conte. Lampard as a former player will also be welcomed immediately by the Chelsea crowd, who at times were very hostile to Sarri last season. This could be a huge psychological boost to the Lampard project. We at Goalmouth Scramble Podcast will also keep you up to date with how the team plays in the pre-season period with an appearance from the London is Blue podcast. The team there will explain to us how Chelsea are playing in these first games of Lampard’s reign.
To summarise, if Lampard carries over his playing style from Derby then it could be a positive for Chelsea. He tried to set up his team to be quick, counter attacking and provide the forward players with good chances. The data shows that he was not fully successful with this at Derby but with a better squad of players Lampard may be able to bring a great footballing philosophy to Chelsea who do not have a club playing identity like Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City. The play style he could deploy could be successful and efficient in the Premier League as it incorporates many of the styles already on show in the league with a few unique tweaks that Lampard has introduced. There are no certainties apart from it will be fascinating to see what unfolds at Stamford Bridge next season