The mistakes that contributed towards Frank Lampard’s Chelsea downfall

Nick Purewal, PA
·3-min read

Frank Lampard has been dismissed as Chelsea manager after 18 months at the Stamford Bridge helm.

Here, the PA news agency examines five key failings that proved costly for the former Chelsea and England midfielder.

Openly challenging his players once too often

Chelsea v Manchester City – Premier League – Stamford Bridge
Frank Lampard, pictured, perhaps called out his players once too often at Chelsea (Andy Rain/PA)

Chelsea may miss Lampard’s excellent media attitude and persona more than they yet realise. The savvy manager generally knows how to articulate his point without ire or aggravation – an all-too rare trait in a top football boss. And yet despite all that poise it was to be one criticism of his players too far that kick-started his demise. Lampard employed the phrase “I learned a lot about my players” just once too often – because it became the polite code for “they let me down today”. Lampard had every right to criticise his players, and was doubtless not wrong, but sadly player power remains absolute. By the time Lampard was moving to stress he was not hitting out at his players, in the wake of that 3-1 loss to Manchester City, the beginning of the end was nigh.

Playing without a number 10

Chelsea v Krasnodar – UEFA Champions League – Group E – Stamford Bridge
Kai Havertz, pictured, could have operated as a number 10 for Chelsea (Adam Davy/PA)

Lampard’s ultimate 4-3-3 formation had many plus points, not least for allowing N’Golo Kante to slot back into a more effective, deeper midfield role. But the system fell short with the need to employ two number eights in midfield, that sacrificed a number 10. The excellence of Mason Mount notwithstanding, too often Chelsea were left crying out for an overarching playmaker. Hakim Ziyech’s ability to drift into the 10 role from the wing became a mere sticking plaster on a festering wound. In Ziyech’s absence no other wide player could replicate his ability to bisect a defence with one pass. What was designed to add fluidity eventually stymied the Blues’ creative forces. Kai Havertz would be the obvious candidate to fill a number 10 role, but Lampard’s blueprints would have required a redrawing to accommodate that berth.

Failing to go further with the defensive overhaul

Everton v Chelsea – Premier League – Goodison Park
Thiago Silva, pictured, certainly added stability to Chelsea’s defence (Jon Super/PA)

Lampard did his best with the time available, but in truth his defensive revamp needed more new bodies and longer to complete. The 42-year-old always knew this, and entered into his Stamford Bridge rebuilding project with his eyes open to the risks and scale of the challenge. Convincing Chelsea’s board to give him the time required would always be his toughest battle, and so it proved. Edouard Mendy and Thiago Silva revolutionised Chelsea’s defence, but that still left Lampard with too many players on whom he felt he could not rely.

Letting Tariq Lamptey leave for Brighton

Tottenham Hotspur v Brighton and Hove Albion – Premier League – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Tariq Lamptey, pictured, left Chelsea for Brighton in January 2020 (Mike Hewitt/PA)

Pacy full-back Lamptey rejected Chelsea’s new contract offer and headed off instead to Brighton in January 2020. The 20-year-old has since starred on the south coast, beginning to make good on his rich potential. While Chelsea were well-stocked with Cesar Azpilicueta and Reece James at right-back, Lamptey’s sheer pace would have provided a constant option, especially in tight spots.

Not being able to trim the fat from his squad

Burnley v Chelsea – Premier League – Turf Moor
Jorginho, pictured, numbers among a nucleus of very similar Chelsea stars (Alex Pantling/PA)

Trimming and rebalancing Chelsea’s bloated squad was always a tall order in a tight time frame, and that has certainly contributed to Lampard’s undoing. Lampard simply had too many players of similar attributes in similar positions, while lacking initially the assets he really wanted. The summer recruitment of 2020 was hugely impressive, but could not soften the previous shortcomings. Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic are too similar, especially in comparison to N’Golo Kante and also with the excellent Billy Gilmour coming through the ranks. One of Marcos Alonso or Emerson surely should have left too, following Ben Chilwell’s arrival.