The clip of a young and prescient Mason Mount practicing his free-kick at Cobham, and then emulating it successfully by rippling the net at the Shed End, sealed fourth spot in the league for Chelsea, which ensured another season in the Champions League. Lampard finally breathed a sigh of relief because the overarching target was achieved, in a rather unprecedented and challenging season faced by the club.
But let’s not forget, it took years of practice for Mount to perfect that free-kick, which secured Champions League qualification. This is your cue to behold the essence of this piece. Did you store this in your mental palace? Good, it would serve you well as you trudge along, till it meets again.
Losing the talismanic Hazard, facing the hardship of COVID-19, and not able to recruit – these were some of the challenges faced by our record goal-scorer, who had a single year of managerial experience in the Championship prior to taking on the mammoth task as the manager of Chelsea Football Club. As fans, we were settling for far less, maybe seventh or eighth, after Manchester United trounced us on the opening day by breaching the goal line four times.
That defeat was a stark reminder of the punt the club had taken in appointing Lampard. Before him, there was outcry from some section of our fan-base about the style of football employed by Sarri, despite us we winning the Europa League and finishing third in the PL table. This blowback from the fans exasperated Sarri so much, that he eventually left us and joined the Old Lady. The club’s way of bringing back the joy to its disenchanted fan-base culminated with Super Frank’s homecoming. But the early reality check dashed our hopes of Champions League football significantly.
Then came October.
Yes, the third full month of the season. We went through a purple patch which pretty much defined and settled– our style of play, our spirit and tactical nous of the new man in-charge.
Hopes went up and dashed in December, again. But then came the dreaded new year of 2020, we had settled for the rigmarole that was to come– up and down the table, until COVID-19 became the spoil sport. Before the world went into lockdown, we played our best game of the season against the old hand, under whom we got our highest goals tally produced in a single season.
The ‘Project Unlock’ proved to be challenging without fans backing the team when Yarmolenko ran past Alonso with ease and slotted the last-minute winner (I know, Neto was Deja-vu). We won against City enabling Liverpool to land their Premier League silverware in thirty years (I know, this was Deja-vu to Leicester too). By the end of the season, Lampard had outsmarted elite managers- Mourinho, Klopp, Pep, Ancelotti, Hasenhuttl, as well as Ten Haag to name a few. At first, he was seen as an outsider, but then quickly gained recognition of being fearless.
And let’s not forget, this was his second year of managerial experience. For next season, he just had one expectation, bridge the gap at the top.
The Next Season
There were vast areas of improvement required in the squad. The transfer ban in the summer of 2019, and the self-imposed transfer embargo in the subsequent winter transfer window made sure we had our coffers filled up to the brim from the money generated from high profile exits of Hazard, Morata, to name a few. This positioned us to make a splash in the summer transfer window of 2020. Call it a smart move or plain and simple luck, the decision to postpone the redevelopment of Stamford Bridge proved to be a blessing in disguise, as we weren’t burdened with high interest loan repayments for the redevelopment costs.
We not only blazed the market with marquee signings, but sailed the ship that is Chelsea FC without furloughing staff and job redundancies, unlike, the other London club. Stamford and Bridget were safe at the Bridge.
We started off slowly, but then took off like the Phoenix, unbeaten run in seventeen games. We let in fifty-four goals last season, but this time around, we collected clean-sheets like it was being distributed on the streets.
We quickly became part of the ‘title contender’ conversation. Every major media outlet started springing up their analysis on how quickly Lampard integrated the newbies, changed the formation to his preferred 4-3-3 and how our highly talented squad was running riot on our opponents. Some of the promoted stats were truly mind boggling. I mean, who outruns this Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United by six kilometers; even Klopp and Pep found it tough. It seemed as if our glory days had reached a crescendo. Even Chilly B mentioned in an interview in the official Chelsea FC mobile app – Fifth Stand, “We feel like we really can’t lose.”
And boom! Three losses and a couple of draws later, our fan-base are fearing that we may end up having the same run as the other London club, who are languishing in the bottom half of the table. Yes, by the end of game week 16, we are sixth on the table, but this is due to some matches being called off and postponed because of rising cases from the new strain of Covid-19.
Forever form, what is that? This is Strange Season FC, in which, no one team would have sustained period of form because of the congested fixture schedule. On any given day, any team can drop points. Look at what happened to the Champions at St. James Park or the formidable City on their own turf against West Brom few weeks ago.
As a fan-base, we cannot be so reactionary. Remember, Klopp signed a six-year contract even when they finished their season eighth on the table.
Lampard is building the present and the future, which is an arduous process, and it takes time, while just having eighteen months left on his contract. Our opponents were caught off-guard with our tactical switch to the 4-3-3 system (Thank you Krasnodar!), and thus, our longish unbeaten run. Opposing teams have already been able to counter this tactical setup (cue to Everton, Wolves & Arsenal) which was coupled with lackadaisical display from our first team. Lampard will realize that more tactical fluidity is required to get the best out of his signings, because his rigidity in sticking to his 4-3-3 system without a proper winger is making Timo Werner dull and clueless. An untimely injury to our in-form winger – Hakim “The Wizard” Ziyech has negatively impacted our creativity. But such is the reality of congested fixtures; there would be more and more injuries, unless the five substitute rule is brought back. Yeah, we know, the one who preaches doesn’t practice- looking at you Klopp and Pep. But bringing it back will help teams provide much needed rests to key players, while the fringe players will get crucial game time to prove their mettle.
Lampard shouldn’t be judged by his moments of brilliance or sustained period of failure. Both should be given enough time. There will be more appalling losses from winning positions. But we got take it in and move onto the next match. There will be glaring tactical errors. Remember, Lampard is in his third managerial year, learning on the job against the elite. If his playing career is anything to go by, he will simply get better.
Back again, it took Mason years of practice to perfect the free-kick that put us in the Champions League. It will take us this whole season, the battered bunch, to be truly ready. Ready for the next few seasons to challenge and conquer it all.
Until then, please show some patience. Our players need it, our manager needs it, and moreover, our owner needs it. We need to show patience in Roman Abramovich’s belief that he made the right choice. Only then, we will build something for the future.
Written by- Reclusive Roy (@ReclusiveRoy)
Cover photo- Getty Images