Things only going one way for Frank Lampard as Chelsea are exposed again in convincing Man City loss

Chelsea 1-3 Manchester City: Hudson-Odoi scored a consolation goal for the hosts after they were swept aside in the first half

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Sunday 03 January 2021 19:04 GMT
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The talk now will be whether this signals the end for Frank Lampard at Chelsea, but it may well be the start of Manchester City’s 2020/21 title challenge. They certainly looked like a side who benefitted from a break, as they ripped Chelsea to shreds. This was the Pep Guardiola City we know best, who looked their best, in a season that has had so many unfamiliar elements and uncertainties.

It’s impossible to divorce that from the week’s events, but they can be looked at two ways. On one hand, City were missing five key players, and didn’t train that much. On the other, they had a rest at a rigorous time.

Whatever the truth there, things look like they’re only going one way for Lampard. This was merely the nadir of an atrocious run that has now brought four defeats in six, and could well have gotten worse than the three goals conceded. There were periods where it looked like City could open them at will, as they kept the ball at will.

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Some of the link-ups between Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden and – above all in this game – Ilkay Gundogan were simply joyous. That could best be seen in the first two goals, which were concerts of collective play, before Sterling displayed such individual inspiration for the third.

It should not be overlooked that these were some of City’s most senior players imposing themselves, something that marked such a contrast with Chelsea.

Lampard is said to be increasingly agitated with how few of his players are stepping up, compared with “the leaders of his day”. Many question the make-up of an expensive but inconsistently assembled, and largely young, squad. Others have been concerned that Lampard can’t get the right response from the group.

This really wasn’t anything like the reaction that would have been demanded after Chelsea’s recent bad run. It is why it might now bring a call from Marina Granovskaia and maybe even Roman Abramovich.

Because, brilliant as Guardiola’s side were, the nature of this defeat went way beyond City playing the kind of football Lampard – or Abramovich – would idealise from his attackers. There was much more to this than the break from the postponed game, or how good the opposition were.

This was just bad from Chelsea, and bad from Lampard.

The team was outplayed, the manager’s reactions wrong. It was as if he didn’t know how to change mid-game, that he didn’t know how to arrest the many problems this game threw up. The mix-and-match approach to the team – like Timo Werner suddenly playing through the centre – doesn’t illustrate variety or different strategies, but instead a manager that doesn’t have anything close to an idea of what his best side is, or how to get the best from what might be Europe’s deepest squad.

Frank Lampard watches as his Chelsea side are swept aside by Man City
Frank Lampard watches as his Chelsea side are swept aside by Man City (POOL/AFP)

Callum Hudson-Odoi meanwhile showed why he was one of a few Chelsea players who actually deserved a start, but Lampard didn’t pick him. Hakim Ziyech returned but none of the team’s verve did.

They were just there to be got at and exposed, again and again, emphasising the structural problems of this team, again and again.

Of course the damning third goal came from a counter-attack – if one brilliantly fired by Sterling – of the type that has been such a characteristic flaw of Lampard’s time in charge. There should have been a set-piece conceded, too, except Rodri didn’t quite have the finishing that so many other players have benefitted from against Chelsea in similar situations.

The club as a whole meanwhile faces a familiar situation: whether to stick with a manager, and even one that Abramovich likes. He has dispensed with figures he has been even friendlier with in the past, like Avram Grant. Lampard can’t expect a pass there, even if the vast majority of the fanbase would want him to be as long serving as Sir Alex Ferguson.

The problem right now is that Lampard looks way short of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and isn’t exactly offering much of a case to keep him on.

As tends to happen when you appoint young coaches straight into big jobs, they don’t have the experience to draw on when things go wrong, the previous situations to learn from under less pressure.

Lampard is under serious pressure now. There is even talk of coaches like Max Allegri putting themselves forward.

City meanwhile might well start putting those above them under pressure. This was a match to take note of, for the rest of the Premier League, as much as Abramovich.

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