Frank Lampard: The Player vs the Manager

There’s no denying that Frank Lampard has received mixed reviews regarding his first year in charge of his beloved Chelsea. Some argue that, considering the circumstances – including a transfer ban, the loss of Eden Hazard and his inexperience as a coach – the former England international has done a pretty admirable job on the West side of London. However, others believe that the 42-year-old has shown a great deal of naivety, allowing for the same defensive mistakes to crop up time and time again – highlighting no signs of improvement over the course of the campaign. His long-awaited return to Stamford Bridge was always going to draw attention, both positive and negative, but there is more to Lampard’s coaching style than simply the disputed level of success.

Art by Rajasekharan Parameswaran

It’s no secret that Lampard was one of the greatest midfielders to ever grace the game. Supporters remember him as the ‘goalscoring midfielder’ – a player defined by both the quality and quantity of his goals, the timing of his runs and his ability to create space. For these reasons, it was easy to conclude that he was an attacking-minded midfielder – and his stats simply confirm how successful he was in front of goal: he managed 177 league goals during his time as a player – the highest for any midfielder in England’s top flight. His tally of 211 goals in all competitions places him at the top of Chelsea’s goalscoring records, with the small matter of 102 league assists to really drive the point about his greatness home. 

Given his attacking mindset, it’s not too surprising to see how well Chelsea are going forward under their new manager. Despite their defensive concerns, the West London side conjured up 69 goals in the 19-20 campaign, slightly overperforming their xG (expected goals) of 66.6. However, they were still third in the league for both statistics, beaten only by current champions Liverpool and attacking powerhouse Manchester City, with the Citizens managing an incredible 102 goals last season. Chelsea’s recent results, featuring a 5-3 loss against Liverpool and a 3-1 win against Manchester United suggests their problem isn’t their inability to find the back of the net. Like Lampard, they focus heavily on their attack, and as a result, it has become one of the Blues’ more defining attributes over the past year.

Although Lampard only began his managerial career just two years ago, he already has a clear set of tactics that he deploys, including an energetic, high press. During his time as a player, he was always encouraged to press up the field, especially under former boss Jose Mourinho. In the 04-05 season, Lampard would often push forward to support the lone striker. Fast forward 15 years and over the 19-20 season, Chelsea pressed high and aggressively, even without the ball – putting pressure on the opposition and forcing them to make quick decisions. Essentially, this is why Mason Mount has been so crucial to their system. The 21-year-old’s energetic and intelligent pressing means he fits perfectly with Lampard’s tactics – helping to build upon their previously established relationship at Derby County. You could even go as far as to say that there are distinctive similarities between Lampard and the youngster, including their playing attributes, work ethic and versatility.

Since Lampard has taken the reigns, Chelsea have adopted an attractive but chaotic style of attacking football – contrary to the slow and organised approach adopted by Maurizio Sarri the previous season. Although Sarri preferred a patient build-up play, Lampard’s approach is more risky and free-flowing. The former number eight wants his players to move quickly with the ball, which is highlighted through the amount of passes, touches and dribbles completed by Chelsea in the 19-20 season. The Blues carried out less passes under Lampard compared to Sarri (20664 compared to 22803) and less overall touches (29171 compared to 30655). But they also completed more dribbles last season than in the 18-19 campaign (465 compared to 435). During his playing career, Lampard often used smart and quick movement to help create space for his fellow teammates. Thanks to his intelligence, he was able to use space to his advantage in a quick and sufficient way – and he has clearly implemented these types of ideals on his players.

However, when it comes to passing, there are both similarities and differences between the Frank Lampard we knew as a player and the one we now recognise as a manager. As we all are aware, he had an extremely impressive awareness of the game; this ability enabled him to carry out a range of quality passes, from disguised passing to through balls and long range passing. It’s therefore worth noting that Chelsea ranked third in the Premier League last season for long passes completed (passes longer than 25 yards) – again, falling short behind Manchester City and Liverpool. In the 18-19 season, they were fourth, completing a considerably lower amount compared to this season (4369 compared to 4996). Through balls were also a main aspect of Lampard’s game during his playing career, however Chelsea ranked just eighth in the league for this pass type in the 19-20 season, completing 41 overall. 

It’s perhaps also worth mentioning that Chelsea managed to score two freekicks in the league last season, whereas in the previous campaign they scored none. Although not a major improvement, this is a trend worth keeping an eye on while the side progresses under their new manager. They were also ranked fifth for goals outside the box: scoring ten. These are two playing attributes which Lampard will surely be hoping to implement with his current Chelsea squad. The ex midfielder was known as a set piece specialist and rather enjoyed scoring a goal from outside the penalty area.

Improvisation was also a primary trait during his playing days – and can now be witnessed by his players on the field. When Lampard was playing, he expected a free improvisation in attack, meaning he was often trusted and relied upon to perform spontaneous creativity. Now, Chelsea players have adopted this type of approach. Lampard often allows his attacking players to roam into free space in the midfield and be more creative with their passing. However, this risky style means the midfield is left wide open for the opposition if Chelsea lose the ball, with Lampard’s side often failing to cover the space between defence and midfield.

Despite the distinctive comparisons between Lampard’s short time as a coach and his days as a player, there is still considerable room for improvement in the managerial department. However, it’s clear to see where he gets his ideas from, having played under some of the finest managers in the game and performing at an elite level for over 15 years. With the help of some big signings and one year in charge at top level under his belt, next season will give us a true indication of where his future lies as a manager. We can only hope that it will be just as exciting and successful as his playing career. 

Stats: Goals From Outside Box and Freekicks Scored are from the Premier League’s official website. The remaining stats are taken from FBref.

Chelsea Harper

I am a Journalism and Spanish graduate, currently based in London, UK. When I'm not stressing over Chelsea's backline, you can often find me with my head inside a book or daydreaming about my next trip abroad.