Five years after his playing career with Chelsea came to an end, Frank Lampard has returned to Stamford Bridge as manager. He has been tasked with leading the club into a difficult future, with a transfer ban preventing him from making any new additions to the squad.
Despite having just one season of managerial experience behind him with Derby County in the English second tier, he already has a fairly clear style of play. Here, we at Tribal Football analyse whether he will be able to implement that style and how his Chelsea side might look. All data referenced is courtesy of Wyscout unless otherwise stated.
Lampard liked his Derby side to press high, usually taking up a 4-4-1-1 defensive shape where the striker led the pressing from the front. His lone number nine would split the opposition centre-backs while closing down the defender in possession, essentially cutting the pitch in half. He would be supported by the attacking midfielder, who would either cover behind or press the other centre-back.
Behind the front two, the midfield line and defensive line often utilised man-marking on the ball side to get quick pressure on opposition receivers with their back to goal. Meanwhile, the wingers are more zonal, taking up positions in the inside channels to ensure compactness in the midfield four before stepping out to pressure their opposite full-back if they got on the ball.
This pressing was generally effective in limiting the opposition's time in possession. Derby's PPDA (passes allowed per defensive action) was the second-highest in the Championship last term – on average they allowed their opposition no more than 8.2 passes before being tackled, intercepted, or forced into a turnover. Only Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United had a lower PPDA number, while only five teams had a higher challenge intensity (average number of duels, tackles and interceptions per minute of opponent possession).
Lampard's attacking strategy with Derby was generally built around short passing out from the back and through the thirds. Within the 4-2-3-1 system the two central midfielders would stay deep and move in front of the central defenders, exchanging passes with them. The responsibility would often then fall to the centre-backs to progress possession through forward drives, accurate, line-breaking passes or switches of play.
Both full-backs pushed on to offer an outlet on their respective flanks, offering an option for diagonal switches of play to the under-covered far side or simpler passes wide when under pressure. Their advancements allowed the nominal wingers to tuck inside alongside the attacking midfielder and focus on occupying pockets of space more centrally and between the lines, creating forward passing lanes for the centre-backs to exploit.
Up front, the striker would drop deep and move wide to offer a passing option, combine with the attacking midfield trio and help Derby move possession into dangerous areas more effectively. They preferred to enter the final third through passes and combination play as opposed to crosses into the box; only three sides averaged fewer crosses per 90 minutes than their 13.
The data confirms Lampard's commitment to using the ball and playing out from the back. Only four Championship teams played fewer long balls per 90, while only five averaged more possession than Derby's 54.1 per cent. However, Maurizio Sarri's Chelsea averaged 62.1 per cent of possession, the second-highest in the Premier League. This suggests that, under Lampard, Chelsea perhaps may not dominate the ball quite as often as they did under Sarri.
One issue that appeared in the underlying data was Derby's struggles to create clear-cut chances. While they scored more than most Championship teams, their expected goals (xG) tally of 56.6 was one of the lowest in the league. Indeed, no team over-performed their xG more than Derby. This suggests that their goals came more through exceptional finishing or quantity of shots, as opposed to consistently getting good shooting opportunities. Some interesting numbers from WhoScored could help us to understand why this was the case – no team had a lower percentage of their shots from the centre, and no team had a higher percentage of their shots from outside the penalty box.
HOW WILL CHELSEA LINE UP
Chelsea lined up in a back four under Sarri last season, so the defenders should adjust fairly easily to Lampard's setup. David Luiz partnered Antonio Rudiger at centre-back last season, though he may find his place in the line-up challenged by the returning Kurt Zouma, who performed well on loan at Everton in 2018/19.
Marcos Alonso has always thrived as a wing-back, so could adapt well to the new manager's approach, which sees both full-backs advancing down their flanks when the team has possession. However, the more defensive Cesar Azpilicueta on the right may not be so suited. Reece James, who impressed as an attacking full-back on loan at Wigan in 2018/19, could offer greater dynamism on the right.
Lampard's midfield two will likely see N'Golo Kante paired with Jorginho in a double pivot, though Timeoue Bakayoko – who played well for Milan last season – could also be utilised. Further forward, Willian is made for one of the attacking midfield spots, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic and Pedro will compete for the other two berths.