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Manchester City Away is a True Test of Chelsea’s Progress

John Dillon for Bookies.com

John Dillon  | 6 mins

Manchester City Away is a True Test of Chelsea’s Progress

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Frank Lampard will be looking down upon Manchester City when he makes his first trip there as a manager this weekend.

Not in the sense of being cocky or superior but with his Chelsea team a place above Pep Guardiola’s side in the Premier League.

Nobody expected this at the start of the season when Lampard, a rookie manager at elite level with just one season’s dug-out experience, took charge at Stamford Bridge for what was billed as merely a “transitional” season.

Yet Chelsea are third and City are fourth which is the lowest they have been placed since September 4 last year.

In the Saturday evening televised fixture, Lampard’s side will be aiming to build upon a run of six straight league wins. They have also scored an impressive away success at Ajax in the Champions League during that spell.

This is not a bad start from a young coach who was favourite to be the first to be sacked in 2019-20 after his appointment in July. Now, only four months later, he is being talked about as a potential next England manager.

City Winless In Last Two

Guardiola, meanwhile, has more food for thought than usual. By the time Chelsea arrive, he will have had 13 days during the international break to stew over City’s most recent result, the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on November 10 which some believe has already signalled that the title race is more or less settled in Anfield’s favour.

This came immediately after a 1-1 draw away against the comparative minnows of Atalanta in the Champions League. By City’s standards, a sequence of two games without a win represents a worry.

It is a statistic which adds extra intrigue to a meeting with Chelsea already more finely balanced than many would have expected it to be – as it marks the return of Lampard to a club where he spent a swansong season in the Premier League in 2014-15 after leaving Chelsea.

More absorbingly, this is the collision of a young, new-ish manager with a long-established leader of big teams with no fewer than 25 major trophies to his name – including two Champions League triumphs.

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It was Paddy Power who feared for Lampard’s future prospects when they made him 6/1 joint favourite with Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to be first for the chop back in July. Betfair rated him at 5/6 to leave before the end of the campaign.

This week BetVictor priced Lampard at 100/1 for the bullet. William Hill call it at 66/1. Some shift.

In the wake of Pochettino’s departure from Spurs, Arsenal’s Unai Emery is now favourite to be the next premier league manager sacked – at 6/4 with both Ladbrokes and Coral.

Chelsea Past and Present

Guardiola has been a visionary and a revolutionary. Lampard’s most notable impact in his short time at Chelsea has been to mark himself out as a coach similarly equipped with the strength of character to pursue his own brave and bold ideas.

In his promotion of youthful English talents like Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori, Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi, Lampard has quickly broken the mould in London SW6.

In all the previous years of the Roman Abramovich regime, Chelsea was the club which bought expensive, seasoned internationals from abroad and inserted them into what was basically, a big, rumbling winning machine.

It was a hugely successful policy. The club won everything in sight, most of it more than once. 

Now Chelsea have undergone an image re-boot. They are no longer feared but unpopular (with the title of London’s most disdained outfit now probably headed to Tottenham Hotspur following the arrival of Jose Mourinho as their new head man on Wednesday).

No team wants to be liked too much, of course. Lampard, with a bulging collection of major medals, knows what it takes to be a winner as a player. It isn’t love and affection.

But Chelsea seems like a football team again, if you like – rather than some monolithic engine of power remote-controlled from an Oligarch’s yacht.

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The analysts are impressed by Lampard’s work. Chelsea are now slated behind only City and Liverpool – and head of second-placed Leicester – for a premier league top four finish..

Ladbrokes make them 1/5 to secure one of those Champions League qualifying places while its 1/7 with Betfair and Paddy Power.

Meanwhile, Liverpool are now 2/5 title favourites with Bet365, Ladbrokes and Marathon Bet ahead of City – who are at 9/4 with Unibet and Betfred.

Question marks are placed by the sceptics against Lampard’s achievements so far following his initial season as a boss at Derby County in 2018-19. They deride the six-match run of wins for being secured against so-called soft opposition.

The sequence began after a home defeat by Liverpool on September 22 with the victories coming against Brighton, Southampton, Newcastle, Burnley, Watford and Crystal Palace.

Although this list features none of the elite clubs, it is more notable and impressive than these doubters would have you believe. 

The key quality usually lacked by young teams is consistency. This is particularly true in a competition as demanding as the Premier League, no matter who the opposition.

Lampard’s Relentless Blues

Aided by experienced performers such as Willian and N’Golo Kante, Chelsea’s young players have discovered a relentlessness and the ability to find a way to win even in unpromising circumstances.

It is surely a testament to the manager’s power of motivation that these young players have achieved this – as well as to his willingness to back them.

The critics also suggest that Lampard’s faith in youth has been prompted by pragmatism while the club endures a two-window transfer ban imposed by FIFA (with an appeal against it heard on Wednesday).

The idea is wrong because Chelsea’s hierarchy have been set on changing their DNA for some time now.

The prior appointments of Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri suggested the boardroom had a tough time tearing itself away from the club’s tried-and-trusted style.

But it was Lampard’s willingness to back youth – already proven at Derby – which attracted them.  He has re-paid that faith so well some are even calling it a revolution.

Chelsea have been beaten by both United and Liverpool this season in their meetings with fellow Big Six sides. But with City stuttering and beset by defensive problems – and the Blues’ mood so buoyant – the stage may be set for Lampard’s biggest day so far in the managerial track-suit.

About the Author

John Dillon for Bookies.com
John Dillon
John Dillon is a freelance sports journalist covering, among other things, boxing and football. His work has appeared in The London Evening Standard and USA Today.