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Frank Lampard’s youth policy at Chelsea should be tempered with realism | Eni Aluko

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After losing badly to Manchester United on the opening day, Chelsea’s performance against Liverpool in the Super Cup, even if they did not quite manage to win, was very impressive.

It is hard to say at this moment what a good season would look like for Chelsea, with a transfer ban and a young, inexperienced manager who promises to field young, inexperienced players. The fact Frank Lampard is in charge, a man with so much goodwill from his time at Chelsea as a player, will buy the team a little time but what are the minimum expectations? I feel winning the Super Cup against such established, strong opponents would have made this season an overnight success. A good season for Lampard was only just out of reach – like a couple of the penalties Kepa Arrizabalaga got a hand to but couldn’t quite keep out.

Manchester United away and Liverpool in the Super Cup was a hell of a start for Lampard but now the real work starts: Leicester in a televised game on Sunday, followed by Norwich away and Sheffield United at home. It wasn’t necessarily a disaster if he lost his first two games but now there will be expectation: a bare minimum of six points from the next three games, or a the honeymoon mood will start to change.

His team selection for that opening game at Old Trafford made a statement. N’Golo Kanté, Olivier Giroud and Marcos Alonso were on the bench; Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham were in the side and a line was drawn between Chelsea’s new manager and his predecessors. It wasn’t just a team sheet, it was a manifesto: the new man in the dugout believes in youth and will give young players a chance.

New managers often like to make big statements right out of the gate and this was certainly one of those. But it’s one thing being a manager who is willing to pick young players, and another one playing them all in the first game of the season. For me it was not strictly necessary and when I saw the names of some of the substitutes I was surprised.

Kanté was the PFA and Football Writers’ player of the year the last time Chelsea won the league; he and Giroud are both World Cup winners; Alonso has played at least 30 games a season in each of the three years since he joined from Fiorentina and been a vital part of the team under successive managers. There is normally a reason why players are experienced and successful, and I felt Lampard should have been concentrating on building a solid, winning team rather than on making statements about his managerial philosophy. You can have faith in your best young players and demonstrate that to them and to your fans without necessarily starting them all at Old Trafford on the opening day.

The last time Chelsea appointed an inexperienced but popular former player in the hope he could win over their fans and unite the club was in 2012, when Roberto Di Matteo got the job and the first thing he did was drop Lampard and Didier Drogba for his first game. Now Lampard was in the dugout, and seemed to be following in the same vein.

The starting XI in Istanbul were a little different, with Giroud back in the attack and Kanté outstanding in midfield. Lampard’s comments after the game suggested the midfielder, at least, will be a key part of the team this season. He can be crucial in helping the less experienced players around him to shine and I think Giroud can do a similar job with Abraham. The 21-year-old could be great, and has got everything to be a top striker. He has the physique, he can finish, but Chelsea are at a different level to the clubs he has played for on loan and he is still young. He needs time to develop his craft, and in Giroud there is a player at the club who has been there and done it.

Perhaps when he picked his first team Lampard was focusing on the Super Cup and the opportunity to win some silverware, or maybe he was not worried about the consequences of defeat. Lampard has been promised time to bring through young players and build a successful team. The big question is, how much time? What does time even mean, in football these days? People talk about it a lot, but when you say you’re going to give someone time, is that five games? Ten? Promises are easy to make in the summer but a couple more defeats now and I guarantee that some will start to get fidgety.

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The bottom line is that Chelsea fans, as much as they want to see Lampard succeed, have been used to success for a long time. To get supporters and the top people at the club to shift their expectations is also going to take time. Chelsea have been a club that spends on transfers and expects instant results from teams full of experience. Lampard is going to oversee a shift in that DNA. It may prove harder than expected. He is loved at the club but if he doesn’t turn good performances into victories how long will it be before the fans start saying to themselves: “OK, it’s Frank Lampard, we are playing well but we’d still like to win.”

The fact Manchester City and Liverpool are so good is helpful for Lampard. He is the first Chelsea manager for some time who is not expected to challenge for the title in his first season. In that sense there is less pressure on him than there was on Maurizio Sarri a year ago. Eden Hazard, their best and most creative player, has left, there is a transfer ban in place, the champions are out of reach and he arrives with an enormous fund of goodwill carried over from his playing days. All of this has helped to generate realism and positivity but fans are fickle. Despite its youth my sense is that the squad are good enough to finish in the top four. The performance against Liverpool was extremely encouraging; now I hope for results.

Topics Frank Lampard Sportblog Chelsea Uefa Super Cup Manchester United comment Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via Email Share on LinkedIn Share on Pinterest Share on WhatsApp Share on Messenger Reuse this content


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