Paul Merson: Embarrassment of riches undermining Frank Lampard at Chelsea?

Paul Merson assesses the situation Chelsea amid mounting pressure on Frank Lampard in the wake of Sunday’s 3-1 defeat to Man City; Sky Sports pundit identifies key area of recruitment Chelsea must address to have any chance of winning the Premier League

Football Expert & Columnist

Tuesday 5 January 2021 16:00, UK

Paul Merson thinks an embarrassment of riches may be contributing to Frank Lampard’s struggles at Chelsea – but believes there is still one crucial area they need to reinforce in the transfer market.

Chelsea dropped to ninth in the Premier League after Sunday’s 3-1 defeat to Manchester City, which left them seven points off the top of the table after a run of one win in six.

Lampard and his players have faced criticism in the wake of the disjointed performance, and Merson believes the Chelsea boss’ struggles rest with his failure to settle on his favoured starting line-up…

Does Lampard know his best team?

“Chelsea are suffering from a major dip at the moment. Players are struggling, new signings are struggling, and four months into the season it appears that Frank Lampard does not know his best team,” Merson told Sky Sports.

“Frank has got to get a settled team. He knows his first-choice back five – Edouard Mendy, Reece James, Kurt Zouma, Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell – and that is solid. After that, it’s bingo and it’s clear he does not know his best midfield or front three.


“You would argue that N’Golo Kante and Mason Mount are next in the pecking order but that leaves Lampard needing to select four from eight internationals. Suddenly things start to mount up, and it’s hard for him to pick the right team.”

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Embarrassment of riches?

Merson added: “Last year Chelsea were under a transfer embargo, and Lampard had a rough idea of what the team was. But sometimes you can have too many options. We see it with teams who chop and change, week in, week out.

“What you have got to remember is that Frank is an inexperienced manager, he’s not Carlo Ancelotti or Rafa Benitez, he’s new in the game and this is the best group of players he’s worked with.

“At the moment it does not look like there is a plan, Chelsea look like a group of top players who have been told to just go out and play.

“Lampard went with the pace of Timo Werner, Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech against Manchester City but after the game he probably thought he should have gone with Olivier Giroud. That’s down to inexperience and learning.

“They need to ditch the 4-3-3, get Kai Havertz behind a front two, get two up front, play that way and cause teams problems, because as it stands things are predictable with Chelsea.”

Chelsea lacking leadership

Merson labelled aspects of Chelsea’s defeat to Manchester City amateurish and claimed it highlighted the club’s need for leadership on the pitch.

“If you look at Southampton’s performance against Liverpool, they all looked like they knew what they were doing,” he added. “When one goes, they all go, when one holds, they all hold. It’s like clockwork regardless of the score or the stage of the game.

“Contrast that to how Chelsea collapsed against Manchester City, I was so surprised. Chelsea played so well in the first half, got excited and then went behind. At that moment they needed someone to calm things down to stay in the game for the next 15 minutes, but they kept on playing, opened the game up and were punished.

“Something needs to click again with Chelsea because I don’t see a leader. Regardless of the instructions Lampard gave before the game, someone on the pitch has got to take responsibility.

“Kevin De Bruyne’s goal after Manchester City broke from a corner is the kind of goal you would expect to see in the final minute of the cup tie when you are losing and go gung-ho for a late goal, not 34 minutes into the first half of a match.

“It was unbelievable and the kind of thing you would not expect to see in an under-six football match. With the amount of talent Chelsea had on the field and on the bench, there was plenty of time left in the match for them to turn things around, but they shot themselves in the foot.”

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Can Lampard master man-management?

Merson believes the success of Lampard’s tenure at Chelsea, and his ability to transform their fortunes, could hinge on whether his man-management keeps his players onside.

“I watched Lampard throughout his playing career, and he would give his all every week; it did not matter if Chelsea were two or three goals down, he would go to the end,” he said.

“I am not being horrible, but these players he has got at Chelsea, while they may be of the same quality, they cannot match the grit and determination Frank Lampard showed in his career.

“He may have to bite his tongue but, ultimately, he has to accept that because the name of the game now is man-management, that’s the number one thing. If your man-management is good, you are always going to get a chance.

“All of these Chelsea players are internationals and can play the game, Frank isn’t going on the training pitch and teaching them a lot of new stuff. Man-management comes to the fore not with the results gained, but instead the manner in which he reacts to the game in the dressing room.

“If Frank goes into the dressing room all guns blazing, these players are going to switch off. Man-management is how you come in and react five minutes after a defeat, and whether the players accept it and have your back, or the players say, ‘he’ll be gone, we won’t’.

“The hard thing for Frank is that he doesn’t have 11 Frank Lampard’s who will run through a brick wall.”

Embarrassment of riches – but Chelsea need to strengthen

A recruitment drive during the summer transfer window saw Chelsea spend £226.1m on players to top the Premier League spending charts. Despite this, Merson believes there is still one crucial area that can be reinforced.

“I don’t know where Werner plays,” he said. “I think Chelsea may have signed him to play as a striker, but that is not working, and if his best position is off the left, then Chelsea need a centre forward.

“No disrespect to Olivier Giroud or Tammy Abraham, but you are not going to win the Premier League with those as your front two.

“Giroud and Abraham do great on their day, but they are not going to be in the top six Premier League goalscorers this season, or any season. How many teams have won the Premier League without having a player in the top six scorers?”

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