Hammered in Europe and on shaky ground in the league… How safe is Frank Lampard from ruthless Roman Abramovich?
Of all the managers to have come and gone during the reign of Roman Abramovich as Chelsea owner, it could be Frank Lampard who tests the patience of the notoriously ruthless Russian billionaire the most.
If the past is anything to go by, Lampard should be on incredibly shaky ground by now.
Hammered at home by Bayern Munich last week in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 first leg and precariously placed in fourth spot in the Premier League, Chelsea's last chance of silverware this season is the FA Cup, where they welcome Liverpool to Stamford Bridge in the fifth round on Tuesday.
It's the latest test approaching the business end of the season, as we see just how much credit Frank Lampard has in the bank with owner Roman Abramovich and his commitment to the project begun last summer, when Lampard was named the 13th manager of the Russian's tenure as Chelsea owner.
Lampard, 41, came in with just one season of senior management under his belt, having guided Derby County to the Championship play-off final last year, where they lost to Aston Villa.
The feeling was that this time things would be different with Lampard, that he would be given time and space to usher in a new approach at Chelsea, founded on the club’s wealth of young talent.
Thus far, Lampard has made good on that part of the bargain, giving significant game time to Chelsea’s youthful Stamford Bridge brigade.
Tammy Abraham, 22, has emerged as a revelation up front with 15 goals in 32 Premier League and Champions League games; Mason Mount, 21, is a midfield mainstay; Reece James, 20, is building trust at full-back; Fikayo Tomori, 20, is getting game time in defence; winger Callum Hudson-Odoi, 19, is set to star again after returning from injury.
Despite his fledgling days in the dugout, Lampard has already gained a reputation of a man able to nurture young talent, allying it with more experienced heads in the Chelsea dressing room such as club captain Cesar Azpilicueta, full-back Marcos Alonso, and midfield trio N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, and Mateo Kovacic.
But that approach has also been allied with inconsistencies on the pitch. Chelsea's current tally of 45 points is their lowest at this stage of the season since the 2015-16 campaign, when Jose Mourinho was sacked in December after a disastrous defense of their Premier League.
Lampard's Chelsea are way off the pace from last season’s final tally of 72 points under Maurizio Sarri, who departed in the summer despite having guided the club to a third-place Premier League finish and the Europa League title.
Any other manager at any other time during the Abramovich era, and you get the sense that Lampard’s position would be a dangerously precipitous one.
The FA Cup, where they host Liverpool on Tuesday, will likely be Lampard's best chance of salvaging some silverware from his maiden campaign.
It is also an occasion which Lampard has used to signal that he craves the kind of patience that Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp was initially afforded in forging his team into European champions and runaway Premier League leaders.
“We’ve seen the Liverpool journey and it’s an incredible story of management, of club, of club together with management,” Lampard told the assembled press on Monday.
“I remember them linking and raising their arms when they drew with West Brom (in December 2015).
“They were probably ridiculed for it then but it is now symbolic of the journey of a team that is now an absolute machine rolling everyone over – until last weekend (when they lost to Watford).
“So, it’s what a work in progress looks like. Behind a team that wins so many on the bounce is a lot of sweat and hard work which is what I am trying to do here, understanding there will be tough times when I’ll be questioned, they’ll be questioned and we have to stay tough.”
As a club legend who won everything at Chelsea during his playing days, Lampard has so far avoided the kind of searing scrutiny imposed on many of his ill-fated predecessors. He will continue to get the benefit of the doubt from the Stamford Bridge faithful, despite the up-and-down form of his team.
But far less certain is how much patience Lampard will be afforded by Abramovich, a man notoriously trigger-happy when it comes to firing managers.
The Russian billionaire has burned through bosses from the likes of serial winner Jose Mourinho to the amiable Carlo Ancelotti. Abramovich has only once allowed a manager to go trophy-less during a season and still survive for the next campaign; that was Mourinho during his second stint in 2013-14, and the Portuguese made good on that by winning the league the following season.
A season without silverware is what Lampard would be left contemplating should Liverpool beat his team tonight, leaving him to focus on the Premier League, where they stand just three points ahead of Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers in the chase for a Champions League berth.
Fail there, and it's hard to difficult to see how much leeway Lampard will have with Abramovich, even with the extenuating circumstances of this being a 'transition' season.
Lampard, to his praise, has orchestrated some impressive wins this term, most recently the 2-1 win against Mourinho's Tottenham at the end of February. He also guided Chelsea out of a Champions League group containing (an admittedly faded) Ajax, Valencia and Lille.
But on the flip side there have been chastening home defeats to the likes of Southampton, Bournemouth, and West Ham. The 3-0 home hammering by Bayern Munich last week was another rude awakening in how far the team has to go to return to the European elite.
As Abramovich watches on from afar, still not attending games in England after his visa woes in the fall-out of the Russia-UK row over the Skripal spy poisoning scandal, it’s hard to know what the Russian will make of all of this.
Logic would dictate that Lampard deserves another season at least to continue with his project, using the summer transfer window to recruit players to fit the profile of the team he is building.
Secure a top-four spot and Lampard will have just about made par for the expectations this season, bolstering the argument for him to stay on; add the FA Cup and that would be a bonus.
But anything less than that and you sense that Abramovich’s patience will be tested to the full.