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Chelsea boss Frank Lampard may have satisfied Roman Abramovich for now, but knows the bar will be set higher next season

Chelsea boss Frank Lampard may have satisfied Roman Abramovich for now, but knows the bar will be set higher next season
Frank Lampard can claim successes and failures in a first year as Chelsea boss with a raft of mitigating circumstances. The real tests lie ahead as he puts his own stamp more firmly on a club with expectations to match its riches.

The FA Cup final probably gave Lampard one last lesson of the season in the cruel challenges of management last weekend.

A goal up early on, he suffered in the final hour of Chelsea’s domestic campaign as his side conceded from a penalty, lost their captain, then their goalscorer, to similar injuries within minutes of each other, fell behind and went a man down courtesy of a highly dubious red card for the unfortunate Mateo Kovacic.

Lampard was keener to question why his players had not performed better in the aftermath of missing out on his first trophy as a manager, only later referring to more of the conspiring circumstances that have rendered his first year in charge difficult to judge.

RT

Chelsea might have been expected to aim for more than a Top 4 finish under normal conditions and would have been expected to win a final against opponents in need of an overhaul, who finished well below them in the table.

But the transfer embargo they had been under until January, and the succession of misfortunes they suffered on Saturday, were reasonable excuses for shortcomings, even if Lampard didn’t choose to amplify them.

This season, Chelsea have won six Premier League matches in a row for the first time since their title-winning season of 2016/17 in November, giving themselves a nine-point cushion over fifth at the time.

They have also frequently underperformed since, sneaking through their middling Champions League group after salvaging a point from 4-1 down in a catastrophic defensive performance at home to Ajax.

If traditional Top 4 contenders Tottenham and Arsenal’s poor seasons allowed them the luxury of home defeats to Bournemouth and Southampton and a run of one win in five at the start of the year, they should also be given credit for beating United, Spurs and Wolves twice, not losing to Arsenal or Leicester in the league and knocking Liverpool out of the cup.

Owner Roman Abramovich has not been embarrassed by taking an obvious risk in employing a coach with no Premier League managerial experience, yet the 3-0 home mauling by Bayern Munich that is highly likely to condemn the club to an early exit from the Champions League is an indicator of how far they are from exceeding expectations.

Lampard will not care how he is judged more broadly for now. Fans who idolize him for his trophy-laden playing career at the club would have forgiven him even for a return to the Europa League, and securing Champions League football means he can look his employers in the eye having earned them a money-spinner, pulling power and prestige next season.

Chelsea’s future looks brighter than it did a year ago, when the moderately unpopular Maurizio Sarri had exited under a cloud of cigarette smoke, and Eden Hazard, by far their outright star and game-changer, had departed after seven years.

Now they have an increasingly established 21-year-old Premier League performer in Christian Pulisic, another potential Hazard successor in Hakim Ziyech and a versatile and mobile international forward in fellow new signing Timo Werner, as well as the likely capture of Bundesliga magician Kai Havertz, the potential addition of England full-back Ben Chilwell and, undoubtedly, more quality signings.

For Lampard, the future is less certain, partly because of these names. Having finally had the chance to spend big, he will be expected to vie with a resurgent Manchester United – inspired by new signing Bruno Fernandes and, you suspect, more expensive arrivals – and at least close the double-digit points gap to Liverpool and City.

Only his most ardent admirers would deny that it is impossible to predict whether his work on the training ground, required in a vanishingly small break between now and the resumption, will be able to fulfill his stated desire of moving closer to emulating the dramatic improvements overseen by Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp at their title challengers.

The goodwill towards the club legend will remain no matter how he fares, but it would be an exaggeration to say that a promising yet flawed first year would buy him another season were he to orchestrate another inconsistent showing domestically and in Europe.

The curious statistic that his record at Chelsea is exactly the same – right down to goals for and against – as it was at Derby is a reflection of a coach playing on par again, having also lost 2-1 at Wembley when he failed at the last to lead his former club to promotion last season.

Narrow defeats or not, there is likely to be far less ambiguity in assessing Lampard next time around.

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