Chelsea manager Frank Lampard must feel like one of those Hollywood film moguls who have assembled a star-studded cast aiming to mop up all the awards at the Oscars.
But what if those headline acts get bad reviews or if the plot is unconvincing and the script wooden?
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Lampard is the man in the director’s chair trying to call the shots to produce the happy ending demanded by Russian owner Roman Abramovich He has been backed to the tune of £215 million, a clear statement by the Russian tycoon that he is fed up with Liverpool and Manchester City ruling the Premier League roost. He will expect results — and that heaps the pressure on Lampard to deliver success.
As Chelsea’s all-time top scorer, the smooth and likeable manager has a lot of credit in the bank with the Stamford Bridge fans, and his first season as boss went well enough with a top-four finish and a place in the FA Cup final.
Now it is different. Big spending raises expectations. A title challenge will be a must as well as a piece of silverware.
Chelsea lie 10th in the early table with two wins over Brighton & Hove Albion and Crystal Palace, worrying 3-3 draws with West Bromwich Albion and Southampton, and a decent 0-0 draw at Manchester United. The only defeat was at home to league champions Liverpool.
In the Champions League, the team struggled to impose itself in a draw against Sevilla FC last week before a flattering Wednesday’s 4-0 win at Krasnodar in Russia (and Abramovich in attendance). They will surely sail into the knockout stages, but will want to do better than the 7-1 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich in last season’s round of 16.
Despite Chelsea’s 4-0 win over Krasnodar, Steve Nicol urges Frank Lampard’s side to control games more.
The big plus for Lampard is three consecutive clean sheets, something which looked almost impossible two weeks ago.
Lampard is at last addressing the problem , with the experienced 36-year-old Thiago Silva emerging a classy organiser of that rather unstable defence. He was particularly impressive in foiling Manchester United at Old Trafford. Keeping the Brazil international fit and managing his game time will be crucial to Chelsea’s season.
Edouard Mendy has arrived from Stade Rennes to seemingly solve the goalkeeping issue. So far he has conceded only one goal in five matches and looks a far more secure last line of defence than the error-prone Kepa Arrizabalaga.
And England left back Ben Chilwell, despite a nagging ankle problem, has settled in smoothly.
Further forward, the manager has such an embarrassment of riches that it might be tricky to keep everyone happy or to decide which four of eight contenders actually makes the starting line-up.
Timo Werner, so prolific at RB Leipzig, has scored four in nine matches and seems to have the main striking role all to himself. He is quick and predatory but not a conventional No. 9 like Olivier Giroud (five goals in six starts at the end of last season) who has hardly had a kick, and Tammy Abraham, who has been mainly confined to the bench despite top scoring last season.
The young German playmaker Kai Havertz has drifted around elegantly and scored four goals already . He has also occasionally looked a little lightweight, losing and giving away a goal against Southampton. But, like his managers, he will deliver goals from midfield for Lampard, like he did for Bayer Leverkusen’s Peter Bosz. Havertz is a similar type to Mason Mount, who may now struggle for as much game time as his rich talent deserves. Are Havertz and Mount too alike in style to play together?
Lampard faces other dilemmas with his wide players. Christian Pulisic is probably in pole position to start because of his incisive runs and ability to create something out of nothing. Hakim Ziyech, player of the year at Ajax Amsterdam for the last three seasons, is fit again now and got his first start and goal at Krasnodar. His ability to serve up chances from the right with his wand of a left foot will be a tempting option for Lampard.
That leaves Callum Hudson-Odoi, the young winger who at one time was so coveted by Bayern Munich. He would be an automatic pick at most Premier League clubs, but not this one.
These are top players, some of whom have arrived for big fees. They want and expect to play, but not all of therm can. Egos will be bruised. Lampard has to make this team gel and avoid spirit-sapping media stories of discontented players . Not easy in this social media era. “We need to improve and we will improve. I believe in these players,” he has said.
A personal hunch is that Lampard is a lucky general with a knack of making things work and that he has too much quality at his disposal to fail. He will also know the price he is certain to pay if he falls short.
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