Frank Lampard looked despondent on the sidelines after Sheffield United scored their third in a damaging 3-0 defeat for Chelsea at Bramall Lane on Saturday.
Chelsea were looking to pull away in the race for a top-four finish but were reeled right back into the dogfight with Manchester United and Leicester City.
The defeat left them vulnerable and Frank Lampard showed his disgust at the level of his side’s performance after the game.
The Chelsea boss didn’t mince his words and admitted that Sheffield United were better than his side, and were mentally stronger than his players on the pitch.
He also produced a stark warning to his squad when he insisted that he learned a lot about some of his players during the defeat at Bramall Lane.
Chelsea broke from recent tradition to appoint Frank Lampard as their manager last summer as the former midfielder only had one season in his locker as a coach at Derby County.
A relatively inexperienced manager and a transfer ban on the club, the Blues made use of a free hit. If things didn’t work out, they always had the choice to sack him and bring in someone experienced who would have been given the funds to spend in the market.
Frank Lampard had enough credit in his bank with the Chelsea faithful when he took charge of the side and his decision to blood in academy players into his squad earned him more fans.
Following a tricky start to the season, Frank Lampard did manage to stabilise results, and Chelsea have not been out of the top four since October.
A tricky period in the winter when Chelsea lost five out of seven league games did put pressure on the young manager.
The former midfielder managed to weather the storm and his side has remained in line to qualify for the Champions League, which was the remit at the start of the season.
Chelsea’s decision to back him in the market with the signings of Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner also shows that Lampard has managed to earn the trust of the board and the powerbrokers of the club.
Chelsea are likely to get into the Champions League despite how tight it looks at the moment, and Frank Lampard’s job has not been under threat for some time.
But the scrutiny on his position is likely to be much more next season when he would have spent considerable money to strengthen the squad.
Next season is make or break for Frank Lampard and Chelsea’s defence is the problem
The transfer ban, the sale of Eden Hazard and the remit to blood in more players from the academy this season, lowered the expectations for Frank Lampard at Chelsea.
He was never expected to challenge Liverpool and Manchester City for the Premier League title with no money to spend. A finish in the top four was always the goal and he could still finish the season with a trophy if Chelsea go all the way in the FA Cup.
So far, Lampard has exceeded expectations and has earned the trust and faith of the Chelsea fans and the board. But time and again this season, his lack of experience has come to the fore in some big games.
He was widely exposed by Bayern Munich in the Champions League Round of 16 and three defeats against Manchester United in all competitions this season have been chastening.
Frank Lampard has managed to get his side to score goals and his handling of Christian Pulisic this season has been commendable.But the defence has been a major problem for Chelsea and Lampard’s inability to settle on a back-four has cropped up as a major issue.
The Chelsea manager should get sympathy as most of the defenders have struggled to cement a place in the team. But the 42-year-old has also failed to provide any stability with his management at the back.
He has constantly chopped and changed with players and systems at the back and it has left Chelsea with a soft underbelly.
Lampard has so far spent the money on improving his side’s attack and he will have more options to choose from upfront next season. But the problem lies at the back – specifically central defence and left-back.
Apart from Ben Chilwell, there has been little news about Chelsea signing defenders this summer. They are expected to spend big on Bayer Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz, who is another attacking midfielder.
There are suggestions that Frank Lampard is looking to add more physicality to his squad in order to deal with the problems his team have faced from set-pieces. But there has also been a lack of organisation, and the defenders have also struggled to keep their focus and concentration.
Lampard is also dealing with the problem of having a suspect goalkeeper in Kepa Arrizabalaga. The Spaniard is the most expensive goalkeeper in the world but also has the worst save percentage of any custodian in the league.
A suspect shot-stopper behind them has further added to the uncertainty of the Chelsea defenders, and it has time and again showed up in their performances.
With big money committed towards the signings of Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner and a big fee likely to be spent on Kai Havertz, it remains to be seen how much money Lampard will have to spend on the real problem – his defence.
The threat for Lampard is that the media, the fans and the board won’t be this kind next season. With Chelsea spending big money in their squad, the club will expect the Blues to at least be in contention for the Premier League title.
Chelsea can’t afford to be miles behind Manchester City and Liverpool and could come under threat from a resurgent Manchester United.
Flaky defensive performances and inexplicable defeats are likely to be scrutinised more closely and harshly next season and Lampard cannot afford to drop the ball.
Can the former Chelsea midfielder get over his relative inexperience at the top level of management and take the club forward next season?
Frank Lampard is aware of the culture at Chelsea, he would know that the board would not think twice before sacking him for a more experienced hand if things go pear-shaped next season.