Some have said it out loud. Some have whispered in corners. But the noise has been growing in volume over the last two weeks. First there was a four-man shortlist. And there there was a five-man shortlist. Despite some who continue to protest that Frank Lampard should and will be given time by a changed Chelsea, the worst-kept secret in football is that Lampard will be sacked sooner rather than later. And sooner feels very, very close after sorry defeat to Leicester left them nine points behind the leaders, five points adrift of the Champions League places and, perhaps most damning of all, three points below West Ham.
“There’s only so much you can coach,” was Andy Hinchcliffe’s defence on Sky Sports and it will be an argument you will hear over and over again in the coming days and weeks, either side of what now feels like the inevitable sack. What can Lampard do about individual errors? That is a question only worth airing if those individual errors are sliced clearances or missed headers. But we are not talking about sliced clearances or missed headers; we are talking about a distinct lack of f***s given. You don’t need to be coached to close down midfielders on the edge of the box; you just need to be arsed. It absolutely is Lampard’s job to motivate those players and by that measure he is failing.
In fact, it’s hard to think of a measure against which he is not failing. The Chelsea performance against Leicester had all the hallmarks of almost every Chelsea performance this season: there was mayhem in defence and an utter lack of cohesion going forward. We still have no clue what style of football Lampard is trying to play. We only know it is not working.
We can talk about a summer transfer spend of over £200m. His defenders will argue that an influx of players has made it more difficult, while his critics will argue that spending those sums of money should absolutely bring with it the expectation of a title challenge. The dull truth is that Chelsea have got significantly worse, and no team should get worse in a manager’s second season, regardless of the personnel. It’s hard to shake the notion that almost any other potential manager would eke better performances out of these talented players. Brendan Rodgers certainly could, and Chelsea are fools if they rule out the Leicester manager – as they apparently do – on the basis of his comments in 2012.
Lampard claims that the “benchmarks have changed” at Chelsea in the intervening years, but surely he is not so naive that he believes Roman Abramovich no longer demands Champions League football from his managers? He absolutely does and right now, Champions League football feels like a fantasy. Of the teams above them in the Premier League table, only West Ham have been beaten by Chelsea. It’s hard to pin-point the worst element of that statistic. Against a Leicester side who now need to be treated as title contenders, they looked second-best in every department. They look like a mid-table side. They are a mid-table side. No Chelsea manager can survive that scenario for long.
Nine years ago, Andre Villas-Boas was sacked for being three points adrift of fourth-placed Arsenal having lost the support of the Chelsea players. While they were vocal about their discontent, the class of 2021 have shown theirs in a quieter but equally effective way – with a clear lack of motivation and discipline. It now seems inevitable that Chelsea will change their manager within the month.