Lampard remains a mediocre Chelsea manager; Blues are still a laughable football club

Matt Stead
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard reacts in frustration

Frank Lampard still is what he very much was in January 2021: a mediocre Chelsea manager. The mood of the fans and players was lifted for all of a few days.

 

The mood of the fanbase was raised, the spirit of the squad was lifted, the identity of the club was restored – for all of three days or so. It took less than half a week for the folly of Chelsea’s decision-making to be exposed as another manager was sucked into the vortex of their negligence.

Frank Lampard’s caretakership was immediately rendered pointless. The post-rationalisation which decided his interim appointment made ‘perfect sense’ was instantly proven to be as laughable as first suspected. Graham Potter never felt like a natural fit for the Blues but only the most naive, foolish, dense onlooker could suggest his temporary replacement looks more comfortable or suitable in this role.

A demonstrably mediocre Chelsea manager in January 2021 remains a demonstrably mediocre Chelsea manager in April 2023. It turns out that a demonstrably mediocre run as Everton manager in between does little to change that.

Perhaps therein lies the true justification for Lampard’s reascension to a throne from which he had to forcibly removed more than two years ago. Wolves, deserved winners at Molineux, are now only eight points behind Chelsea.

Time ought to spare the Blues from a relegation battle; their form certainly won’t. They have have won three of their last 23 games, have not scored in 284 minutes and are mid-table by a humorous amount of metrics. With trips to the Bernabeu, Old Trafford, Emirates Stadium and Etihad to come, a dreadful season might yet still reimagine what a Chelsea nadir looks like.

They warranted nothing more than what was garnered from this game. Lampard made two changes to the starting line-up Bruno Saltor picked for El Sh*tico against Liverpool, with Conor Gallagher and Raheem Sterling replacing N’Golo Kante and Ben Chilwell. That necessitated a change to a back four, in which Marc Cucurella looked almost impressively awkward. Wolves tormented and targeted his side early on.

Gallagher was bright and industrious. Enzo Fernandez and Joao Felix applied some pretty touches. Reece James showed flashes of his ludicrous ability. Wesley Fofana defended well. But Chelsea offered close to nothing. Thirteen shots might sound promising – indeed, unlucky to result in defeat – but eight of them being blocked and four missing the target altogether paints a more accurate picture.

Even those shoots of positivity could be unpicked with ease. Gallagher never once made the right call in the final third. Fernandez was tidy but caught in possession a few times. Felix slowed almost to a stop before his substitution around the hour mark. James and Fofana both made mistakes forced by the Wolves press, including the combined errors from which Diego Costa would have made it 2-0 had he not displayed the composure of someone who had spent the prior evening reading old texts from Antonio Conte, nor the confidence of a striker who has not scored a professional goal since November. Of 2021.

Matheus Nunes scores for Wolves against Chelsea.

Shortly before that point came the decisive goal. And it would be unfair to apportion much blame, such was the majesty of Matheus Nunes’ strike. Daniel Podence’s aimless cross was flicked on by a team-mate and then out by Kalidou Koulibaly, only to be returned with interest on the bounce.

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Nunes had a great game. So, too, did Matheus Cunha, whose head-in-hands reaction to the strike captured the moment beautifully. Joao Gomes was excellent. Wolves really should have scored at least once more but a couple of counter-attacks as Chelsea impotently imposed themselves were ended with wasteful final passes.

The only response Chelsea could muster were aimless crosses and a collection of yellow cards. Five players were booked for the Blues and five substitutes were introduced. None of the £182m worth of talent that rose from the bench could pierce the veil of inadequacy. Wolves defended well but they were hardly stretched.

Lampard has only had a couple of training sessions with the group but this was a discouraging, demoralising enough performance to sap any remaining semblance of optimism his comeback might briefly have engendered with players and supporters alike. This was as bad as anything Chelsea have produced since he was last in charge. But at least the board managed to distract from their malpractice for a few days by wheeling out the shiny legend and persuading some people they had come up with an ingenious solution to problems entirely of their own making. What will Chelsea do if Lampard wins them the Champions League? They really needn’t worry about that.