Taking away the blue-tinted glasses and the benefit of hindsight, let’s image that—in the height of the summer—I had been asked what the gist of the articles would be come early November. I would be lying if I would have said with anything approaching certainty that they would be positive, never mind glowing. On the back of the sale of Chelsea’s best player and the transfer ban (even though they hardly came as a surprise), combined with the appointment of a very wet-behind-the-ears manager, the future was not necessarily looking rosy.
A lot of column inches, and even more of their online equivalent, were spent discussing whether Lampard would make it to Christmas, and almost all pundits were predicting a struggle. The word “transition” was being thrown around like pizza in the Old Trafford tunnel. Transition in football is a byword for a poor season dressed up to mean that next season will be better. Or even worse.
The way Chelsea operate, they should have had a lot of transition periods of late, but managers have tended to hit the ground running, the second season being the one where they have transitioned from a decent, top one, two or three team to one that struggles to make the top six. This time it felt different. Chelsea fans were welcoming back one of their own, a hero who bled blue and white—someone who was intelligent, understood the game, understood Chelsea and spoke eloquently about both. Outsiders were surprised and feared the worst, but strangely found themselves hoping for the best. This was a bold move from a club that had tended to go for the more obvious choices, even if they themselves were sometimes bold. After the first 90 minutes of the season, those fears appeared justified, and any homegrown optimism seemed pie in the sky.
Now, though, we are in early November, and suddenly Chelsea are in most people’s—and even bookmarkers’—tips for a Champions League Place. It is not just the points they have collected, however, that is turning heads and making headlines; it is the manner in which they have done it. Chelsea are playing with a freedom and a panache that has been lacking for years. Style is not everything, and you would be incredibly hard pushed to find any Chelsea fan willing to hand back any of the recent hoard of silverware in return for one that was easier on the eyes. It is too easy to simply say that the way they are approaching the games, and indeed playing them, is a result of youthful exuberance, fearlessness and even naivety on the behalf of the young manager and even younger squad. It would be doing a disservice to Frank Lampard and those players who have done so well for him.
Frank may well have had one hand tied behind his back due to the transfer situation, but it may have also helped out. That’s not because he was forced to go down the route of sending in the younger players (that was why he was brought in in the first place, of course). Most new managers live and die by their transfers; it is the easiest and most obvious way to see what they are bringing to their new club. Lampard has not had that pressure. Instead he has a group of players who have half a season, maybe a whole season, to prove their worth at the very highest level of football. That length of time is beneficial. Normally they would get 15 minutes at the end of a game to try and change it, or a cup game, where any decent performance can be written off as being against lower-league opposition or amateurs. There is the possibility that the ban will be lifted for January, and, if so, that will bring with it new pressures. As it stands, though, the appointment is looking a lot less like a risk and more like a stroke of something approaching genius with every match played.