Frank Lampard returns to the venue of his first match as Chelsea manager on Saturday hoping for a very different result to the 4-0 defeat he suffered against Manchester United at Old Trafford on August 11, 2019.
An awful lot has changed in the 14 months since then, with the coronavirus pandemic meaning there will be 73,620 fewer fans in the ground, but the problems facing Lampard at full-time remain largely the same.
Despite what the scoreline suggests, Chelsea controlled the game, particularly in the first half. They had 54 per cent possession, 18 shots to United’s 11 and seven on target to their five. While it would be a stretch to say they dominated, Lampard was left feeling they could have earned at least a draw on another day. Instead, they were punished for defensive lapses by a Marcus Rashford brace, with Anthony Martial and Dan James also getting on the scoresheet.
Frank Lampard is embraced by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ahead of his first match as Chelsea boss
Lampard’s Chelsea players look dejected as they slip to a 4-0 defeat in August 2019
Marcus Rashford buries a first-half penalty to give United the lead against Chelsea
Anthony Martial beats Kepa Arrizabalaga to put United 2-0 up at the start of last season
MANCHESTER UNITED 4-0 CHELSEA – 11/8/19
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Pogba; Lingard (Mata 86), Pereira (James 74), Rashford (Greenwood 86); Martial.
Goals: Rashford 18 (pen) & 67, Martial 65, James 81.
CHELSEA (4-2-3-1): Kepa; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Zouma, Emerson; Jorginho (Kante 73), Kovacic; Pedro, Mount, Barkley (Pulisic 58); Abraham (Giroud 66).
Last season was in essence a free hit for Lampard, with Chelsea’s year-long transfer ban meaning that expectations were as low as they had ever been in the Roman Abramovich era. To finish fourth then, claiming a Champions League spot ahead of London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal, was a decent return for the rookie Blues boss. Their defensive record, however, was only the 11th-best in the league, with 50 more goals conceded after their opening-day 4-0 defeat by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United.
To have conceded nine goals in five games already this season then, six of those coming in 3-3 draws with Southampton and West Brom, is a worrying sign that little has changed under Lampard.
What has changed, however, are those expectations. If last season was a free-hit given the transfer ban, as Lampard blooded youngsters Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Reece James and Fikayo Tomori, this season must see improvement with Chelsea’s £231million summer spending spree the highest ever by any Premier League club in a single window.
It is safe to assume Abramovich won’t be quite so pleased with fourth place and 54 goals conceded this season, and certainly not with a heavy defeat at Old Trafford.
Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea celebrates during their 4-0 win over Chelsea
Saturday night’s match then, as early in the season as it is, holds symbolic significance for Lampard, to show that Chelsea are moving in the right direction, not just with regards to their defending, but to their finishing too.
Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech were the marquee signings this summer, brought in to sharpen up the attack and work with those youngsters. Chelsea are delivering on that front, with 13 goals scored already, Werner and Havertz improving each game and Ziyech returning to fitness to offer a different dimension cutting in from the right.
There are signs of improvement in the defence too, despite throwing away two points against Southampton last time out. Blues optimists will point to the fact that Kepa Arrizabalaga, the error-prone goalkeeper who has been dropped by Lampard, was been in between the sticks for that game and was at his shaky worst.
Edouard Mendy has made an impressive start to life at Chelsea after signing from Rennes
Chelsea spent big in the summer on the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Ben Chilwell
Promisingly, their new No 1 Edouard Mendy returned from injury for Tuesday night’s draw with Sevilla in the Champions League and delivered his second clean sheet in three matches in all competitions. The only goal he has conceded was against Tottenham in the Carabao Cup. He appears to be striking up a decent understanding with fellow French speakers Thiago Silva and Kurt Zouma in front of him.
That trio will be tested by Rashford, Martial and Co on Saturday, but United fans were hoping to have at least one more attacking star to add to their ranks in the summer, with a bid to sign Jadon Sancho from Dortmund failing in a very public way. Solskjaer instead had to make do with Silva’s former PSG team-mate, veteran striker Edinson Cavani, as his main late-window signing. He may still not be ready for first-team action having not made the squad for United’s impressive win in Paris this week.
Even given that result, however, there has been a dynamic-shift between the two clubs and managers since that meeting in August 2019. This time, Lampard arrives with all the expectation on him, with Solskjaer earning sympathy for the cards he has been dealt. With the top four race wide open, it is time for Frank to prove Chelsea are making progress.
Lampard walks off the Old Trafford pitch following last season’s defeat at Old Trafford