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As the finish line comes into sight for Chelsea in what has been a gruelling season, Frank Lampard is starting to reflect on lessons learned from his first season in charge. There have been many promising aspects, including an injection of youth, signs of an expansive style of football and an adventurous approach to the key battles against top class opponents.
So while “pretty happy” sums it up so far, the Blues boss is hesitant to get too excited, fully aware of the daunting gap that separates them from the top two of champions Liverpool and Manchester City – currently 30 and nine points ahead respectively, with both sides holding a game in hand.
So how do Chelsea approach next season and begin to chip away? Naturally, many assume Jurgen Klopp’s Reds will gravitate back to the pack, having accumulated an astonishing 120 points from 44 games in a near-flawless 18 months of supremely dominant football.
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Lampard certainly needs to add talent and the right parts to this incomplete squad – and the exciting additions of Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech might just do that.
But dig a little deeper and perhaps one of the aspects that has made Liverpool and City both so ruthless, dominant and able to churn out results over such a sustained period is the element of control they bring to games when under duress.
There is a trend here with Chelsea too: the cold treatment towards Jorginho as the pivot upon the Premier League’s restart, the first true run in that role for N’Golo Kante under Lampard and the declaration following the humiliation at the hands of Sheffield United that he would “not forget.”
Keeping Kante fit next season will undoubtedly provide Lampard with a pillar to build this crucial aspect all prospective champions should possess. Though he is not alone in craving this next step.
It has proven to be elusive for another inexperienced manager in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer too, whose Manchester United, despite possessing the irresistible combination of Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes, failed to close out Southampton on Monday. While rookie Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta has been forced to lean on a change of shape to address this inadequacy.
There have been countless examples of the Blues being exposed in this manner this term, though the recent away win at Crystal Palace perhaps epitomised it most.
A classic example of the need to seize this quality came once more on Monday, against opposition, in the form of already relegated Norwich City, that Lampard might have expected to put out of sight. Daniel Farke’s side, to their credit, admirably resisted Chelsea’s dominance, surviving on numerous occasions after Olivier Giroud’s header separated the sides on the stroke of half-time.
But nerves began to creep in as the Canaries, mostly due to Tim Krul’s heroics, entered the closing stages of the game still within striking distance of an unlikely point.
Emi Buendia brought trickery and craft in place of Todd Cantwell’s explosive bursts with 19 minutes remaining and Lampard noted an unwanted shift in the tempo of the game. Chelsea remained dominant, with 67.5 per cent possession, yet he sensed the control briefly slipping – prompting Reece James to replace Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta to switch flanks just nine minutes later.
“We controlled it well,” Lampard insisted after Chelsea’s victory. “It was one of the things that I was pretty pleased with.
“We moved Azpilicueta over to the other side and they brought Buendia on who is a dangerous player who comes off the line.
“We were attacking a fair bit still down the sides and I just felt it was time for security and security of pass.
“We had 10 to 15 minutes in the second half where we got sloppy and slow again. Passed back on ourselves.
“It is a trait that comes back in our game but we got out of that and finished it well.”
Eliminating it will become a key part of Lampard’s next pre-season, no matter the glittering array of attacking talent that arrives this summer. And success in grasping that control from game to game should see Lampard elevate Chelsea to the next level.
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