The beginning of an era. Here is everything you need to know about how Frank Lampard will want his Chelsea to play.

This is Part 1 of an article series on Frank Lampard’s Chelsea, focusing on the style and tactics we saw from Derby County last season. Part 2 — Roles and players will be coming out shortly. And there will be a lot more when pre-season kicks off …

Style of play and management

Frank Lampard’s style as a manager pretty much resembles Frank Lampard as a player:

  • Smart and quick movement to create space (instead of Sarri’s one-touch passing)
  • Get (players) inside the box
  • Take control of the game but don’t over-commit
  • A proffessional, committed and enthusiastic approach

He has talked about not copying other managers, but instead learning and being inspired by other managers, mixing it all together to find his unique style. His pressing for example is all Klopp; high press with high intensity and heavy focus on counter-pressing to quickly win the ball back. He has also talked about how he has copied Jose Mourinho’s tight, proffessional and well-planned approach to training and Carlo Ancelotti’s nudging man management-techniques.

But what most of us will remember his Derby side for is the togetherness, fighting-spirit and enthusiasm displayed by players, staff and fans. Frank Lampard created a collective that united Derbyshire, made everyone believe, and gave them memories that will last. All of this is perhaps best epitomized by something so incredibly far away from a cigarette-chewing tactician in the dugout as you can possibly come— “the bounce”:

As we say goodbye to tactical mastermind Maurizio Sarri, we are getting a less eccentric but more pragmatic manager, capable of mastering all facets of management; Frank Lampard values creating a strong culture and squad mentality just as much as he values tactical drilling or set piece instructions.

That’s his style.

Tactics and formation

So, let’s take a look at Frank Lampard’s tactics. Even if they are very different from Sarri’s, the formation will remain the same, 4–3–3:

It should be mentioned that even if 4–3–3 was the preferred formation, Lampard played 4–2–3–1 on several occasions, especially from the time Mason Mount got injured, and Lampard was left with an immobile and ageing midfield – arguably his biggest problem all season. I therefore expect Lampard to build around 4–3–3 and use 4–2–3–1 from time to time when fitness and form makes that the pragmatic formation.

Here, I will explain the most important characteristics of his tactics and patterns of play in his 4–3–3:

In possession

Like almost every manager today, Lampard likes his team to build from the back. But he does this in a rather different way to Sarri and most others. I have tried to break down one of Derby’s typical patterns of play that starts from the back:

Slow and steady build-up: Like we are used to seeing under Sarri, Derby’s goalkeeper starts play by passing to the defenders instead of playing it long, which can be illustrated by the goalkeepers’ average passes/long balls per game; Arrizabalaga 29/5, Carson (Derby) 33/7, Roos (Derby) 29/6. But instead of CBs pushing wide, FBs pushing up and a playmaker/regista dropping deep, they play out from the back in a “flat four”, where the CBs often receive the ball from the goalkeeper in deep, central positions. It’s the CBs and not the DM, that are mostly responsible for dictating play. Derby start building from deep with short passes in triangles between defenders and central midfielders, and try to move the ball further up the pitch without taking too much risk.

(I have seen many advocating Jorginho will be playing regista under Lampard, but Derby do not use the DM to control play. The DM is of course involved in the passing, but is far from being the orchestrator like Jorginho is for Sarri. The DM at Derby had more important responsibilities.)

Deep, flat back four playing out. Attackers have moved forward to stretch opposition, leaving lots of space in the middle.

Hitting the gas: When Derby advance with the ball, the front three will push high up to stretch the opposition and create space for midfielders to make movements into. That’s when Derby suddenly will go from slow build-up to energetic attack mode. CBs either bring the ball past first line of press or pass it vertically forward to the front three or a CM in half spaces — focus of play is almost exclusively through the middle of the pitch.

Quite often, the passes from deep are aimed at IFs cutting inside or CMs in pockets, while the CF pushes forward. That will be new to us Chelsea-fans, who for years have been used to seeing the likes of Torres, Costa, Morata and Giroud as the deep-lying focal point, dropping into midfield to receive and link-up with the other forwards before looking to get into the box.

(A side-note, and this is a big one for me: One of the reasons we have struggled at CF lately is due to the immense requirements of playing the complete forward role at Chelsea. With less responsibility, the focus will be on getting into the box and score, and a more classic CF role will surely benifit the likes of Giroud, Abraham and Batshuayi. CF goals may come a lot easier under Lampard than we have seen in recent years.)

Final third: When a Derby player receives the ball in an advanced, central position, we enter a more random phase of play where sudden creativity and inventiveness are key to success. Which of course is natural. But obviously there are common patterns and movements as well: When a Derby player receives the ball in the “hole”, the others will make recognizable movements:

  1. The CF will look to occupy the CBs to allow space for the one on the ball, for example by trying to get in behind.
  2. The IFs cutting inside will move towards each other, ready to interchange, play one-twos and even change side before getting ready to move into the box.
  3. The two advancing CMs will make themselves available either around the receiving IF or by moving into wide spaces: Mount for instance created several chances from taking the ball off the IF, advancing wide and crossing/cutting back for the other forwards.
  4. The full backs will move forward to wide, semi-advanced positions (trying not to over-commit, and rarely at the same time), and often find themselves with an opportunity to cross from deep (resulting in 17 full back assists).

Derby play with high energy, almost bombing forward with their front five and full back(s), and rely on improvisation, skill and quick decision making to capitalize on the space they make. Often, Derby finish off attacks with 5–6 players inside the box, which compared to Chelsea the past seasons should be about twice as many …:

Derby’s Tom Lawrence score, while they have 5 players inside the box against WBA’s 7.

Just like Lampard in his glory days, Derby shoot a lot from outside the box, and have scored an impressive 15 goals (17 %) from range, lead by Wilson, Mount and Lawrence. Expect several Chelsea players to stay behind after training to practice their shooting technique, just like their master did …

Even if Lampard succeeded with his tactics, I feel the lack of quality up front have cost Derby many opportunities, and it will be very interesting to see how better players will perform in this system.

Out of possession

High press: As mentioned below, Derby press in a very Klopp kind of way. Most fans knows what that is all about, so I will not go too much into detail, but Derby were very successful in winning the ball back both from defenders and midfielders. I think 4–5 of Jack Marriot’s goals were due to him winning the ball back and finishing off coolly, and it will be important for Lampard to instill the same kind of work-rate and fighting spirit at Chelsea. It certainly is easier to do so at a Championship club than at Chelsea, with star players in every corner.

It wasn’t hard to find an example of Derby players crowding opposition’s defense, winning the ball back and putting it into the net. Here, press is led by IF Tom Lawrence.

This pressing also involves playing with a high defensive line a lot of the time, and like Derby, we will rely on our CBs and FBs being able to recover and hunt down advancing forwards when the ball is played in behind us.

Losing the ball: When you send players forward, instruct them to get into the box and play with high risk, it is important to stop counter attacks quickly when the ball is lost. Lampard’s final third game is a game of fine margins, and Derby often lose the ball high up the pitch. That is why Lampard had to be measured in his approach of sending too many players forward; it was the front five plus maximum one full back that went into advanced positions, meaning he always looked to have four players behind the ball — a defensive “block” led by his DM. In theory, that should be a good balance, but this was arguably Derby’s biggest problem. They shipped goals from counter attacks all season. The one, big reason: lack of mobility in defensive midfield. The midfielders with decent acceleration (Mount, Holmes, Bennett) can not play such a defensive role. Lampard was left with playing either Tom Huddlestone or Bradley Johnson at the base of midfield, both 32, both without legs. At Chelsea, Lampard must find DMs that can better prevent counter attacks and lead the press when the ball is lost, if not this will not be a very happy marriage …

Summary of Lampard’s style and tactics

Lampard’s tactics are all about movement and high energy. It is forward-oriented with players instructed to get into the box. He likes to be in control and varies his risk-willingness; slow and steady on the ball in their own half, and inventive and risk-seeking in the final third. He is a manager who relies on a tight-knit collective, no egos, hard work and a never-say-die-attitude.

He has already spoken of his commitment to bring young players through, and will possibly even be evaluated on his ability to do so, but in order to succeed at this level he would need to find the right balance between youthful enthusiasm and the composure and decision-making of experienced players. Even if the transfer ban prevents him from buying new ones, he has close to 50 senior players to build his squad with, and should be able to find most of the ingredients he needs for the start of his Chelsea project.

In Part 2 of this article series, I will look at the different player roles, their requirements, and which players are good fits for the roles, both from the first team and the loan army.

Stay tuned and follow me on Twitter for more on Lampard and Chelsea @balance_bridge