The final whistle blows at Carrow Road.
The Norfolk sun is beaming down on the Canaries home turf and all in Blue are smiling because Chelsea have claimed their first victory of the season.
Frank Lampard embraces his players before strolling over to the travelling support who loudly chant their Manager’s name. The club legend is serenaded in adoration, even after a win – this is nothing new.
“Super Frank” was heard, with the same ferocity at the end of the 4-0 drubbing to rivals Manchester United on the opening day. Even after such a harsh reality check, there was no sign of division or grumbles from the corner of Old Trafford and Lampard applauded his fans once more.
By all accounts, Chelsea have had a below par start. A heavy defeat to a top four rival, a penalty shootout loss days later to an even fiercer foe and then the week rounded off by the Blues losing a lead to a buoyant Leicester side, who could’ve easily nicked all three points at Stamford Bridge.
However, reality often hides behind perception. And for once, this has benefited the Chelsea manager.
Even with the win taking four games to be achieved, the feeling around Chelsea fans might fool you into believing the club are enjoying a winning run. Since Lampard’s arrival, the word unity hasn’t become an irregular phrase on the lips of fans.
Speaking to fans in the away end at Borussia Park in Monchengladbach for the final pre-season friendly, it is clear that even with slightly lower expectations, there is a feeling that this is a really important period within the club’s history, and one that could lay the foundations for something deeper, which isn’t based solely on adding the trophy cabinet or splashing out on a glamour name.
Months removed from a season that despite ending in glorious triumph, was one masked by a feeling of disconnection, division and apathy towards the man in the dugout. I wrote many articles on that division last season, so in an effort to look forward its more beneficial to put a spotlight on the contrast within feeling from Spring to late Summer.
There is an air of optimism around Stamford Bridge that clashes with the otherwise precarious and uncertain nature of Chelsea’s summer business. A transfer ban and the loss of Eden Hazard could’ve created a gloomy cloud which loomed over pre-season, evaporating any sense of hope for the upcoming campaign.
However, Lampard made it his mission with his first interview and press conference as boss to place his faith in the squad he has at his disposal and the opportunities it presents him with. The transfer ban has not only given Lampard the benefit of time and patience, two things completely foreign to the Chelsea hot seat, it has also inadvertently smashed a glass celling for youth to break into the first team.
Chelsea’s academy graduates for too long have seen their paths blocked by the win-now mentality that has taken the club to the top of the English game under Roman Abramovich’s investment since 2003. To “cross the road” at Cobham from Academy to the First Team has been the apparent insurmountable hurdle at the feet of the club’s next generation.
Though with Lampard’s arrival, his words made it clear that he intends to make that path a reality. His predecessor, Sarri, despite his detractors did give opportunities to both Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek to break into his side in the later months of his tenure.
It could be argued the Italian cracked that glass ceiling, which Chelsea’s first English manager since Glenn Hoddle has now shattered by fielding one of the club’s youngest sides for over 25 years against Norwich. By believing in youth and embedding a true meritocracy within his team selections, there is reinvigorated sense of excitement about Chelsea and the direction the club is now headed.
Seeing the likes of Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham find the back of the net, running off in celebration together side by side for their boyhood club is a dream come true for many fans.
It’s crazy to think that the West London club could have as many as seven academy graduates starting for the first team this season, when the simple hope of the “yoof” getting a go would’ve been laughed at by those outside of Chelsea.
However, Lampard now has that opportunity.
One that maybe was a glint in Sarri and his admirers eyes. A chance to change the culture within the club to one of more patience, long term thinking and a belief in youth.
The club’s present culture is something Lampard will likely clash with in his opening nine months. Whether from outside sources or grumbles from his home crowd at challenging points throughout the campaign, this is the litmus test of the adored legend’s first nine months.
Can Chelsea be patient?
It is a question as big as any surrounding SW6, but its one that will need a positive answer for Lampard’s feel good feeling to truly have a lasting effect. Luckily, the early signs are really promising and with a focus on a core group of young burgeoning talent, fans have something tangible to cling onto throughout the process.
It appears this Chelsea side can be one the support will fall in love with, even if there isn’t immediate silverware to go with it – and that’s a step forward. If by the end of the season, Lampard has been able to blood several youngsters into first team regulars that will likely save the club upwards of £100m in a transfer fee for a foreign player, then that’s a success.
Frank has been predictably coy when setting tangible goals for his squad in public, which is the smart play. Although its not too much of a stretch to read between the lines to feel the 41-year-old believes Chelsea are capable of retaining Champions League football – even Hazard-lite.
Chelsea’s exciting and heart-filled performance in the Super Cup will give their new manager and all supporting belief this squad on their day has the capability to compete and look to best the toughest opposition the Premier League has to offer.
Style of play was all the rage last season, and although no early shouts of “Frankieball” will be found, there are small glimpses at what Lampard’s Chelsea might look like when fully realised. A high pressing, energy filled and quick moving outfit looks to be the intended principles.
By Lampard’s own words, he wants to see his side move the ball in fast fashion and attempting to move into and through the opposition’s half in a rapid rate. Something which was demonstrated in Chelsea’s winner at Norwich when a rolled ball out from Kepa after a saved Teemu Pukki shot, made its way from Barkley, to Kovacic who smartly found his forward Abraham who drilled past Krul.
A move that took 12 seconds and was deadly in execution.
On a scale of Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp, it would be easier to tip that scale nearer to the German in relation to Lampard’s philosophy.
Though it is worthy to note that Lampard hasn’t dropped all the methods utilised by his predecessor. In Istanbul a 4-3-3 replaced a higher-pressing 4-2-3-1 and featured of midfield three of Jorginho, N’Golo Kanté and Mateo Kovačić – a trio which started the Europa League final in late May.
When the game kicked off, Kanté was ahead of Jorginho who sat deeper in dare I say – a “Regista” role, cutting off passing lanes, controlling the tempo, receiving and helping our defence play the ball out and start attacks.
However this tactical decision barely got mentioned, when it became the ever-present argument last season over Kanté’s positioning.
Jorginho, in particular has benefited of his new manager’s arrival, allowing many to separate their negative feelings for a divisive manager with an assessment on a player’s individual performance. Once booed and sarcastically cheered when substituted, the Italian is now having his name sung by the away support thanks to that reassessment by many.
All of these factors are allowing a sense of unity and togetherness which seemed an impossibility earlier in the year when everything surrounding Chelsea felt completely fragmented. It is smart to lay some caution and perspective around the optimism. Lampard is still in the usual honeymoon period for a new manager, the sun is still shining, the season still feels fresh and the real grind hasn’t begun.
The slog of the winter months, with the added inclusion of Champions League football are still yet to come and it is guaranteed more difficult days are ahead for Lampard and his squad.
However, with the added benefit of the return of key players off the injury table in Loftus-Cheek, Hudson-Odoi, Reece James and Antonio Rüdiger all give exciting options in key areas, allowing for more strength in depth.
Whatever this season holds, the man in the dugout will have the backing of the support who are desperate to see him succeed. Everything means more with Frank in charge, every goal, every victory and even in defeat many believe this is a Chelsea they can be proud of.