Frank Lampard will return to the site of his first game as Chelsea manager on Saturday in the hopes of a very different result from the 4-0 defeat he suffered at Old Trafford on 11 August 2019 against Manchester United.
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 Lampard faces full-time remain largely the same.
Despite what the score suggests, Chelsea controlled the game, especially in the first half. They had 54 percent possession, 18 shots to 11 from United and seven on goal to their five. While it would be hard to say they dominated, Lampard felt they could have earned at least a draw some other day. Instead, they were punished for defensive fouls by a Marcus Rashford brace, which also included Anthony Martial and Dan James on the scoresheet.
Frank Lampard is being embraced by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ahead of his first game as Chelsea boss
Lampard’s Chelsea players look dejected as they slide to a 4-0 defeat in August 2019
Marcus Rashford buries a penalty in the first half to put United ahead against Chelsea
Anthony Martial beats Kepa Arrizabalaga and leads United 2-0 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.
Targets: 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 essentially a free hit for Lampard, with Chelsea’s one-year transfer ban meaning expectations were as low as they’d ever been in the Roman Abramovich era. To finish fourth and claim a Champions League spot for London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal was a decent return for the rookie Blues boss. Their defensive record, however, was only eleventh in the league, with another 50 goals conceded after their 4-0 defeat to United by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on the opening day.
Having conceded nine goals in five games this season, six of them in a 3-3 draw with Southampton and West Brom, is a disturbing sign that little has changed under Lampard.
However, what has changed are those expectations. If last season was a free hit given the transfer ban, as Lampard bled young players Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Reece James and Fikayo Tomori, this season should see improvement with Chelsea’s £ 231 million summer spend, the highest ever by any Premier League club in a single window.
It’s safe to assume that Abramovich won’t be too happy 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 their 4-0 victory over Chelsea
Saturday night’s game then, as early in the season as it is, has a symbolic significance for Lampard, showing that Chelsea are moving in the right direction, not only in their defense, but also in their finish.
Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech were the squads who pulled in this summer to hone the attack and work with those youngsters. Chelsea are performing on that front, scoring 13 goals already, Werner and Havertz improve in every game and Ziyech returns to fitness to offer another dimension emerging from the right.
There are also signs of improvement in defense, despite the fact that two points were discarded against Southampton last time. Blues optimists will point out that Kepa Arrizabalaga, the foul-prone goalkeeper dropped by Lampard, was caught before that game and at his shaky worst.
Edouard Mendy has made an impressive start at Chelsea after a contract from Rennes
Chelsea released a lot in the summer on Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Ben Chilwell, among others
It is promising that their new No. 1 Edouard Mendy returned from injury for Tuesday night’s draw against Sevilla in the Champions League and delivered his second out in three games in all competitions. The only goal he got was against Tottenham in the Carabao Cup. He seems to be building quite a household name with fellow French speakers Thiago Silva and Kurt Zouma ahead of him.
That trio will be tested by Rashford, Martial and Co on Saturday, but United fans were hoping to add at least one more attacking star to their ranks this summer, with an attempt to sign Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho, which isn’t in a very public way. . Solskjaer instead had to settle for Silva’s former PSG teammate, veteran forward Edinson Cavani, as his main late window contract. He may still not be ready for first-team action as he failed to make the squad for United’s impressive Paris victory this week.
Despite 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 anticipation, with Solskjaer deserving of sympathy for the cards he has been dealt. . With the top four races wide open, it’s time for Frank to prove that Chelsea is making progress.
Lampard walks off the Old Trafford field after last season’s defeat at Old Trafford