Frank Lampard’s tenure as Chelsea manager is only a matter of games old, yet there is a palpable air of excitement surrounding the Blues; the buzz is truly back at the Bridge.
A 1-1 draw in his inaugural game in charge against Bohemians was coupled by a thoroughly dominant 4-0 triumph against St Patrick’s. In truth, the margin of victory should have been higher, and the Blues, notably the XI in the first half, impressed with some magnificent free-flowing football.
Since seizing his dream position as Chelsea boss, Lampard has repeatedly spoken of his eagerness to give everyone a chance to impress, with the term ‘clean slate’ becoming a familiar soundbite.
To his credit, the 41-year-old played with a different starting XI in each of his first four halves in charge, while also alternating formations. Chelsea played with a diamond in midfield in the first half before switching to 4-3-3 in the second period against St Patrick’s.
The Chelsea icon has stayed true to his word and has adapted strategies to accommodate his players’ strengths – a quality that was seldom seen during Maurizio Sarri’s tenure.
Naturally, pre-season denotes an opportunity to experiment and predict fortunes for the coming season, and one player that could benefit significantly from Lampard’s presence is Ross Barkley.
That said, Sarri relied on the Englishman heavily last campaign, as he made 48 appearances in all competitions for the Blues. Furthermore, Barkley even proclaimed that he would be a better player had Sarri managed him sooner, and yet, concurrently, it seemed that the Italian’s rigorous system curtailed his greatest attributes.
As Eden Hazard identified following Chelsea’s 3-0 triumph against Southampton last season, one of Barkley’s most potent attributes is his dribbling ability. Hazard said, as reported by the Evening Standard,
“If you give him the freedom to play and the confidence on the pitch, he can be one of the best in the world. He is powerful, can dribble, he is clever, can shoot and score — he has everything.
“I think he is a fantastic midfielder and if he has the players around him to help him play, then he can be one of the best.”
Freedom being the operative word in the Belgian’s assessment.
On far too many occasions last season, Barkley was forced to comply with Sarri’s stringent system, where contributing towards passing sequences took precedence over creative expression.
Aside from Hazard, most Chelsea players were forced to adhere to the system’s demands rather than display their intuition, thereby hindering Barkley’s attacking influence.
Upon joining Chelsea, the 25-year-old revealed in his first interview his aptness of playing in every midfield position; a quality enabled in part by his superb dribbling qualities. However, he was restricted to 0.6 dribbles per game in the league last season, hardly befitting of his skill set.
His move to London has secured his return to the international scene, and many followers of the game have observed that Barkley plays with more freedom for England than Chelsea.
Love how many players are better for England than their clubs under Southgate. First time in about 20 years that has been the case.
Ross Barkley actually looks like himself out there rather than the badly programmed robot he is at Chelsea.#engcze
— Sam Street (@samstreetwrites) March 22, 2019
Even with 4-2-3-1, Jorginho was top class today. Earns MoTM imo, Barkley looked more like the player we’ve seen in an England shirt in the No.10 role.
— ♠ (@ChelsExperience) July 23, 2019
Anyone that watched Barkley play for England last year has to be optimistic for him on this new formation. Two totally different players from one system to the other one.
— Alberto De Armas (@AldearmasCFC) July 25, 2019
He really isn’t he looked lost last game, Barkley was putting in masterclasses for England playing as a 10 and Chelsea fans last season was saying why doesn’t he do that for us, you will see this season if he plays as a 10 he is going to be one of our best players.
— JF5 (@ChelseaJF5_) July 23, 2019
In his first two games as manager, Lampard has displayed commendable tactical versatility and openness to altering strategies; such a progressive mindset could be of immeasurable benefit to Barkley.
A total of five goals in all competitions is patently insufficient for a midfielder regarded for his attacking prowess, but who better to nurture Barkley’s goal-scoring capability than a man revered for being the greatest scoring midfielder of his generation?
Conceivably, the former Everton midfielder could be the primary beneficiary of Lampard’s move to the Chelsea dugout.
This isn’t an attempt to delegitimise the quality of Chelsea’s other midfielders or depress Lampard’s ability to utilise his creative stars, but one senses that Barkley will be truly liberated, and, resultantly, able to demonstrate his best under Lampard’s guidance.
Mason Mount – who has signed a new five-year deal at Chelsea – has already reaped the benefits of Lampard’s expertise, proving to be an instrumental member of the Derby side that reached the playoff final, where he contributed towards 15 league goals, nine goals and four assists.
The task for him is to demonstrate his worthiness to play for the Blues this coming season.
Similarly, Ruben Loftus Cheek – who is sidelined through injury until December – enjoyed a tremendous campaign last season, scoring six in the league, clearly benefiting from Sarri’s ability to maximise output from creative players, as Pedro and Hazard‘s increased attacking contributions can attest).
The 23-year-old scored ten goals and registered five assists in all competitions last season, a fantastic return for a midfielder. Lampard will be expected to help the midfielder maintain, and challenge him, to better his attacking contributions once he returns to fitness.
Unlike Mount and Loftus-Cheek, Barkley doesn’t begin the season from a position of strength.
Towards the latter stages of the campaign, Barkley was an unused substitute in five of Chelsea’s last ten league games, with Sarri favouring Loftus-Cheek (before his injury) and Mateo Kovacic ahead of the English international.
The 25-year-old needs rejuvenation, and given the immense competition that he faces for a place in Lampard’s midfield, it wouldn’t be hyperbolic to suggest that he’s fighting for his Chelsea career.
With Ruben Loftus-Cheek injured until Christmas, and considering that Kovacic, Kante and Jorginho aren’t renowned for their goal-scoring mastery; there is a genuine opportunity for Barkley to establish himself as the Blues’ leading attacking midfielder.
In his first interview with Chelsea, Barkley spoke of his desire to emulate Frank Lampard.
Now, the Blues legend is the man to propel Barkley’s career and help the Englishman to realise his unfulfilled potential.