The view from the top must be quite special for Frank Lampard. Especially if he’s brought his binoculars…
The Chelsea manager is spending his Saturday night looking down on the rest of the Premier League after a 3-1 win over Leeds United. Getting one over on Marcelo Bielsa, who is now lurking 12 places below Lampard in the table, will have been particularly sweet for Lampard. But sitting at the summit at the end of the day for the first time as a manager would have been satisfaction enough for the Blues boss.
Lampard might also be feeling pretty smug about Chelsea’s chances of staying there. They might not finish the weekend on top, with Tottenham and Liverpool both able to leap back above the Blues on Sunday. But Chelsea’s form means that they deserve as much as anyone to be spoken about as title contenders.
Given the sum Chelsea spent in the summer, perhaps that should be expected. No manager should get to finish in the top four, then have £222million lavished upon him without as a consequence facing the expectation of a title push. But as countless teams and managers have demonstrated, spending alone is not a guaranteed recipe for success.
Lampard has demonstrated in this early part of the season that he can hone that individual talent, whether purchased and produced, and blend it into team capable of taking on all comers in the Premier League.
The Blues boss has also had to identify and fix some Chelsea flaws. Given the scale of their recruitment, some unfamiliarity was inevitable in the early weeks of the season and that manifested itself in a deeply-concerning defensive record.
Had Bielsa been able to analyse and pick holes in the rearguard Lampard employed up until the middle of October, then Leeds might have had a field day at Stamford Bridge. But since conceding three at West Brom and another three in farcical circumstances at home to Southampton, Lampard has shored his side up to such an extent that they have accumulated eight clean sheets over 10 games.
That defence restricted Leeds, an attack that may lack efficiency but certainly not creativity, to only eight shots. In the previous fortnight, Bielsa’s men have rained 48 attempts on Arsenal and Everton’s goals and have averaged over the season almost double the number of shots per game that Chelsea allowed them.
The immediate cure to Chelsea’s defensive ills had the side effect of slowing down their output at the other end. But Lampard has now managed to concoct a precise blend between defence and attack. Since that calamitous draw with Saints, over 11 games in all competitions, Chelsea have scored 25 goals and conceded three.
In the Premier League, they have scored three more goals than anyone else with Christian Pulisic’s late strike taking to 13 the number of players in Lampard’s squad to have notched this season. The next best spread of goalscorers is nine.
It bodes extremely well that the most in-form goalscorer of them all is one who looked all-but-finished at Chelsea. As recently as the last international break, Olivier Giroud looked almost certain to be heading for the exit in January. But half a dozen goals of all type in the last week and a half have propelled the Frenchman to just one below leading scorer Timo Werner.
Werner himself was wasteful against Leeds on a night that he could have bagged a hat-trick. Kai Havertz was similarly off-colour, though unlike Werner, his performance was in-keeping with a sluggish start to his maiden season in the Premier League. The German attacker’s form must be one of few concerns for Lampard, but with incredible competition for places in his forward line, the Blues boss is spoiled for choice.
Chelsea’s credentials will be sorely tested over the coming month, when they face Everton, Wolves, West Ham, Arsenal, Villa and Manchester City. All, except Arsenal, have shown streaks of consistency this term though none quite as impressive or sustained as Lampard’s side. It may not turn out to be title-winning form but it certainly is the form of title challengers.