Frank Lampard knows the demands of being a Chelsea manager under Roman Abramovich more than most having played for nine different coaches during his playing career at Stamford Bridge.
Now Lampard is the man in the firing line after Sunday’s 3-1 defeat to Manchester City capped a run of one win in six games that looks to have extinguished any hope of a Premier League title challenge.
Much more was expected of the Blues after a £220 million ($300 million) spending spree in the transfer market at a time when most of European football’s major powers were scaling back due to the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
After bankrolling the purchases of Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell and Edouard Mendy, Abramovich will have expected more than Chelsea’s position of eighth in the table nearly halfway through the season.
Patience has not been a virtue of the Russian’s 18-year reign as Chelsea owner and even a club legend like Lampard, who is the club’s all-time top goalscorer, is unlikely to be afforded much more time to turn the situation around.
The Athletic reported on Sunday that Chelsea are already lining up suitable candidates should the 42-year-old be sacked.
Lampard does have some credit in the bank from his first season in charge, which took the club back into the Champions League despite a transfer ban and the sale of Eden Hazard to Real Madrid.
But expectations have changed since the summer spending spree, even if Lampard has always cautioned Chelsea will need more time to match the standards set by Liverpool and City in recent seasons.
“The expectations are different this year because everyone looks and says ‘you spent this amount of money’,” Lampard said after a fourth defeat in six games.
“The reality is a lot of the players that have come in are new, young, have been injured, or not played together. There are a lot of expectations that are not real.”
But the manner of defeat to a City side depleted by coronavirus infections and who have struggled to score goals this season, offered little sign of what Lampard is trying to build towards.
Chelsea’s failure to launch a title challenge is all the more disappointing as Liverpool and City’s standards have dropped in an unusual season, opening the door to the chasing pack.
As Manchester United and Tottenham have stepped forward to close the gap, Chelsea are trailing Leicester, Aston Villa and Everton, leaving Lampard with the lowest points-per-game tally of any manager in the Abramovich era.
The former England international’s relationship with his players has also been questioned since his public rebuke of their attitude and commitment in a 3-1 defeat to Arsenal last weekend has not summoned the response he hoped for.
Instead there were more examples of lethargy as Ziyech watched on, while Kevin De Bruyne surged past him to score City’s third goal inside 35 minutes.
Lampard’s inability to summon the best from some of his big money buys has reportedly caused concern among the Chelsea hierarchy.
For the fourth consecutive game, the club’s record signing Havertz only appeared as second-half substitute despite his side’s struggles, while Werner, prolific in his time with RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga, has now failed to score in 13 games.
Lampard has been given the tools to build a team capable of much more than they have shown in the past month.
Now time is of the essence to start delivering if he is to ward off the same fate as so many Chelsea managers that have gone before him.