Although the final margin of defeat tonight mirrored the first leg of this elongated Champions League last-16 tie, Frank Lampard found plenty more reasons to be happy than he did in February, not least that his team competed with Bayern Munich for long spells.
Following the 3-0 loss at Stamford Bridge in winter, Lampard bemoaned his team’s ‘lack of confidence’ on the ball, and when Bayern raced into an early two-goal lead at the Allianz Arena on an altogether warmer evening, the boss could have been forgiven for fearing a repeat showing.
But his young side showed character to get their way back into the game, and with a bit more luck the scores could have been level before a late Bayern double made the final outcome more emphatic.
‘We were caught cold early on with the two goals in the first part of the game, which is disappointing, but I want to focus on the resilience and performance levels of a lot of players in the team,’ said Lampard afterwards.
‘It is a good exercise for us, to look at a team like Bayern and the Champions League experience they have in their ranks, hundreds of appearances through their team, and we had young players in their debut seasons. Reece James went toe to toe with top players and put in an incredible individual performance.
‘I could see where I want us to go, for the good and the bad. We competed well in the game, we got to 2-1, and we then didn’t make the most of a couple of half-chances. Then we concede disappointing goals which were individual errors on the pitch. It was an interesting game, there was a lot of good, we are disappointed to lose, but we will be back.’
Lampard noted how much his youngsters will have learned from coming up against one of Europe’s elite
‘A game with this high-level opponent is going to stretch you and strain you, and it will be an experience for Reece and Callum and Tammy and Mason. What I saw is young players staying in a game, showing their quality and fighting until the end.
‘N’Golo Kante has played 50 per cent of our games this year, we’ve missed him badly, and he’s shown why he is the player he is with his level of performance, particularly during the second half.
‘The result isn’t nice. Probably most expected us to lose anyway, but we went in with the right intentions and we competed. I will never be happy with a defeat, but when you match up the two teams, and think about where we want to get to, it will take time. It’s not overnight. Now we take a rest, which the players richly deserve, we look forward and we want to improve.’
Almost a year to the day since our first game of 2019/20, Lampard assessed the season as a whole
‘It’s difficult to gauge expectations from within. I will leave that to people on the outside. There were many unknowns at the start of the season - players returning from loans, mostly in the Championship, and we lost the best player in the Premier League in my opinion - and for us to have come fourth, which secures Champions League football for next year, and to have seen the development of some of these young players, there are a lots of signs we can work on.
‘We know where we’re at. We want more than fourth next year. We have to be humble, work hard and understand it will take time, but what I’ve seen from within is a really good bunch of players that have worked really hard this year, and will continue to do so next.’