When Chelsea last left Old Trafford 14 months ago, Frank Lampard had just fielded a flurry of questions about his team’s approach following a performance that was viewed by many as positive despite the scoreline reading 4-0 to Manchester United.
It was the opening day of the Premier League season, the start of Lampard’s reign in charge of the Blues, and the new boss was already the subject of scrutiny. Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham had started but was he placing too much faith in the young players?
The visitors had enjoyed more shots, more efforts on target and more corners but failed to score and conceded four so was the defensive setup right? Was this the start of a long and difficult campaign?
Looking back, Lampard feels the reaction to that result was quite exaggerated. There was no great introspection on the journey back to London, no doubts about the work he had overseen in Dublin, Japan and at Cobham in pre-season.
‘I certainly questioned the match because it was very easy to analyse as a pundit and I remember that well,’ the boss said this week when reflecting on that defeat. ‘It was easy to make a real dramatic reaction because 4-0 means one team were much better than the other.
‘Three days later, we went to the Super Cup final, matched Liverpool for 120 minutes and unfortunately lost on penalties. I saw a lot of things in that game against Manchester United where we were the better team and I said that to the players straight afterwards.
‘It was a game that showed me really good things about us and things we needed to improve. I was never going to look past the lessons it gave us as a team but I also felt a real confidence in the work we’d done over pre-season to get us to a point where we could go there with a personality.’
Over a year and 42 league games later, Lampard’s Chelsea return to Manchester with a fresh look, boosted by the arrival of six new faces this summer. The evolving group might need time to gel and click, just as they did last year before finishing fourth and reaching the FA Cup final, but the head coach has a clear picture of the team he wants them to become.
‘Last season was very positive for us because we had an identity as a team that worked very hard off the ball, created a lot of chances, tried to get higher up the pitch and made a lot of steps forward, while also knowing we needed to go further,' he explained.
‘We have new players that have come in this season and there has been a period where we’ve had to work again so I don’t want to sit here and commit to what my philosophy will be in a year or two years because the reality of football is that it moves on a lot. In real time, you have to work with the players you have and keep trying to improve.’
Similarities have been drawn between Lampard and his opposite number Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, both returning to coach at clubs where they enjoyed phenomenal success as players. Although Lampard is a little over two years into his own managerial career, this is the Norwegian’s 10th season in the dugout, making direct comparisons difficult.
‘Every Premier League manager will have their own issues to find solutions for so I don’t draw a line between myself and Ole,' continued Lampard. 'He has his squad and I have mine. We have some similar pressures and some different pressures. I understand the pressures of managing a club of the size that we manage and I respect him completely for that.’
Lampard also provided some further information on the injury that keeps Kepa Arrizabalaga out of the trip to Manchester.
‘Kepa’s injury was something that he picked up in the Southampton game,’ he revealed. ‘It’s a shoulder injury and it was something that he carried along on the bench in midweek against Sevilla.
‘He had a bit of pain in training so he’s had to take a step back this weekend but hopefully it’s not long-term.’