Going back to basics. That’s what Frank Lampard believes his Chelsea side need to do if we are to rediscover our autumn form.
It is natural that during difficult spells teams fall back on their natural identity: what makes them tick and forms the basis of their strategy. For Lampard, seeking to guide the Blues into the fifth round of the FA Cup today, it is fitness and energy on which his sides are built.
‘When you’re playing well and winning, your identity is really clear and you want to shout it from the rooftops,’ he explained.
‘When you’re not playing so well, people question your identity, particularly when you’re a relatively new manager. So it’s important I hold that dear and say ‘you know what lads, things we were doing well, and the identity that was winning us games, has not changed, but we have to go back to something because we have lost some of the basics’.
‘I was listening to [James] Maddison speaking after the Leicester game, and he spoke about Brendan Rodgers, a coach I have a lot of admiration for, and his message that if you don’t run, you don’t play. If I want to start my identity, that’s where I start.
‘Last year we had trips to Dublin and Japan in pre-season and it was all about can we run and be good and effective on and off the ball, and have energy in the team,’ Lampard added. ‘That’s the first thing I want to see, and something we have definitely dropped off on.
‘We have seen this year we have full-backs who can do their defensive job but also really join in and get forward, help us in wide areas, and then our wingers can get inside and we can play with pace and energy. I walked off the pitch against Leeds, and against Sevilla with 10 changes, and that was the team I want to see.
‘That was six weeks ago, so it’s remembering the basics and then identity follows.’
One man who certainly can’t be accused of a lack of running, energy or efficiency right now is Mason Mount. Having started all but two of our domestic fixtures this season, Lampard considered if today’s FA Cup tie could present an opportunity to rest the young midfielder with lots of midweek league action ahead.
‘He is crucial to the team. It’s a fine balance finding rest for players who are crucial to the team, so we will see. At the moment he is the player in the team playing with confidence and with a work ethic. So he stays in the team for that.
‘It is similar to what he turns out all the time for Chelsea, but now he is getting recognition for it. He is growing. Tough times are sometimes good for young players. They see how other players react and the right way to react.
‘People ask me why I wouldn’t change the team, but when players are playing well, I have no problem to keep playing them. Of course at some stage you look for moments to rest because of the amount of games we are playing, but on the flipside Mason is as fit as they come. He does everything right, so if anyone can handle games and minute it’s him.’
Mount is one of eight Chelsea Academy graduates Lampard has handed a Blues debut to since his appointment in the summer of 2019, with many of those becoming regulars in his team since their breakthrough. That aspect of the job he has done at Stamford Bridge particularly pleases to him.
‘I’m proud of that,’ he acknowledged.
‘I mentioned last year I didn’t want us to become an Academy club, we want to win things, but when I came back here I made the conscious decision to look at the younger players, because we had a good batch, but also give them the opportunity to show they can get in the team.
‘That wasn’t something I had to do. People talked about the ban, but Mason Mount got in midfield ahead of seasoned internationals, similarly Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori, and Reece James.
‘I trusted in them and then they came and produced in the team, so they should take a lot of credit for that as well.
‘Having been here for a long time as a player and seen a lot of young players get towards the first team squad, maybe come and train with us and then not get then opportunity to play, I felt it was a really important thing for players to come through the Academy because they really feel the club.
‘That’s a lovely trait to bring into the first team squad, so it’s been a massively positive thing.’