Photo Credit: Chelsea Twitter
CHELSEA’S GERMAN DREAMS - 1
The Hawthorns had served as a graveyard for modern-day Chelsea managers though, in truth, reputations are being buried more often at the King Power Stadium these days. Frank Lampard watched his team slump to a fifth defeat in eight games from the corner of his technical area, the rain swirling in relentlessly and his mood anchored if he cut a lonely figure on the sidelines then his players, defeated and deflated, appeared just as helpless out on the turf. There was a sense of finality to Tuesday’s loss at Leicester.
Lampard did a fine job in difficult circumstances last season and achieved everything the board could have hoped he would, but, on the back of a vast wave of investment, this club’s expectations have changed. His critics will point to very little evidence of progression and argue that, with his coaching career still at a fledgling stage, he is floundering. The team’s tailspin out of a 17-game unbeaten run could leave them eight points adrift of the Champions League places before the end of the week. Change has been initiated at such points in the past, as Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto di Matteo — each ushered out shortly after losses at West Bromwich Albion — and Luiz Felipe Scolari could testify.
A delegation from the hierarchy watched on as an awkward selection, lacking in confidence and direction, stumbled to this fourth loss in five away fixtures. Among those in the stand were the technical and performance adviser, Petr Cech, and the chairman Bruce Buck. The director, Marina Granovskaia, was presumably watching from afar.
Those on the board have a critical decision to make. They will know the direction in which they want to take this team. All efficiently-run clubs are forever planning ahead these days, drawing up shortlists for worst-case scenarios in a cruelly fickle sport. In that context, it is understood there is a desire within the hierarchy to explore a German-speaking route when it comes to the next appointment, tapping into the influence of the Bundesliga. It is a path the club has never previously trodden, but there is a certain logic driving their thinking.
Jose Mourinho’s second stint in charge was curtailed after Chelsea’s last defeat in this arena a little over five years ago, a decision that hardly came as a surprise after a dismal opening to their title defence and the Portuguese’s insistence that all his preparatory work ahead of the collision with unlikely league challengers had been “betrayed” by his players on the night. Lampard’s language post-match was not as expected, but the criticisms of his side are being repeated too regularly these days. His team is “not doing the basics”, “complacency” has crept in, they are “not ready to compete after the transfer ban, the young players and the new signings”. It is all starting to ring hollow.
It is understood there is a desire within the hierarchy to explore a German-speaking route when it comes to the next appointment, tapping into the influence of the Bundesliga. It is a path the club has never previously trodden, but there is a certain logic driving their thinking. The principal reason for hiring a German coach is the presence of Kai Havertz and Timo Werner in the ranks, players signed over the summer at the huge expense but who are struggling, at present, to showcase their ability. New players need time — both are young and may go on to prosper once they have settled and secured specific roles in the team — and this rush of a season is providing very little opportunity for anyone to take stock.
Havertz departed Tuesday’s loss after a little over an hour of fruitless Endeavour despite Lampard having tweaked his team’s formation, from 4-3-3 to something more akin to 4-2-3-1, in a bid to offer the 21-year-old a platform behind the striker upon which to influence proceedings. Yet, even from a central role, he was peripheral. One neat interchange with Christian Pulisic aside, the game passed him by. He looked lost.
Those in the directors’ box are noting his toils. Werner, on the other hand, a player regularly selected but short of a form of late, entered the fray as his compatriot retreated and had a goal disallowed by the video assistant referee late on. He has now scored once, against League Two Morecambe, in 15 matches across all competitions. The striker ended Tuesday’s loss on his haunches behind the goal, feeling the effects of Jonny Evans’ thunderous recovery tackle which had choked out his most recent sight of goal, before hobbling disconsolately back across the turf to the dugouts for treatment.
Many of those mentioned in dispatches as possible candidates to replace Lampard — Julian Nagelsmann, Ralf Rangnick, even Ralph Hasenhuttl — have worked with the Germany forward at RB Leipzig. They might expect to eke more from the 24-year-old than he is currently contributing and would all presumably relish the chance to coach Havertz, who is so highly rated in his homeland. They will be familiar, too, with Pulisic’s abilities given his three-year spell at Borussia Dortmund. Yet the attraction to Teutonic coaches extends beyond the possibility that one might unlock that youthful trio’s potential. German-speaking coaches have seen their stock hoisted sky high by Jurgen Klopp’s successes. Chelsea, a club who have gravitated towards the flavour of the month before, coveted Klopp back in his Dortmund days, but his success at Liverpool more recently has merely added to the mystique of those who might be prised from the Bundesliga and have a similar galvanising effect. Klopp, in essence, has done for German coaches what Arsene Wenger briefly did for the French, or Mourinho for the Portuguese. The belief is his disciples boast similar qualities.