Lampard following Sarri's tactics with N'Golo Kante
Background image: Inkiboo, CC BY 2.0
Any comparison between Maurizio Sarri and Frank Lampard is ridiculous. Both came to Chelsea with questions about their readiness to take on a top-six Premier League side but one had far more on his CV to justify the opportunity.
The Italian quickly built Napoli into Serie A’s second-best side and kept them in second or third place for three campaigns. Nevertheless, his experience was questioned as openly as Lampard’s single sixth-place season in the Championship. It continued to be questioned until he won the Europa League and returned to Italy where he was more appreciated.
Lampard replaced him to a much more enthusiastic welcome. That didn’t change because his debut match at Old Trafford went off the rails in the second half. His side responded three days later in the UEFA Super Cup, battling Liverpool to a draw over 120 minutes [speaking of ridiculous], losing only on penalties.
Sarri was completely open as a manager. He spoke his mind to the press, at one point questioning whether he could motivate the Chelsea players. He was equally frank regarding his tactics. Unique in their nature, they drew constant criticism. The manager remained adamant in implementing them, however.
At this early juncture, no one is certain exactly what Lampard’s preferred strategy is. That shouldn’t be a surprise. He is still learning. To his credit, he is willing to adopt other coaches’ ideas. One such idea is using N’Golo Kante in a more advanced role rather than as a shield for his centre-halves.
The tactic was Sarri’s most controversial in his time at Stamford Bridge. He brought Jorginho with him from Napoli. The Brazilian-born Italian international took up the deep-lying position that had been Kante’s. A playmaker rather than a defensive specialist, Jorginho’s job was to start the attack. Kante was pushed out wide, limiting his ability to disrupt opposing attacks and mandating he play a role in the attack.
Every arm-chair manager, including yours truly, questioned why their roles weren’t reversed or the two couldn’t set up in a double pivot? Sarri’s answer was that his way was best. Who among us listened when our parents said the same?
Playing Kante ‘out of position’ drew so much ire that you would have expected Lampard to be heaped with praise for restoring him to his proper place. Instead, it’s amazing he hasn’t been roasted for continuing Sarri’s policy.
The player nursed a knee injury during the summer. Only available as a substitute in last Sunday’s Manchester United tilt, the game was already lost when he came on in the 74th minute. He started in Istanbul against Liverpool, though, and played superbly from a wide position. Afterwards, Lampard did a credible Sarri imitation, an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips the only thing missing.
Frank Lampard says he will encourage N'Golo Kanté to play higher up the field.
(via @HaytersTV) https://t.co/pTEuYTpgsB
N’Golo Kante being N’Golo Kante, you wouldn’t expect him to complain. Point him in any direction; he will go there. Give him a set of instructions; he will carry them out, smiling while he does. His reaction to Lampard's choice, therefore, wasn’t a surprise.
I like to play in this position. This is where I played last year. The coach asked me to play in this position, I like to do it.
It’s only two matches into Lampard’s tenure. It’s possible that a particular opponent or an injury crisis may cause him to adopt a different shape. Kante might be asked to shield the defence again. For the immediate future, however, it doesn’t appear likely.
That the new boss sides with the old rather than a legion of fans and pundits isn’t that upsetting. We’re just the kids who think we know better than our parents. Jorginho at the base of midfield and Kante on the wing work well enough to win the Europa League and finish third domestically. That’s just something else about which we were all mistaken. What disturbs is that Lampard doesn’t take the stick Sarri did for making the same choice. It’s gone barely noticed.
It’s easy to say that’s because Frank Lampard is a Chelsea club legend. So is Gianfranco Zola. Yet, no one even thought to ask him to replace Sarri although he acted as the man’s number two for an entire season. Why did we all overlook Zola and latch onto Lampard as a replacement before there was the slightest inkling Sarri would resign? I don’t know. Why is Lampard now condemning fans for bigoted abuse directed toward Tammy Abraham?