Chelsea and Manchester United. Two Premier League giants and heavyweights of the English game slugging it out in the chasing pack whilst the thoroughbreds canter off over the final furlong and into the distance.
Frank Lampard and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Two rookie managers, legends at their clubs, tasked with returning two of the biggest teams in the land back to former glories. Both managers are adored by their respective fanbases, both need time and both have not only modest CVs, but also eerily similar seasons. For all the travails United have had this season, we sit only three points behind the west London side after completing a double over them for the first time since 1987/88. Both men always seemed destined for their dream jobs, Solskjaer after working with United’s second string and Lampard having served his apprenticeship at Derby County in readiness for the SW6 hotseat.
Monday’s meeting was Solskjaer’s third successive win against his younger rival, pushing his win rate to 50.7% compared to Lampard’s 48.6%. What’s more, Lampard hasn’t suffered with nearly as much bad luck as Ole but has lost more games in the league – nine (compared to Solskjaer’s eight). But Solskjaer, a man under siege for much of the season, has been given a tough time, sometimes justifiably so. By comparison, Lampard has been given a free ride by all and sundry despite barely doing better.
Roy Keane was critical of Lampard on @SkySportsPL.
— Dale O’Donnell (@ODonnellDale) February 18, 2020
Roman Abramovich is notoriously ruthless and is unlikely to see fourth as any great achievement, but, that being said, it seems just as unlikely that he will wield the axe. The similarities continue – Lampard’s appointment appeased the fans and he will get more leeway than some of his predecessors, due to his exalted status as arguably Chelsea’s greatest ever player.
It’s true that he and his side currently occupy that fourth place but that’s mainly due to everyone else’s shortcomings – can anyone really say with any conviction that Chelsea have been that much better than us? If roles were reversed and Lampard was at United, he’d be the one getting the flak. It comes with the territory but isn’t applied to any other club. It doesn’t seem fair. Is it because Lampard’s English and was once revered by the same journalists penning Ole’s obituary? It’s probably because Manchester United generate views, clicks and readers and so to talk about us in less than glowing terms is music to headline writer’s ears. Even so, surely there should be a level playing field when it comes to the critics? ‘Unfashionable’ Chelsea don’t attract as much attention and so won’t be written about as much.
Lampard, like Solskjaer, has shown promise and naivety in equal measure. The pupil outmuscled the master when Chelsea got one over on Tottenham and they’ve beaten Wolves (5-2), Southampton (4-1) and Burnley (4-2), showing their attacking clout and strength when it all comes together. Just like United have in the biggest of matches when it matters most. Both have tactical deficiencies in different ways – Solskjaer can’t break sides down and Chelsea’s flaw is an inability to beat the sides around them. We have the opposite problem.
Lampard can point to the fact that he’s not spent any money due to the club’s recently-lifted transfer embargo. That’s meant he’s had to deploy youth with the likes of Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson – Odoi, Reece James and Fiyako Tomori the main beneficiaries. Even in this area, the two men have something in common – their trust in youth and the apparent support of their respective boards. Brandon Williams, Mason Greenwood, Scott McTominay and James Garner et al are testament to that.
Whilst Solskjaer can’t point to a lack of spending – Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Bruno Fernandes have arrived for 176m combined – all of his signings have proved major hits and bode well for the future. The outlay should not be used to measure up one man against the other, its irrelevant and has no bearing on managerial ability. All it means is we got players in and they haven’t. Solskjaer can however, and with some justification, point to the fact that he’s got a thin squad and had to deal with a crippling injury crisis. A crisis so bad that any manager would struggle with it.
Solskjaer has taken a 3-0 lead over Lampard and has proved the Chelsea manager’s kryptonite – yet he still cannot escape the constant noose that is seemingly hung around his neck.