Neil Humphreys: Fix your first XI fast, Lampard
Having spent so much money, Chelsea manager can ill-afford to be uncertain
The old boy routine gets tired quickly. Just ask Mikel Arteta.
Former players, even club legends, get more time to settle in as managers. But a longer honeymoon is hardly diplomatic immunity.
Frank Lampard cannot wave his Chelsea badge in the air and expect limitless protection, not unless there's a first XI printed on it.
The Blues manager seems no closer to a settled side than he was £220 million (S$393m) ago.
He spent an obscene amount of money to challenge for the title, rather than lose 3-1 to Arsenal, a side with less consistency than leftover turkey gravy.
And yet, the Blues will host Aston Villa tomorrow morning (Singapore time) without an established line-up and a worrying lack of intensity.
Terms like "intensity" are perilously close to being lumped in with "spirit" and "desire" and the other go-to nouns that Roy Keane favours to eviscerate teams in TV studios.
But even Lampard acknowledged a strange listlessness in recent performances. A third defeat in four games was easy to explain against Arsenal. The Blues were a yard slower. Their fast-twitch fibres were left behind in Christmas stockings.
Arsenal's fullbacks essentially dropped Timo Werner and Christian Pulisic at school and left them there. Lampard's class of 2020 are not learning their lines.
Arteta might empathise with Lampard's current predicament. Both men are dealing with expensive German enigmas. Mesut Oezil is very much the ghost of Gunners past, but Werner represents Chelsea's future.
The forward, signed in the summer for almost £50m, drifted between exasperating and anonymous. When he finally tiptoed over into the latter, his manager removed him at half-time.
So impressive in the opening games, Werner seems to be struggling with the relentless demands of the English Premier League.
Lampard has already complained that the EPL and TV broadcasters are pushing elite fixtures into prime-time slots - mostly to accommodate Asian time zones apparently - and depriving his players of a fair chance of recovery.
He has a point. Fixtures are coming too quickly for clubs denied a proper pre-season and dealing with isolating players.
But Arteta had lost most of his Brazilian contingent - David Luiz, Willian and Gabriel - to either illness or isolation. Lampard isn't alone in his frustration.
Perhaps he needed a distraction. The absence of any sort of attacking urgency is not an issue he probably wants to dwell on.
Werner has now gone 10 games in club competitions without a goal. Chelsea improved when Callum Hudson-Odoi replaced him, but only marginally.
Kai Havertz, bought for £62 million, started on the bench. His impact as a substitute was negligible.
N'Golo Kante continues to deal with an identity crisis of sorts. His strengths rarely include feeding three forwards in a loose No.10 role.
Against Arsenal, he was caught between a rock (Mohamed Elneny) and a hard place (the wrong position). Kante neither served his forwards nor offered enough protection in defence.
Jorginho replaced Mateo Kovacic at half-time, a move that felt more like a body swop than a tactical makeover. There's little to choose between them.
As a result, Lampard has spent £220m only to want more after Christmas. He's still in the market for West Ham's Declan Rice, according to reports.
Rice may offer a younger, more attack-minded version of Kante, but he doesn't entirely address the inconsistency up front.
Werner may settle after the festive break. At 21, Havertz has enough potential to link the lines in the foreseeable future. Pulisic may rediscover his Project Restart form and Olivier Giroud may cover the shortfall.
TOO MANY IFS
But that's far too many ifs, buts and maybes for December, far too many imponderables for an outlay of £220m.
The Chelsea manager calls for calm, rightly pointing out that a couple of wins do not make title contenders, just as a few defeats do not constitute a crisis.
But his employer doesn't view his football club through such a pragmatic prism.
Roman Abramovich spent a fortune during an economic crisis to challenge for trophies, not to sit seventh in the table.
He adored Lampard the player. But that doesn't mean he'll hesitate to cast judgment on Lampard the manager.
Lampard's legendary status will never buy him as much time as a settled first XI.