Few footballing unions are as long and happy as Frank Lampard’s association with Chelsea, with whom he renewed his vows when he returned to the club as manager last month. Not many honeymoons have been so short, either.
On his first Premier League match in charge of the team he played for with such distinction for 13 years, the former England midfielder suffered a chastening 4-0 defeat at Manchester United today that posed some fundamental questions.
His readiness to use Chelsea’s abundant young talent was one of the reasons for his fast-tracking into the role so early in his coaching career and he stayed true to that at Old Trafford, picking Mason Mount, 20, and Tammy Abraham, 21, over older heads.
But despite a bright opening spell the experiment went emphatically awry and, while no definitive conclusions should be drawn this soon, Lampard has immediately found himself under pressure to justify his high-risk approach.
Solskjaer’s second bounce
If this was a nightmare start for Lampard, however, it was the stuff of dreams for Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, whose own short tenure at United appeared to be in terminal decline as their season limped to a pitiful conclusion in May.
Away from the club’s largely shambolic transfer window, the Norwegian has quietly had an encouraging pre-season, winning five of six fixtures, and his side built on that momentum against Chelsea, growing in confidence with each goal.
This almost felt like Solskjaer’s second new-manager bounce. United looked loose and liberated and, by the closing stages, played with an attacking spontaneity not seen since the first few games after his arrival last December.
Rashford and Pogba show
Marcus Rashford led the scoring with two goals, the first a penalty after he had been fouled by Kurt Zouma and the second – United’s third – a classy finish slotted past Kepa Arrizabalaga after darting onto Paul Pogba’s raking pass over the top.
As in United’s post-Mourinho purple patch last season, Rashford and Pogba were at the heart of most of United’s best play and they were never more dangerous than when linking up with each other.
It was Pogba’s swashbuckling run that also led to the fourth goal for substitute Daniel James on his debut.
After a summer of uncertainty about the Frenchman’s appetite for life at the club, here was some welcome hope that he can drive United on to better things this year.
Martial steps up
United were far from flawless and could easily have been behind before the 17th-minute penalty, but positive signs abounded as the afternoon unfolded, not least among the new faces.
Harry Maguire brought authority to a defence that has sorely lacked it while right-back Aaron Wan Bissaka proved he is no one-season wonder with several important interceptions and dangerous forays in a first outing since a £50m move from Crystal Palace.
Perhaps even more encouraging, though, was Anthony Martial scoring on his return to a central striker’s role following the departure of Romelu Lukaku.
Martial, who has reclaimed the No9 shirt from Lukaku, finished Andreas Pereira’s low cross from close range on a fine day’s work United’s highly mobile front players.
Chelsea playing catch-up
In his post-match comments, Lampard rightly pointed to some encouraging signs in the start made by his youthful team.
Abraham thrashed a shot against the post from 18 yards and was inches away from converting Mount’s low centre. Elsewhere Ross Barkley showed an eagerness to carry the fight to United, while Jorginho looked more penetrative than last season under Maurizio Sarri.
Lampard’s approach was brave and made for a hugely entertaining contest, albeit one that leaves Chelsea already playing catch-up with their Big Six rivals, all of whom took maximum points.
Main image credit: Getty