With Champions League qualification on the line on Sunday, Chelsea turned up and delivered a composed performance to ensure they booked their place at Europe’s biggest dinner table next season.
Mason Mount’s stunning free kick was followed by Olivier Giroud’s scrappy finish before half-time, and the Blues comfortably controlled proceedings after the break to ensure that Wolves could do nothing but watch them stroll into the Champions League.
When the stakes have been high, we’ve seen Chelsea shy away far too often this season – but not on Sunday. Frank Lampard will have told his squad that they needed to go out and give their all, and that’s exactly what they did.
Mount was his typically outstanding self, Giroud continued to score goals at a ridiculous rate and Willy Caballero actually made a save in place of the benched Kepa Arrizabalaga – more on that another time.
The confident performance, which saw Chelsea dominate possession and pass around Wolves with relative ease, was the perfect end to the kind of debut season which Lampard could only have dreamed of.
He was inexperienced. Chelsea lost Eden Hazard. The Blues had a transfer ban. They had to rely on kids from the academy. A top-four finish was a laughable suggestion.
Only, it wasn’t.
Lampard had faith when most rival fans, pundits and even Chelsea supporters did not. He set his young side up to play attacking football, quickly forcing sceptics to change their minds.
Sure, he rode his luck at times. His defensive system still needs a lot of work, and his in-game management has left something to be desired at times, but that’s all to be expected. This is just his second season as a manager.
Despite his inexperience, he was never afraid to make the bold calls. When Arrizabalaga, the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, needed dropping, he was dropped. When young Billy Gilmour deserved a spot in the team, he was given it at Jorginho’s expense. When Tammy Abraham started struggling, he benched the youngster and turned to Giroud.
Rival fans will continue to question his credentials, but Lampard has proven that he can hang at the highest level, and he did so with a squad which most will accept is nowhere near where they need to be.
Leading Chelsea back to the Champions League is an outstanding achievement for Lampard, whose focus will now be on the future. There should be no such uncertainty next year. Hakim Ziyech has already joined and Timo Werner was in attendance at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Kai Havertz could follow suit, and there could be plenty of other fresh faces through the door as Roman Abramovich does his best to ruin football once more.
With a superior squad, Lampard will hope to close the gap to the league’s top two. He will hope to see more reward for the adventurous, attack-minded style of play which saw his side create chances at an elite rate this year.
Fine-tuning the squad will come in time, but for now, it’s time to celebrate proving the doubters wrong. Lampard has exceeded expectations, but the best is yet to come.
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