Manchester United and Chelsea had contrasting results at the weekend. While Frank Lampard’s side beat fierce rivals Tottenham away from home, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side endured an embarrassing 2-0 loss to Watford. While their situations are comparable, there is only one thing common in the context. That is the legendary status of their managers.
As things stand, Chelsea are at fourth in the table. United find themselves in eighth and seven points behind the Blues. There are tangible differences in how the sides are playing and winning hearts. But with the social media ablaze about comparisons that poke fun at one and herald the other, it is very unfair.
Lampard is making the most out of what the side had, despite the club being handed a transfer ban in the summer. His usage of players like Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Reece James, and Fikayo Tomori has seen the club not miss the transfers as much as they should. With a team of young players, Chelsea play very good football on their day.
But there were certain advantages that Lampard had when he took over from Maurizio Sarri. The likes of James, Abraham, Tomori, and Mount were getting regular first-team football at their loan clubs. Tomori and Mount were at Derby with Lampard. James was at Wigan, while Abraham was at Aston Villa.
Lampard also took over a side that had won the Europa League last season too. There was a foundation that he had to take forward, considering Chelsea were playing a possession brand of football. There was a spine to the side and they had finished third in the Premier League too.
There was quality in the team for a new manager to exploit. They had a leader in Cesar Azpilicueta. They had a settled midfield in Jorginho, N’Golo Kante, and Mateo Kovacic, along with Ruben Loftus Cheek and Ross Barkley. They had the emerging Callum Hudson-Odoi in their ranks who looked devastating at such a young age.
They had already identified Eden Hazard’s replacement in the winter of 2019. Christian Pulisic was signed from Borussia Dortmund in January but was sent back to Germany for the remainder of the season.
More than that, Lampard came in as the permanent manager. There was no illusion of the interim manager bounce- as evident from United’s case.
As for United, the opposite was the case. Solskjaer has youngsters like Mason Greenwood, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes, James Garner, and Brendan Williams. None of them have had first-team football experience in a loan spell. Axel Tuanzebe did help Villa gain promotion with Abraham but has had injury problems.
The Europa League will allow United the chance to hand these youngsters some much-needed first-team experience. But it will take time.
Unlike Chelsea, their team had no spine. There has been no leader- like Chelsea had in Azpilicueta. There was no settled midfield, especially after Ander Herrera was let go for free. They failed to replace players that had left and couldn’t peg the right holes in the summer.
They couldn’t sign an attacking midfielder and couldn’t add an extra number in midfield. United couldn’t sign a striker as a replacement for Romelu Lukaku either. This led to United heading into the campaign with an incomplete side and youngsters who had pretty much zero first-team experience.
They got in three players- Daniel James, Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. All of them have been spot on. United have the fourth-best defence in the Premier League this season, letting in only 22 goals. At this stage last season, they had conceded 30 goals. So the improvement is stark. And it could improve more once United have a proper defensive midfielder.
United have been dropping points to lesser sides like West Ham, Newcastle, Sheffield United and Watford. But that comes because of the side being an incomplete one. There are holes in the side that the youngsters can’t fill like Chelsea’s youngsters can.
United struggle to break low-blocks down because of a lack of creativity. Paul Pogba’s injury didn’t help and United did suffer a lot because of his absence.
Solskjaer had to deal with the fading of the interim manager bounce. It is a historical fact that struggling teams get this bounce every single time an interim manager comes in. Solskjaer dealt with the fading of this bounce and is being tasked with steadying the ship once again.
That is an arduous task in itself- something Lampard didn’t have to do. But amidst the story of this false narrative, there is a promise that youngsters from both sides will turn out to be very good players in the long run. Both managers will deserve immense credit for that.