DANNY MURPHY’S MANAGERIAL REPORT CARD: Frank Lampard is over-performing

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One of the most fascinating aspects to this season is how the Big Six are divided by the managers they have chosen.

Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho are titans who have all won the Premier League, Champions League and major leagues across Europe. In contrast, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Mikael Arteta and Frank Lampard have an FA Cup and a couple of Norwegian league titles between them.

You can understand why the biggest clubs often go for experienced managers because they understand the pressures of expectation and any problems that come with handling big-name internationals.

Mikel Arteta and Frank Lampard are examples of some of the 'Big Six' trying new things

Mikel Arteta and Frank Lampard are examples of some of the ‘Big Six’ trying new things

But it’s refreshing to see Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal think outside the box and pick leaders who used to play for the club and know their DNA rather than possessing a glittering trophy cabinet.

In any case, there is no exact science to getting success and all of the newbies have enjoyed great moments as well as some ups and downs.

It shouldn’t be forgotten Arteta and Lampard ended their first campaigns by facing each other in the FA Cup Final while Solskjaer, who started his coaching career with United’s youngsters, has beaten Paris St Germain away, twice.

I suspect the trick to succeeding as an inexperienced manager is sticking to your beliefs and not over-thinking things when you come up against a legend like Guardiola. It can’t be easy though because you are competing against the best in the world.

This is a big day for all of them. Lampard faces his former boss Mourinho with Chelsea riding high and of the three, he looks in best shape. Arteta and Solskjaer need results against Wolves and Southampton to escape the middle of the table.

That’s not good enough for the clubs they represent and Solskjaer in particular faces a big few weeks in order to secure his job.

FRANK LAMPARD (CHELSEA)

STRENGTHS

Frank understands the mentality of top players because of what he achieved in the game and won at Stamford Bridge. His man-management skills are excellent and you rarely hear disgruntled noises from inside the Chelsea camp, even from those stars frustrated at not playing.

Without the squad believing in your philosophy, you’ve got no chance regardless of how talented they are. I can tell by watching Chelsea everyone is on board with Lampard and enjoying what they’re doing – not always easy big egos fighting for places in the team.

Frank has also shown he is capable of taking tough decisions. When he decided £73million goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga was costing the team, the club backed him to sign Edouard Mendy. For me it was a pivotal moment in showing the manager is trusted by the hierarchy.

Lampard is strongly backed at Chelsea and this was shown with his axing of Kepa Arrizabalaga

Lampard is strongly backed at Chelsea and this was shown with his axing of Kepa Arrizabalaga

BIGGEST CHALLENGES

Despite Lampard’s skills in handling players, keeping everyone happy will still be tough over the long-term when everyone is fit. You can’t squeeze Tammy Abraham, Timo Werner, Olivier Giroud, Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount, Kai Havertz and Callum Hudson-Odoi into the same team. Lampard will need to have a few honest conversations with his players so they continue to feel part of it.

Having options is positive in one sense but can’t distract from finding the right team balance. So far, Lampard has managed it very well, but perhaps he’s been helped some weeks by Ziyech, Pulisic or Havertz not being available.

Thiago Silva has bolstered Chelsea's back and given Lampard's side a stronger spine

Thiago Silva has bolstered Chelsea’s back and given Lampard’s side a stronger spine

REALISTIC TARGETS

I think Frank will see this as a wonderful opportunity to win the league. I wouldn’t have predicted that a few weeks ago but with Liverpool’s injury problems and Manchester City having a small hangover from their Champions League disappointment, it really is up for grabs.

Chelsea have some dazzling individuals but have a really strong core as well. The leadership of Thiago Silva has been a wonderful addition at the back while someone like Mason Mount does so much work in midfield, it can allow Frank to play with only one holder and carry a greater attacking threat as a result.

REPORT CARD: GRADE A-

Chelsea have great individuals working as a team. They look in great shape.

OLE GUNNAR SOLSKJAER (MAN UTD)

STRENGTHS

There is a likeability about Solskjaer. He conducts himself well and understands the club he represents. It’s not more important than results but it still matters for a club like Manchester United to have someone who looks after the badge properly.

Some of the results have shown tactical awareness. You don’t fluke wins against PSG, Manchester City, Chelsea and Spurs. It takes smart planning. It’s just consistency United are lacking.

The problem for Solskjaer is that a roller-coaster ride isn’t good enough for United in the long run. Fans and owners will demand to be fighting it out for the biggest trophies. You can’t achieve that not knowing which United will turn up.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has shown some signs of progression but is lacking in consistency

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has shown some signs of progression but is lacking in consistency

BIGGEST CHALLENGES

I think the next six weeks are crucial for Solskjaer because I fear for him if things don’t go well before the New Year.

His first big decision is who to trust as his first-choice centre-forward for this critical period – the transfer window will be too late for him if United fall away now. I’d be tempted to give Edinson Cavani a run but Solskjaer also has alternatives with Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. It’s too big a responsibility for someone like Mason Greenwood right now, even if fully charged.

The trouble for United is there are more questions than answers wherever you look. I am bemused by the lack of game time given to Donny van de Beek. Is Paul Pogba ready to be the saviour or can’t he be relied upon for this intense period? I’ve suggested before United are too fragile defensively if he plays in the same midfield as Bruno Fernandes.

United are performing well in European this season but struggling with domestic matters

United are performing well in European this season but struggling with domestic matters

REALISTIC TARGETS

A club of United’s size have to aim high. Anything short of the semi-finals of the Champions League is not a success. Likewise in the Premier League, finishing outside the top four is unthinkable. Those are the minimum requirements for a club like United.

I know they have gone three years without a trophy but realistically I don’t think lifting the FA Cup or League Cup in isolation will mean much for Solskjaer if the team finishes fifth or sixth. We saw that with Louis van Gaal.

REPORT CARD: GRADE C

Has done enough to stay in job so far but any drop from here will be dangerous. I hope he makes it.

MIKEL ARTETA (ARSENAL)

STRENGTHS

I’m sure Arteta would love Arsenal to play like the Manchester City team built by his mentor Pep Guardiola but he’s had the intelligence and savvy to identify the first priority was to fix the team’s defensive problems.

When Arsenal play, there is a clear game plan which has been worked on in training, and that has taken strength of character from the manger because he walked into a club 12 months ago that was really struggling for identity.

To win a trophy already can not be underestimated so he has credit in the bank despite Arsenal hitting a recent wobble and the goals drying up recently. Even Guardiola and Klopp had to take steps back in establishing their dynasties.

After working with Pep Guardiola, Arteta knows the fundamentals of a total rebuild of a team

After working with Pep Guardiola, Arteta knows the fundamentals of a total rebuild of a team

BIGGEST CHALLENGE

Arteta introduced wing-backs to tighten Arsenal up and it worked well in winning the FA Cup last season. They remain much harder to beat as they showed last weekend by getting a hard-fought draw at Leeds last weekend despite Pepe’s red card.

The dilemma facing Arteta is he always seems tempted to revert to a back-four when he wants an extra forward-thinking player on the pitch. He tried it against Aston Villa and Leeds, but Arsenal were poor in both games.

Adaptability is fine to a point but I think the most successful teams are those who stick to their best system and don’t chop and change. The Liverpool and City teams that won the league did that and it became second nature to their players.

I think Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s little scoring drought has affected Arteta’s thinking. Aubameyang switched from the left to centre-forward at Elland Road but it didn’t change his luck. I am a believer that consistent team formations builds stability and momentum.

REALISTIC TARGET

Arsenal should still fancy their chances of finishing in the top four and also look at the Europa League as a trophy they can win. Having lifted the FA Cup, silverware would start to become a habit.

I don’t think Arteta is under pressure like Solskjaer. The recruitment looks solid with Gabriel and Thomas Partey both excellent long-term acquisitions.

REPORT CARD: GRADE B+

Real signs of progress and a trophy in the first year. This is a minor blip – don’t panic Gooners fans!



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