Fighting the Cycle: The Greatest Moments of Frank Lampard’s Reign as Chelsea Manager

When Frank Lampard was appointed Chelsea manager in 2019, I felt a mixture of apprehension and excitement. Frank Lampard is, quite conclusively, without contest, my favorite association football player of all time. He’s the reason I became a Chelsea fan. By British standards, I was kind of a latecomer to soccer. I became suddenly obsessed with it at the age of 12, with most of my buddies having been passionate about the sport for years. One time, sat in the lounge of my grandparents’ house, I watched Lampard score a stunning long-range effort in a game we were watching on TV. I remember it quite well; there was a throw-in from the left, he let it run onto his right foot, opened his body, and struck the ball, which seemed to rise upward before dipping into the top corner on the far side of the goal. That’s the moment I like to say I became a Chelsea fan, though I didn’t actually think this at the time. It was his prolific goalscoring ability from deep, in conjunction with his stoic, no-nonsense, vaguely Roman demeanor, that made me want to watch football. Gradually, I became a Chelsea fan, but I like the poetry in the idea that it stems from this singular moment of individual brilliance.

During the latter years of his playing career, I actually thought a lot about him returning to Chelsea as the team’s manager. It was well-known at that time that he was working on getting his coaching badges, and the whole thing seemed pretty inevitable. He seemed like the ideal candidate; he knew the club better than anyone, he won everything as a player, he was reported by Mensa to have a significantly-high IQ, and he had a wide-range of contacts and friendships throughout the industry. Level-headed and articulate, he left no doubt in my mind that he would achieve great things as a head coach one day. The key part of the phrase being: one day. As in, some vague point in the future. When Lampard took the Chelsea job, it had only been 5 years since he played for us, and just over 2 years since he had retired from playing altogether. The suddenness of it accounted for that mixture of apprehension and excitement I mentioned earlier.

Because Lampard meant so much to me as a player, I was worried that him jumping into the managerial position so soon would be a dangerous risk to his reputation, or that, should it not turn out well, might preclude the chance of him taking it at a later, more opportune time. As anyone who has followed the Premier League (and especially Chelsea) in the past twenty years knows, the only thing that matters in football is the present. The past, whether good or bad, means nothing once the starting whistle blows. A player on a bad run of form can erase it all with a single goal. A manager previously hated by the fans (either for their tactics, their time at a rival club prior to their appointment, or a controversial incident) can change the sentiment toward them with simple results. Owners and fans alike are nothing if not fickle.

The downside of this is that, just as one’s previous failures or transgressions can be wiped clean with a change in results, so too can one’s achievements. Lampard, having spent the majority of his career at Chelsea, knows this better than anyone. In 2010 Carlo Ancelotti brought us our first ever Premier League and FA Cup double in his first season as head coach. A year later he was sacked, having come second in the league, in a season where he won the Premier League Manager of the Month award 3 times. Despite our sloppy play and mid-season slump, the title was still within our hands with three games to go. Had we beaten Manchester United on May 8th, we would have gone top with two games left to play. We ended up losing just 2-1 (Lampard scoring our only goal) and with such fine margins, you can’t help but wonder how things might have turned out differently. Say there was a penalty, a sending off, or perhaps a back-pass that’s just that little bit too short. A tiny event that tips the scales of fate. The universe took two paths that day. There’s a parallel reality somewhere where we pull off a stunning away victory at Old Trafford, win our last two games, and all the low-points of that season are completely forgotten. Then there’s the universe we ended up with, where the squad runs out of steam following the 2-1 defeat and the season peters out with an uninspiring 2-2 draw at home to Newcastle and a 1-0 away loss to Everton despite playing against 10 men. How close we actually came to winning didn’t matter to the board, and neither did the previous year’s success. Ancelotti was sacked within 20 minutes of the Everton defeat (if you watch the tunnel footage you can see the sinister figure of the board member waiting for him in the shadows) and the chaotic revolving door policy of managerial appointments at Chelsea continued for another decade.

I often wonder, whenever a prospective manager is approached by Chelsea, if this policy bothers them. Do they acknowledge the statistical reality that they’ll probably be sacked before the end of their contract, but accept it because whatever happens, they’ll make an ass-ton of money? Or, does each candidate believe that they’ll be the one to break the cycle?

The purpose of this post isn’t to assess whether Lampard should have taken the Chelsea job. Once he was sacked, it seemed that everyone went back to this moment, that all the conversation centered around his decision to accept the offer so early in his career. It’s a pointless question in my opinion. Of course he should have taken it. None of us have the luxury of perceiving the past, present, and future all at once. There is only the here and now. We don’t make the times; the times make us. There’s no guarantee that opportunities will remain available to us in perpetuity. This job requires an above-average level of self-confidence and willpower, and Lampard decided to trust in his abilities and take on the challenge.

You can certainly see why Chelsea hired him when they did. He had shown promise in his season with Derby, and Chelsea could afford to gamble on potential alone given that the 2019-2020 season was expected to be something of a write-off. They were in the unique situation that was the two-window transfer ban and figured it would have been tough to bring in a big-name manager. We had also just lost Eden Hazard, who for many years had not just been our best player, but the face of our club. He was the talisman, an irreplaceable player with the kind of X-factor that could carry a team to victory even when it wasn’t playing all that well. The way Chelsea saw it, the low-risk experiment would either work and Lampard would hit the ground running, or it would fail, by which time the transfer ban would have been lifted and a big-name manager would likely be available. Football teams operate in cycles of rebuilding, and many saw Chelsea as entering the beginning of such a cycle at the advent of the 2019-2020 season.

The first season under Lampard was generally seen as a mild success- we had made top four and gotten to the final of the F.A. Cup, and best of all we had integrated our youth players into the first team in a way we’ve failed to do since Abramovich’s arrival. It wasn’t the most convincing football we had ever played, especially seeing as how we had almost conceded as many goals as we’d scored, but the consensus was that there was something there to work with at least. The seed of a team in the making, perhaps even a team that could one day be quite exciting.

Usually teams that don’t win any silverware tend to be forgotten by history, even if they play attractive football. It makes sense. A game is something that you enjoy in the moment. A trophy is enjoyed forever. The Chelsea teams of 2005, 2010, 2012, and 2017 are all immortalized by their achievements. Fans will be able to celebrate their wins for years hence- you don’t have to have seen them live to take pleasure in them. The 2019-2020 Chelsea team actually came close to making their mark on history on two occasions, and just like the 2011 defeat at Old Trafford, the margins were slim.

The first was our game against Liverpool at the start of the season in the Super Cup. We drew 2-2 against the best team in the world and then lost 5-4 on penalties, which is about as slim as margins get. The second, conversely, came right at the end of the season, when we lost 2-1 to Arsenal in an F.A. Cup final that saw us suffer two hamstring injuries, a red card, and a penalty. Everything that could go wrong on that day seemed to go wrong. If things had happened just a little differently in both of those matches, then Lampard’s inaugural season could have attained an instant pedigree. I don’t think winning either or both of these games would have changed anything that happened this season, but it would at least have imprinted Lampard’s tenure in the history books. He came so close. And there’s something morbidly satisfying about that that I can’t stop thinking about. It’s as though Chelsea attempted a kind of Icarus Flight, flying recklessly close to the sun with gung-ho, youth-driven football, before reverting to business as usual with the appointment of Thomas Tuchel. In the context of Chelsea’s wider history, it’s such a unique, compelling little interlude. And that’s all I really want to achieve with this post- to celebrate its memorable quirks and immortalize it in some small way with a piece of writing.

In some ways, our narrow defeats versus Liverpool that season encapsulated Lampard’s reign. We dreamed big, showed great promise, but came up short. It wasn’t our time. It was Liverpool’s year and we were just a footnote in the story of their championship run. Aside from the razor-thin loss in the Super Cup, we lost just 2-1 at home to them early in the season (Kante scoring a superb solo effort) and in the reverse fixture we lost 5-3 in a crazy game of end-to-end football. The latter game was a true microcosm of our strengths and weaknesses under Lampard. We went toe to toe with a giant but went down swinging. After going down 3-0 to the champions inside the first half, we inexplicably started playing our best football, as though we were waiting for the game to be out of reach before we started fighting for it. At 4-1 early in the second half, anything other than a thrashing seemed impossible, but after a couple of inspired substitutions and fifteen minutes of some of the most exciting football I’ve ever seen, we brought the score to 4-3. All the momentum was with us and Liverpool seemed shocked at what was happening. I believed then that we were on the cusp of a famous comeback, but sadly we couldn’t sustain our focus and Oxlade-Chamberlain came off the bench to make it 5-3. We ran out of steam at that point, but that 15-minute period of dominant, free-flowing, footballing excellence showed great promise. While the result was obviously disappointing and highlighted our defensive problems, those 15 minutes gave us a lot to be excited for in the future.

Lampard’s first season was full of great moments. Our 5-2 away win versus Wolves was like a teasing advertisement for our future under Lampard. All of our scorers were homegrown academy products, with Tammy Abraham netting a hattrick and Fikayo Tomori smashing in from 35 yards what was surely our goal of the season. Chelsea have tried to integrate youth players before, but this was different. Now the youth players were running the show.

The young squad also showed that they had the capacity to grind out results in tough situations. We didn’t have the experience required to do this on a consistent basis- as anyone who followed us that season will know- but my point is that the potential was there. It manifested in effective but unglamorous performances against Ajax and Arsenal. Both games were not without a little luck, but what impressed me about them was the way we capitalized on the good fortune. In the Ajax game we were down 4-1 at home with 20 minutes left to go and Champions League elimination on the cards. It looked like another self-inflicted collapse in a season where our defense had more leaks than the Trump-era White House. But we were able to fight past the mindset of “Here we go again,” and finish the game with a dramatic 4-4 draw, the equalizing goal scored by Reece James- another talent from the youth academy. The Arsenal game came a month later in the Premier League, with a similarly poor start. We were away, Aubameyang had netted in the 13th minute, and we didn’t seem to have an answer. While the score was only 1-0, the bigger setback for us was that we weren’t playing well. The score never tells the full story of a game, and the story of that Arsenal game was that, for the most part, they had us where they wanted us. They were the better team and watching it I had this hopeless feeling of “It just isn’t our day”. It wasn’t a 1-0 that felt very tenuous. But late in the day, something of a freak goal came our way when the Arsenal keeper rushed off his line to catch a deep free kick from Mason Mount, which he misjudged horribly; the ball soaring over his head and landing perfectly at the feet of Jorginho who tapped it in the open net. All of a sudden, we were in the game. The goal seemed, almost literally, to drop out of the sky. Given how difficult it had been to manufacture chances against them that game, I felt quite pleased that we were about to come away with a point. That’s how 1-1 draws work: the team that scores first feels like the loser, and the team that scores second feels like the winner. And it was for certain a 1-1 draw in my mind; there had been such a dearth of clear-cut, goal-scoring chances that I didn’t expect lightning to strike twice. We had been rewarded for our persistence in a scrappy game with a scrappy goal and that was that. Except it wasn’t. A few minutes later, just before the game was about to end, we caught Arsenal on the break and Willian and Abraham combined to score my personal favorite goal of the season. I was shocked. The ball was squared to our young striker, who was facing away from goal with a defender at his back for good measure. But with the composure of someone much older, Tammy used the pace of the incoming pass to feint inside, leaving the defender for dead and creating space for himself at the less-expected, tighter angle to slot the ball between the keeper’s legs. I was shaking with excitement. It showed great game sense and the execution was smooth, clinical, and satisfying. I was so happy that our young striker had shown up on the big stage and been the difference-maker. It gave me hope that he would break the cycle of young strikers being given half-hearted substitute cameos in the manner of bones being thrown to hungry dogs, only to end up hastily sold or sent to the loan kennel forever (see: Bamford, Lukaku, Borini, Piazon, Traore, et cetera).

There were of course some cleaner, more dominating victories too. The first one that comes to mind is our clinical 2-0 away win over Tottenham, after which the usually-calm Lampard punched the air with his fist and even threw his coat into the crowd. That was definitely one of the most iconic images from his reign.

We followed this up with an equally-tidy 2-1 win in the reverse fixture in February. Not long after that we got our revenge against Liverpool, decisively knocking them out of the F.A. Cup 2-0 at the Bridge. Goals came courtesy of veterans Willian and Barkley but the real star that day was Billy Gilmour, who at just 18 years of age became the latest youth prospect to not only be trusted with the responsibility of a big game, but had flourished when given the opportunity. Just a few days later we thrashed Everton 4-0 in the league, in perhaps our most dominant game of the season. It had the largest goal-margin of any of our victories save for a 7-1 drubbing of League Two side Grimsby in the Carabao Cup. The goals came from Mount, Pedro, Willian, and Giroud, but once again the show was stolen by young Gilmour, who for the second game in a row had won the official Man of the Match award.

There were two more victories that season that I rank among our very best under Lampard, both of them against Manchester teams. The Premier League restart in the summer of 2020 seemed to be dominated by Christian Pulisic, whose direct, exciting style of play was uncannily reminiscent of Eden Hazard. He had the pace, the ability to shoot with both feet, the close ball control, and the desire to run straight at the defenders before cutting inside. I knew Pulisic had been a good player before he joined us of course, but purely from the perspective of being unfamiliar with his play style and having seen Hazard leave just as he joined, watching him was downright surreal. It reminded me of that line from Troy after Patroclus is seen impersonating Achilles: “He wore your armor, your shield, your greaves, your helmet. He even moved like you…”

He moved like you.

The difference is that Pulisic is no catamite pretender. He’s not the new Hazard, he’s the new Pulisic. However his play during the restart showed that he could carry the mantle of Hazard as our talisman because of two specific attributes: the mysterious “X-factor” (which I define as the ability to create something out of nothing) and a style of play that is crowd-pleasing. It’s that flashy, Steph Curry pizzaz. Just to underline this comparison further, the most eerie play from Pulisic that year came in his goal against Crystal Palace on July 7th 2020. I couldn’t believe it. He squared the defender up inside the box, shimmied the ball out wide, onto his left foot, and rifled it into the roof of the net at the near post. It is a hard shot to make because the angle is so tight, and you need both power and precision. An inch to the left and it hits the post, an inch to the right and it rearranges the goalkeeper’s dental plan. It was a perfect replica of a goal that Hazard scored against Sparta Praha on February 21st 2013 in his own debut season.

Pulisic exuded this same Hazard-esque confidence in our game against Manchester City. Given our propensity for conceding goals that season I didn’t expect much from that game. I would have been very happy with a point. City were still the reigning champions and by consensus the pound-for-pound best team of the past decade. However, we put in one of our best shifts of the season, every player working hard, and we were rewarded with a 2-1 win over Guardiola’s side. The standout moment for me was Pulisic’s goal, in which he capitalized on a disastrous bumble between the center-backs at the halfway line and pounced like a goddam snow leopard on the loose ball in a display of lightning-quick alertness. From there he raced toward the goal and slotted home, leaving the blushing City defenders for dead. It is such a satisfying goal to watch, and it’s up there with Abraham’s winner against Arsenal and Lampard’s celebrations at Tottenham as one of the most iconic moments of the season.

Our last great game of Lampard’s first season, in my opinion, came against Manchester United in the F.A. Cup semi-finals. It may not have had an iconic moment or a spectacular goal, but what made this game special was the level of control we exerted over our opponent. In the end we won 3-1, but the most satisfying aspect of that victory was how comfortable and dominant our team looked.

The season came to an end with us securing Champions League football and missing out on silverware by the slimmest of margins. There was a tempered enthusiasm among the fanbase. The team was inconsistent throughout the year, flashes of promise interspersed with great fragility, intense focus with chaotic disarray, lethal goal-scoring with baffling self-destruction. Lampard was judged to have done well considering the situation he was in, although there were clear weaknesses that needed addressing. Individually the players had given good accounts of themselves. Kovacic won Player of the Year, which I don’t disagree with. His game had massively improved since the last season and he was consistent in his dogged, hard-working performances in central midfield. Tammy Abraham finished as top scorer with 18 goals and Reece James emerged as a worthy heir to longstanding veteran Cesar Azpilicueta. No one impressed me more than Mason Mount, whose tireless work-rate and galvanizing performances compelled me to name the protagonist of my novel after him. Kante was Kante. And no review of the 2019-2020 season would be complete without a mention of Willian, who upon Hazard’s exit took the prestigious number 10 shirt and with it the mantle of our chief attacking force. It was to him we looked to win us games, to bail us out, to produce, and to generally “get things moving” as the central mechanism of our attacking machine. His status as a Chelsea legend was already confirmed before the season, and I feel like his getting to wear the number 10 was in recognition of his service down the years. His last season at the club was no different, and he was easily our best player going forward and the one we were most heavily reliant upon. To mark his season as our number 10 he became the first player in Premier League history to score in every month of the year.

During the summer there was a great deal of curiosity about what the team might look like now that Lampard could buy players. We said goodbye to two great, longtime servants in Willian and Pedro, but added exciting attackers Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, and Hakim Ziyech to replace them. To bolster our defensive issues, we acquired left-back Ben Chillwell, goalkeeper Édouard Mendy, and central defensive legend Thiago Silva. It was quite the overhaul, especially considering the youth players already vying for places within the team. How Lampard planned to fit all these players together and build a cohesive team unit was an interesting dilemma. There would be no Willian to rely on now. And with Pedro leaving too, and therefore no obvious long-serving player to give the number 10 shirt to, we gave it to Pulisic for his dazzling display during the summer. If he could continue the form he showed during the restart, he was surely worthy of the shirt that once belonged to Willian, Hazard, Mata, and Joe Cole. He was certainly, in my opinion, the most exciting player of the new-look Chelsea. But the fact we gave the number 10 shirt to a player that had only been there a year shows just how rapid a transition this was for Chelsea, as well as how young our squad was going into the 2020-2021 season. I hadn’t quite seen a rebuilding process like this before. As far as I could remember, there had always been leaders and senior players at Chelsea.

When the season began, it looked like nothing had changed despite the new faces. The first month saw a continuation of the schizophrenic football that characterized our 2019-2020 season, with goals flying in at both ends of the pitch and no sign that things were going to ever settle down. Now that his first season was over and the transfer ban was lifted, Lampard was no longer protected from harsh scrutiny regarding his future. Conversations began to emerge about the patience of fans and board members alike. If it happened in isolation, the 3-3 draw against West Brom might have been lauded as an impressive comeback, but in the context of 2020 it held a greater significance. Serious questions were being asked about our ability to change. A few weeks later we drew 3-3 at home against Southampton and the questions grew louder. We were going to have to adapt or die. There was no way we could continue as we were.

And it’s at this point of intense doubt that I come to the last great accomplishment of Lampard’s reign. It’s not any one particular game, but rather a string of performances. Specifically: October 20th 2020 to December 2nd 2020. It is in this period that we played our best football under Lampard and, more crucially, enjoyed the most optimistic vision of our future. This dwarfed anything we had achieved last season, and I was tempted to devote this blog post solely to this bright month-and-a-half in our history.

Something important had changed after the Southampton game. It felt like a do-or-die moment, and the team was able to dig deep and fundamentally change the way it played football. It started with back-to-back 0-0 draws against Sevilla and Manchester United- not exactly rave results, but it’s not the results themselves that were significant. It was the performances. The shift in emphasis. Lampard was able to change the way we had played for the past year. The team that kept a clean sheet against Sevilla looked completely different to the one that had conceded 3 goals to Southampton just a few days prior. It was disciplined, pragmatic, and defense oriented. It’s a tactic often employed by caretaker managers trying to stabilize a fragile situation: build from the back. Plug the gaps and trust that the goals will come later. Once the defense starts working, confidence always flows to the rest of the team. And that’s what happened with us.

The foundation of this team was a solid back four of Reece James, Thiago Silva, Kurt Zouma, and Ben Chilwell. All of them were playing their best football and deserve credit for how tight they kept things in this period. Silva’s experience definitely had a calming effect, but it would be unfair to the others to credit him with their good form. Zouma was a goddam force of nature back there. Chilwell looked like he had played with us for years instead of mere weeks, and young Reece James had unseated club captain and all-around legend Cesar Azpilicueta. During this special run that followed the Southampton game, we played a new kind of football, one characterized by consistency and balance. It was the most “complete” our team had ever looked under Lampard, every week growing in strength and solidifying its identity.

During this run, we played 10 games, scoring 22 goals, conceding just 2, and suffering no defeats. Throughout the month of November we kept pace with Liverpool at the top of the table, regularly occupying first place on weekends where we played before them. While it would be premature to argue that this Chelsea team was capable of fighting them for the title (as several pundits did at the time), it was nevertheless a showcase of the fact that Lampard’s team was capable of change, that we could be consistent.

We might not have scored many big victories during this run, but the point I’m trying to make is that within the context of Lampard’s tenure, this was a massive improvement. Compare this record of 2 goals conceded in 10 games against the month that preceded it, where in 5 league games we conceded 9 goals, or the Premier League restart that preceded that, where we conceded 15 goals in 9 games.

There was a sense that week by week the team was settling into an offensive rhythm too. Tammy Abraham had noticeably improved his game since the last year. He was just as clinical, only now he had more presence. He played a much more physical game, almost as if he had a chip on his shoulder. What impressed me most of all was not his scoring, but how hard he worked for the team and asserted himself on the pitch.

The goals were shared throughout the team however. It seemed like almost anyone in our squad could score during that period. All four of our starting defenders chipped in with goals. New signing Timo Werner looked confident, netting several clinical goals and linking up well with his fellow players. Hakim Ziyech was also a fixture of this period, providing several assists and adding a new dimension to our offense with his excellent vision. That’s what made Chelsea so effective during this run- we gave the opposition a lot to think about. Our lively fullbacks provided width, Silva and Zouma made us dangerous in set pieces with their aerial abilities, Tammy hounded the opposition’s back line, Werner cut inside to run at the box directly, and Ziyech dropped creative passes over the top from deep. We could score a dozen different ways.

No one shone brighter than Mason Mount however, who had gone from our best prospect to our best player. He was at the heart of everything this team did and epitomized for many what this team meant. With Willian gone, Mount easily became the first name fans looked for in the matchday lineup and the face of the Lampard-era Chelsea team. He is, in my opinion, the natural choice for the Chelsea captaincy once Azpilicueta leaves the position. Assuming he stays with us, I think he could be seen as the “Mr. Chelsea” in the way John Terry was back in the day.

On December 2nd we played an away game against Sevilla in the Champions League. It’s here that my blog post ends. This game, to me, was the apex of Lampard’s reign as Chelsea manager. We had never played so well under him- and nor would we ever do so again. By all accounts this was a perfect game; we were away to a very good side, we kept a clean sheet, and we scored four goals. We were also playing, more or less, our second-choice team at the time. The back four was overhauled completely, consisting of Emerson, Rudiger, Christensen, and Azpilicueta, the first two of those having barely played all season until that point. Key players such as Mount, Kante, Werner, Ziyech, Chilwell, Abraham, and James, who formed the backbone of our team during this successful run, were all left to the substitute’s bench. The likes of Havertz and Hudson-Odoi flourished in their starting roles, ensuring Lampard’s team selections were about to become all the more difficult. And perhaps most notably, a starting role was given to Olivier Giroud, the much-loved veteran who had helped stabilize us last season, who had won the Europa League with us the year before, and the F.A. Cup with us the year before that.

I love Giroud. Not just because he’s got a killer left boot and a penchant for extravagant solo goals, but because he is the consummate professional. When we first bought him, I regret to say, I wasn’t too happy, because he was old and had played for our biggest rivals. But he won me over very quickly. He’s easy to like because he always works hard for the team and has no real ego. Because Tammy was playing so well and Timo was new, Giroud hadn’t been utilized much up until that point in the season. When the Sevilla game came around, it felt like we owed him a start.

Giroud went on to score all 4 goals in the game, becoming the oldest player in Champions League history to get a hattrick and the first player to score 4 goals in a game for Chelsea since Frank Lampard himself (March 2010). It was also a perfect hattrick (right foot, left foot, header), the fourth goal being a penalty. A perfect hattrick on a perfect night for Chelsea. Everyone was smiling and the sense of togetherness had never been so strong. Lampard was grinning from ear to ear and as a fan, it was the happiest and most optimistic I’d felt during his time in charge.

Of course, things didn’t turn out the way the Sevilla game suggested they would. Why this run came to an end I’m honestly not sure- but the point of this post isn’t to examine that. I simply want to immortalize the high points of Lampard’s reign, a reign which provided fans with entertaining football and some thrilling moments. I’m curious to know how it will be remembered in the years to come. Will it be seen as an unremarkable blip that no one really remembers, or indeed wants to remember? I think it depends largely on what happens next. If the young players he introduced- namely: Abraham, Mount, Gilmour, James, and Tomori- go on to form the basis of a squad that wins trophies, then you have to consider Lampard’s tenure a limited success. If we sell these same players and go on to win with new faces, then it sadly will be considered a failure. Lastly, if we go on to win nothing either way, and Chelsea fades in relevance, then maybe, just maybe, sacking him will be judged by history as a mistake.

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