Frank Lampard and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have recently guided their teams (Chelsea and Man Utd respectively) to champions league spots at first time of asking – but who had the better season? In this article, we will analyse who comes out on top in this duel. The league position doesn’t necessarily tell the full story so we will consider numerous factors and their impacts to make our final verdict.
Recent years have seen a shift in the hiring approach by Europe’s biggest clubs – young and inexperienced ex-players are getting more chances to prove themselves as managers at their previous clubs than ever before. This trend, arguably spearheaded by Real Madrid’s appointment of Zinedine Zidane in 2016 which culminated in three champions league titles to date, has resulted in Frank Lampard and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer getting their dream managerial positions at their ex clubs. Both men were incredibly successful at their respective clubs as players, and they have now been given the chance to match their accolades as managers.
‘Super’ Frank Lampard, a man considered to be one of Chelsea’s greatest ever players, was appointed as the Chelsea Manager in June 2019 after impressing in his first managerial season with Derby County in the Championship. Derby finished the season in 6th and had two impressive cup runs in which they managed to knockout a few Premier League sides, including a shock victory over Manchester United after a penalty shoot-out. Frank managed to reach a 42.1% win rate – a fairly respectable feat, especially for someone with no previous managerial experience. Although controversially for some, this achievement earned Frank his dream job: manager of Chelsea FC.
In many Chelsea fans’ eyes, the appointment of Lampard was overshadowed by two major events that would cause serious concern for the 2019/20 season. Firstly, Chelsea were punished with a season-long transfer ban (cut-down from the initial two-season ban) for breaching rules regarding dealings with overseas players under the age of 18. This would be a severe concern for any Premier League side considering how much money the English clubs spend in every transfer window, however, it was made even worse by the departure of their star man, Eden Hazard to Real Madrid. Losing a player of Hazard’s quality was a massive blow. The Belgian forward was incredibly successful during his spell in West London: he was voted player of the season in four of his seven seasons at the club and was even voted the best player in the Premier League in the 2014/15 season. His influence certainly didn’t diminish during his time at the Bridge, which could have been expected given the distraction posed by his record-breaking transfer to the Spanish giants. In his final season with the London team, Hazard was directly involved in 28% of Chelsea’s goals and was named the man of the match 14 times in 37 appearances, highlighting his importance. The combination of losing your best player and not being able to sign any replacements made Lampard’s job incredibly difficult and led to many experts predicting a below-par season for the ex-midfielder.
Lampard’s Chelsea made the worst possible start to the season. They lost the highly anticipated season-opener against Man Utd in an embarrassing manner (4-0). At this point, many Chelsea fans feared the worst, some even predicting a repeat of the 2015/16 season in which they finished 10th in the league. In fact, the whole of August was very difficult for the Blues: they only managed to get one win, 3-2 over the newly promoted Norwich. However, the English manager proved his qualities and silenced the critics by getting into the top four by the 9th game week and staying there right until the end. Ultimately, the Blues finished fourth, missing out on the third spot due to an inferior goal difference. Given the mentioned difficulties faced by Frank and the resultant need to rely on unproven youngsters which, traditionally hasn’t been common for Chelsea, securing Champions League can be considered a massive success and an insight to how good Lampard can be as a manager. To add to the success in the Premier League, Chelsea also reached the FA Cup Final which they unfortunately lost to an inspired Arsenal side. Although their runs in the League Cup and the Champions League (round of 16 reached in both competitions) were far from promising, their season in general can be considered a massive success.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole was appointed as a caretaker manager when Mourinho was sacked by Ed Woodward in December 2018. His incredible run (14 wins in 19 games) and revitalisation of the squad led to the Man Utd board making Ole the permanent manager. Unlike Chelsea, Ole’s United experienced a pretty busy summer transfer window ahead of the 2019/20 season, both from an incomings and outgoings perspective. Proven Premier League stars such as Lukaku and Alexis, amongst others, were let go in what became the start of a revolution of the squad and the entire transfer strategy. Ole made it clear that he was interested in young players that were fully committed to the club rather than opting for household names that would excite Ed Woodward from a commercial point of view. Indeed, the Norwegian signed Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan- Bissaka and Dan James (26, 21 and 21 years old respectively at time of signing), proving his intent. The majority of the fanbase welcomed this new approach as they were fed up with the likes of Di Maria and Falcao supposedly joining for reasons other than their passion for Man Utd. However, United’s remaining attacking options severely worried the Old Trafford faithful. Lukaku and Sanchez were considered out-of-favour, but they still contributed to 30% of United’s goals in the previous season (25 out of 82), hence their departure clearly left a troubling void.
Having spent a reported £130m on defenders, the United board were reluctant to add any forward players to the squad, apart from the aforementioned Dan James who was brought in as a squad player for a mere £17m. This made Ole’s job incredibly hard as he had to rely on Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood to deliver the goals. None of the mentioned three ever reached a 20 goal tally in a season and as promising as Greenwood was, he was still only 17. Ole’s first full season in charge looked like an extremely difficult task.
However, Ole managed to exceed expectations – he significantly improved the players he put his trust in and his gamble on relying on the youth worked out well. The goal scoring tally of the young front three mentioned before certainly proves that. Martial, Rashford and Greenwood managed to amass an impressive 64 goals, even more than Liverpool’s famous attacking trio. They all broke their goal-scoring records. Indeed, in Ole’s first full season in charge, his ‘tricky reds’ managed to score 110 goals, a significant improvement on the season before. Imagine what he can achieve when the board allows him to add another world class forward to the line-up, someone of Jadon Sancho’s ilk, for instance. Solskjaer didn’t only improve the goalscoring tally; he also transformed United’s defence. In 2019/20, the Red Devils conceded 20 goals less than the season before, only Man City and Liverpool had better defensive records in the Premier League. Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan- Bissaka looked like exceptional coups and even De Gea’s poor form didn’t tarnish their defensive achievements.
Ole’s problems didn’t end with the season starting, more challenges unveiled themselves as the season progressed. The biggest cause of Ole’s headaches was the amount of injuries his squad experienced; this was exasperated by a very thin squad. Paul Pogba, a world cup winner and arguably one of the best midfielders in the world suffered two long-term injuries which limited him to only 16 league appearances, with most of them occurring during ‘Project Restart’. Ole’s midfield options were limited, resulting in Andreas Pereira receiving more game time than Man Utd fans would’ve hoped for. Although showing promising signs at times, Pereira did not manage to make a significant contribution – scoring one goal and assisting three in 25 league appearances. The midfield simply lacked creativity and any attacking intent with Fred, McTominay and Matic being more defensively minded midfielders. Ole favours a system in which the midfield plays a pivotal role to the fast, attacking style of play. Signing Bruno Fernandes highlights this to a tee – the arrival of the Portuguese playmaker completely transformed United’s season and ultimately allowed them to finish in the top 3.
United are still unbeaten in the league since Bruno joined in January. To add to Pogba’s injury, Rashford and Martial also missed significant parts of the season or were forced to play with ongoing injuries. Nevertheless, Man Utd finished the season two positions higher in the league than in the 2018/19 season and reached the semi-final stage in every cup competition they were involved in. Fans from Old Trafford would certainly hope for trophies in the upcoming season, however, as first full seasons go, 2019/20 was a success and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deserves a lot of praise.
Who comes out on top?
Both managers performed extremely well in their first full seasons in charge given the challenges they faced. Unsurprisingly, fans of both teams have been arguing over who had the better season. An easy comparison to make would be their head-to-head record. Ole managed to beat Frank Lampard on three out of four occasions over the course of the season, including two victories in the league which eventually resulted in United finishing above Chelsea in the Premier League. However, it must be said that Lampard’s job was harder from the get-go. Even though Solskjaer would’ve hoped to make more signings, the board did allow him to spend around £150m in the summer, and then another £50m in January on Bruno Fernandes. Lampard didn’t have the same privileges and had to resort to a lot of unproven young players such as Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Reece James, among others. Lampard’s side did finish lower in the league but only on goal difference and still accomplished their main objective: securing a Champions League spot.
To add to that, the Blues also managed to reach a cup final, after convincingly beating United in the FA Cup semi- final, whereas Ole’s men failed to achieve this on three separate occasions, raising questions about having the ‘winning’ mentality. It can also be argued that United’s eventual success should be attributed to Bruno Fernandes’ genius – Ole must be praised for signing such a gem but even he couldn’t have expected Bruno’s impact to be so transformative, it has even been likened to that of Eric Cantona’s which is one hell of a compliment in itself. Finally, given the fact that Ole was appointed 6 months before Frank Lampard, hence having more time to learn and get the best out of his squad leads us to the verdict that Lampard’s first full season in charge slightly tops Solskjaer’s. It seems like this opinion is shared by many as Lampard was nominated for the Manager of the Season award over Ole. Nevertheless, Solskjaer’s achievements cannot be understated, United fans haven’t been this satisfied with their team since Sir Alex Ferguson left and everything is looking to be on the up in the North West of England.
The upcoming season is promising to be even more exciting for the two managers. Chelsea have already spent around £230m on incredible talent and it seems like United are becoming more active in the transfer market too with the recent purchase of Donny Van De Beek. Can the two sides take another step and challenge Liverpool and Man City for the top two spots? It certainly wouldn’t come as a surprise!
Let us know who you think had the better first full season in charge and which one out of the two teams will have a better 2020/21 season!