Frank Lampard remembers the summer of 2014 better than most. It was the final of his thirteen seasons at Chelsea as an untimely goodbye came calling. The Blues, sadly for Lampard, won nothing that campaign. There was to be no addition to his illustrious collection of medals. But Chelsea did leave an indelible imprint on a memorable Premier League title race.
It is a season that Liverpool fans find hard to forget too. Until last season's near-miss, it was the 2013-14 campaign that evoked conversation and regret among the Reds as it did seem back then that the long wait for the league trophy was about to end. However, on a mesmeric evening in April, those dreams were extinguishing by a sleight of hand that, perhaps, only Jose Mourinho could hope to accomplish.
Lampard's future was still unknown then but Chelsea had already seen their hopes of a league title evaporate after losing three times since the beginning of March. The second leg of the Champions League semifinal against Atletico Madrid was still to come — a tie that Chelsea went on to lose in thrilling circumstances — but the sense that things were not going right in the first season of Mourinho's return was palpable.
Defying the dark clouds, the Blues produced a defensive masterclass at Anfield to leave Liverpool's aspirations gasping for air. It was the kind of performance that Mourinho often enjoyed and it must have pleased him that one his trusted lieutenants, Lampard, was there to do his bidding – John Terry was absent through injury. Arguably, that was Lampard's last great moment as a Chelsea player. Never again did he represent the club against Liverpool.
But as he prepares for his second meeting with Liverpool as a Chelsea manager, Lampard finds a different reality. For the majority of his time at the club, the Blues found themselves in a more favourable shape than Liverpool. But as he must have realised when the sides met for the Super Cup fixture in Istanbul last month, the Blues faithful now feels relieved to merely see their team fight on an even keel.
Even though the latest clash is at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, a draw will be seen as a positive result for the host as Chelsea has been more miss than hit this campaign. If any optimism was set to brew after last week's comprehensive win over Wolverhampton Wanderers, the batch turned bitter by the time Chelsea hosted Valencia in the Champions League.
It's the defensive fragility of Lampard's side that must worry him and the team. To recall his final match for Chelsea at Anfield feels even more remarkable now as displays of such defensive sophistication are a distant memory at Stamford Bridge nowadays. With Mourinho working as a television analyst in England now, Lampard must feel tempted to call upon the brains of his former manager.
The current manager’s recent shift to a three-man central defence suggests that the former midfielder recognises the problems at the back, but the season's first clean sheet still seems elusive as ever. It's unlikely that the arrival of Liverpool will change Chelsea's defensive record for the better.
The Reds, after last season's incredibly tight title race that eventually edged in favour of Manchester City, continue to believe that this is the year when the now three-decade long duck breaks and with good reason. With 14 wins in a row, it would seem that the habit of winning games even when the performance is not at the levels desired continues to stay with Liverpool. Although manager Jurgen Klopp reckoned ahead of Sunday's encounter that even a point at the Stamford Bridge will be good enough, it must rankle him that Liverpool failed to defeat anyone but Tottenham Hotspur on the road last term when we limit our numbers to the top six clubs.
Chelsea's recent results, though, must offer the European champion confidence that the Blues are ripe for the taking. Lampard’s side has already shipped 14 goals in seven competitive matches this season, which translates to two goals every match. Considering Liverpool's defensive solidity, Chelsea can ill-afford a repeat of their shambolic defensive organisation if it hopes to get anything out of Sunday’s encounter.
But Lampard, of course, has known a different reality. Five years ago, it was hard to find those who thought that Chelsea would be able to shift the course of destiny. It was Liverpool’s time, we were made to believe. But Jose Mourinho and his charges prepared themselves to craft a different reality, revelling in their given role of an underdog. Lampard’s Chelsea is firmly cast in that role as well. Perhaps, the Mourinho playbook will come handy on Sunday.
Priyansh is an independent journalist and writer in Toronto.
Updated Date: Sep 22, 2019 12:30:28 IST