Lampard shoulders share of blame
Frank Lampard has insisted Chelsea's players are just as much to blame as Andre Villas-Boas for their latest slump in form. Manager Villas-Boas took "full responsibility" after Saturday's limp defeat at Everton but did not hestitate to haul in his squad on their day off yesterday morning.
That saw the Blues' underperforming stars once again confronted by the sight of billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, who spoke both to them and Villas-Boas in an attempt to get to the bottom of yet another winless run. Abramovich has now visited the club's Cobham training ground almost every day since last Saturday, taking the time to inspect the current regime at close quarters after being sidetracked by a high-profile court case.
And despite the Russian being far from happy with recent results that have left Chelsea languishing 17 points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City and outside the top four, the club continue to maintain he is not about to pull the trigger. Midfielder Lampard, who is on his seventh manager in his ten-and-a-half years at Stamford Bridge, admitted it was the players who needed to take a look in the mirror after their display at Goodison Park.
"Of course we do, it's a group thing," he told Chelsea TV. "It was a bad performance from start to finish. When you come to Everton, the one thing you know they're going to do is fight you, press you and make things tough and we didn't react to that. We created two or three chances and that's not up to standard. We can only take that on the chin and apologise to the people who came up and watched it because that's not good enough for Chelsea."
Villas-Boas has been cut more slack than all of Abramovich's previous managers, with the Russian seemingly acknowledging the difficulties of revamping an ageing squad. But Lampard insisted transition was no excuse for the current malaise, warning the club could forget about beating Napoli when the UEFA Champions League resumes unless they got their act together.
He said: "We have been fighting to win leagues. Now, we are fighting for fourth and that hurts, so we have to react. We know we are in a bad way and we have to dig ourselves out of it.Different players do come in but whoever plays has to live up to the standards we have set. If we play like we did at Everton against Napoli, we will give ourselves a mountain to climb."
Lampard returned from injury on Saturday but Chelsea have also been missing captain John Terry and striker Didier Drogba of late and it appears to have told. Lampard said: "For me, Chelsea is all about what we are and we have done it for a long time. You can't tell me that John Terry at 31, myself at 33 and Didier at 33 are players that can't offer a lot. I believe that completely."
Abramovich will be hoping his intervention has a similar effect to two years ago when Chelsea went on to win the double after the Russian held a post-mortem into their Champions League defeat to Inter Milan. There is virtually no chance of league title success this season, although the Blues are well-placed in the FA Cup and still in the Champions League.
As well as progress in those competitions, a top-four finish which would appear the minimum requirement for Villas-Boas. Abramovich's patience will be tested like never before if Chelsea do not qualify for next season's Champions League. The Russian even sacked Luiz Felipe Scolari three years ago when he began to fear a top-four place would not be secured and the Blues are in a far worse position now than they were then. But it cost Abramovich £28m in total to replace Carlo Ancelotti with Villas-Boas last summer and, in the era of Financial Fair Play, he would not throw away more money lightly.