Chelsea fans will be happy to see Frank Lampard again -- except if Derby win
Chelsea have made a dream start under new manager Maurizio Sarri. Sunday's emphatic 4-0 away win at Burnley stretched the Blues' unbeaten run in all competitions to 14 matches and the London club's supporters are revelling in the 59-year-old's enterprising brand of "Sarrismo" football.
There's no doubting Sarri's popularity with the Stamford Bridge faithful but Chelsea's next game, a midweek Carabao Cup tie at home against Championship side Derby County, will likely show the former Napoli boss that he has a long long way to go to reach the level of adulation that will be accorded before kickoff to Rams manager, bonafide Blues legend and record goal scorer, Frank Lampard.
There's been an intense buzz about the fixture since the draw was made a month ago, but it's since been heightened by an element of nervousness on the part of Chelsea fans due to the fact that Lampard has settled into his first managerial role exceptionally well. Capably assisted by another former Blues player Jody Morris, who also enjoyed a stellar stint as youth-team boss at the Bridge, there's an understated confidence about "Super Frank" that belies his lack of coaching experience. The duo complement each other extremely well and they have competently nudged Derby into the Championship playoff places.
It may be early days, but such is the nature of football that there's already been plenty of social media chatter about Lampard and Morris being a future dream ticket to manage Chelsea. Just as well, then, that Sarri has got off to a successful start in SW6 because should the Blues have been struggling going into the Derby game, the pressure could have been extreme, especially given the fact that the Rams pulled off the shock result of the season to date when knocking Manchester United out of the competition at Old Trafford in the previous round.
It's a certainty that both sets of supporters will join as one to serenade Lampard and applaud Morris as they emerge from the tunnel but once the whistle blows, the home crowd will focus on getting behind their team. That won't change should the unthinkable happen and Derby score to take the lead, either.
Adding to the atmosphere is the fact that it's highly unlikely that Lampard and Morris will engage in any kind of fan-angering behaviour the way former Chelsea manager and one-time idol Jose Mourinho resorted to recently when his Man United side played at the Bridge; all things being equal, there's little chance of abuse being directed their way should they mastermind a victory for the visitors.
If there is a potentially contentious point about the tie from a Chelsea fan's perspective, it surrounds the decision taken -- presumably with Sarri's blessing -- to grant Derby permission to field loanees Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount.
The Premier League side write into the contracts of all their domestic loan players that they cannot play against the Blues but at Lampard's request, Tomori and Mount will get to face their parent club. Both parties agreed it was a great opportunity for the players to test their abilities against Premier League stars but this could end up being viewed as a fool's errand by Chelsea fans should Derby win.
The ideal scenario for the home crowd then would involve an emotional welcome for Lampard and Morris followed by Chelsea racing into an unassailable 3-0 half-time lead. Tomori could provide the assist for a late Mount consolation goal and following another rousing rendition of "Super Frankie Lampard" after the full-time whistle, everyone would go home happy safe in the knowledge that the order of things had been preserved, a legend and his sidekick had been saluted and a couple of young bucks from the academy had been cheered on their way.
Yet life is seldom this simple at Stamford Bridge, where cycles of good fortune and euphoric success have a habit of reversing rapidly and when least expected. Mourinho was once feted as The Special One and another title-winning manager, Antonio Conte, cheered to the rafters. The pair were architects of their own misfortune, perhaps, but neither man is held in the same esteem they once were by Chelsea supporters; many fans regularly look back and still scratch their heads, bemused as to how it all went so wrong.
Right now, it seems inconceivable that Lampard could suffer a similar fall from grace during the course of one cup tie and end up a target for Chelsea fans, though it's worth remembering the flurry of bile directed his way at the end of his playing career by a small section of supporters who were enraged at his decision to join Premier League rivals Manchester City in a short-term loan move from Major League Soccer. Inevitably, he would go on to score against his former employers, which angered the dissenters even more.
Fortunately, the rage soon dissipated and the world moved on but the unsavoury episode serves as a reminder that even "Super Frank," the legend of Chelsea legends, isn't immune to the type of trolling that has become all too prevalent in the modern era.