United, Chelsea confront in epic clash


There could not be a bigger stage for Frank Lampard to make his Premier League coaching debut Sunday than the "Theatre of Dreams" at Old Trafford, where Manchester United welcome the new Chelsea boss to the top flight, reports AP.

In a case of the more things change, the more that stay the same, Chelsea had yet another coaching switch in the summer as Maurizio Sarri left after one season and a Europa League title. The London side also finished a distant third in the table - 26 points behind champions Manchester City - and supporters never warmed to the eccentric chain-smoking Italian as he became the 13th manager to come and go since Roman Abramovich took ownership of the club in 2003.

In Sarri's place is one of their own in Lampard, a legend for the club as their No. 8, scoring 147 goals in 429 matches in a career that spanned from 2001-14. Also a standout England international, Lampard was part of three Premier League-winning teams and the 2012 Champions League side who defeated Bayern Munich on penalties.

While Lampard's player CV is as long as the day, his managerial experience is not, which makes this move a gamble. His coaching career began only last season, guiding Derby County to a sixth-place finish in the Championship and the promotion playoff final versus Aston Villa. While the Rams came up short in the "richest game in the world," Abramovich saw enough potential to make the move rather than have a second tense season with Sarri at the helm.

"Of course this club aims to be playing Champions League football every year," Lampard said about expectations without laying down specific markers in his Friday press conference. "We did that last year and I would love to be able to do that again for us. I'm not settling for fourth place, but we're realistic. We will have to work every day to improve and improve and improve, and try and stay right up there.

"Manchester City and Liverpool showed the rest of us there is a gap, and that's a gap everyone has to try and make up. We are striving to do that. I don't want to get ahead of myself and say this position or that position will be a success."

One of the traits that made Lampard appealing to Chelsea was his work with young players at Derby. And with the Pensioners having completed the first of a current two-window transfer ban, there is an influx of youth at Cobham will all of the players they recalled from loans across Europe.

All of those players, though, will not replace the signature loss of Eden Hazard, who joined Real Madrid on an eye-watering £88.5 million in June. Cheslea planned for the eventuality of the Belgium international moving on with the signing of Christian Pulisic, the current face of international soccer in the United States.

The 20-year-old shattered the transfer fee record for any American player at £58 million when terms were agreed to in January while he played for Borussia Dortmund. Pulisic is expected to slot into Hazard's spot on the left, though Lampard prefers a 4-2-3-1 set-up to Sarri's 4-3-3.

Lampard also has opted for youth in central defence as 32-year-old David Luiz surprisingly moved across London to Arsenal before the close of business Thursday. The new manager denied there was a rift between the two, citing a numbers game in which Chelsea have "four centre-halves. Three full internationals, one is an under-21 international who I worked with last year." The move leaves holdover Andreas Christensen and Kurt Zouma - who was loan at Everton last season - as the likely pairing.

If there is one side who can go toe-to-toe with Chelsea for drama - on or off the pitch - it is Manchester United. They will be looking to retrace the Pensioners path back to the Champions League via a Europa League title or top-four finish after placing sixth in a tumultuous 2018-19.