A two-window transfer ban, their star player has been sold and a manager is in charge with a solitary season of second-tier experience. Yet, the feel-good factor at Chelsea could not be much higher.
The optimism at Stamford Bridge is down to one man. The appointment of club legend Frank Lampard – all-time record goalscorer and winner of 13 trophies during his Chelsea playing days – has got the fans hoping that he could replicate the likes of Pep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane. Both were club legends at Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively, who produced sustained success after stepping up to first-team management.
However, the reality remains that Lampard is facing a tough challenge to maintain Chelsea’s status as a top-four Premier League side. Here are the areas the Blues manager needs to address to have a successful season.
- Fill the Hazard void
Chelsea may have finished third in the Premier League and won the Europa League last season, but no one can dispute that Eden Hazard single-handedly papered over the cracks of a dysfunctional and stuttering team. Lampard does not only need to find a way to replace the 16 goals and 15 assists Hazard produced last season, but also how to compensate for losing Chelsea’s only world-class matchwinner.
Pre-empting Hazard’s move to Real Madrid, Chelsea signed highly-rated winger Christian Pulisic from Borussia Dortmund, but expecting a 20-year-old with no Premier League experience to seamlessly replace one of the best players in the world is a big ask.
Lampard will need to extract more from experienced wingers Pedro and Willian this season while offering more chances to 18-year-old prospect Callum Hudson Odoi once he recovers from his current injury.
- Get the strikers firing
Chelsea’s reliance on Hazard was accentuated further last season by the strikers’ collective struggles in front of goal. Alvaro Morata was moved on in January after just five goals, although his replacement, Gonzalo Higuain, fared no better following his arrival on loan.
Olivier Giroud, meanwhile, may have scored only two Premier League goals, but the French World Cup winner was prolific in the successful Europa League campaign He finished the tournament as top-scorer with 11 goals.
Lampard will also be able to call on the services of Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi, who impressed during the second half of last season on loan at Crystal Palace with five goals in 11 games. As well as Academy graduate Tammy Abraham after his central role to Aston Villa’s promotion campaign.
In an ideal world, Lampard would look to reinvest some of the €100m received for Hazard on a new striker, and that is undoubtedly a position that needs addressing in 12 months’ time. In the meantime, though, the Chelsea manager will need to find strategies that create chances for the strikers he currently has on the books.
- Organize the midfield
For all of Chelsea’s potential problems in attack, their central midfield options can rival any team in the Premier League, barring Manchester City. In Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, Chelsea has two fine passers, while N’Golo Kante is their one remaining world-class player and arguably the best defensive midfielder in the world.
Additionally, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who looks set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines with an Achilles injury, has the potential to become a top player. Plus, Ross Barkley showed signs last season that he could live up to his billing as one of the most talented English midfielders of his generation.
What Lampard must decide is how best to organize his central midfield. Predecessor Maurizio Sarri received prolonged criticism from the Chelsea faithful for opting Jorginho at the base of the midfield and using Kante in a more attacking role, which negated many of the Frenchman’s best qualities.
Returning Kante to a central screening role is expected, with Jorginho in a more advanced role where he can utilize his range of passing. Lampard has the midfielders to build his team around – it just depends on how they line up.
- Give youth a chance
The blessing in disguise of Chelsea’s transfer ban is that it has opened up the opportunity for a host of their talented Academy graduates to stake a claim in the first-team squad. It has been one of the great frustrations of the Roman Abramovich era that the youth sides have swept all before them and racked up countless pieces of silverware. Yet very few have made the step up to the senior setup.
Abraham, Mason Mount and Reece James – fresh from fine loan spells in the Championship – look set to be given chances, while Hudson-Odoi is sure to be handed a more influential role.
Whether they all have the necessary level to step up and make contributions in the Premier League will remain to be seen, but their involvement in the first team will give Lampard new options and provide the fans homegrown players to support.