Chelsea season preview: Curtailed by transfer ban, Chelsea under 'prodigal son' Frank Lampard look imbalanced

  • Former player Frank Lampard replaced Maurizio Sarri as the Chelsea manager

  • Eden Hazard moved to Real Madrid leaving Chelsea's attacking options pretty thin

  • Chelsea's transfer ban has made things tougher for them - especially in defence

Prodigal son he might not be, but Frank Lampard is certainly an all-time favourite offspring at Stamford Bridge and his return to Chelsea as their manager is a homecoming story like no other. Yet, in the season that one darling returned to take up the slippery reins of the club, another departed for greener pastures and left behind a gargantuan void that the South London club will struggle to fill; especially with a transfer ban curtailing them from using their normally-deep pockets in the market and finding a replacement.

But, is it even possible to replace one of the best wingers in the planet who was also a talismanic presence in the club for aeons? Clearly, Eden Hazard’s big-money move to that all-consuming magnet of the best in the business, Real Madrid, is not just a loss in football terms, but also a psychological body-blow.

Hazard joined the club in 2012, while still a young talent rising up the echelons, and became the powerhouse that he is, at Chelsea. He won a ton of individual and collective honours for the club and departed after guiding the team to a final Europa League triumph last season with a 4-1 hammering of London rivals Arsenal.

 Chelsea season preview: Curtailed by transfer ban, Chelsea under prodigal son Frank Lampard look imbalanced

Chelsea players during a pre-season friendly against Red Bull Salzburg. Reuters

But, in the big bad world of football, emotions become passé on occasions and the past truly becomes the past. Thus, Lampard must build a team with what he has got and given his ruthless Russian owner Roman Abramovic’s proclivity to sack managers, the English legend, a coach with little experience at the top level, must begin on the front foot.

Chelsea in 2019-20

Lampard is the 14th managerial appointment by Abramovic and it still seems a bit bizarre that his predecessor Maurizio Sarri left despite guiding the team to a top-four finish last season and European honours. Yes, they did finish way behind the top two, Manchester City and Liverpool - two clubs which seemed to be in a league of their own last season - yes, they were embarrassed by the champions by six goals to nil, but Sarriball was eventually imbibed by the Blues who made a very strong finish to the season.

Yet, the chain-smoking strategist from Italy has gone back to his homeland to take up the hot seat at Juventus after getting an irresistible offer and left behind a club with both strengths and egregious weaknesses.

As a custodian, Kepa Arrizabalaga is one of the best in the business. Despite his substitution-mishap with Sarri last season, the world’s most expensive goalie often showed his class between the sticks and will be source of assurance for his greenhorn manager if he continues to develop as a ‘keeper in the same upward trajectory that made Chelsea shell out an astonishing amount of money for him to snap him up from Athletic Bilbao. However, there might be issues with what lies in front of him, though.

Chelsea’s problems begin at the back. David Luiz completed a deadline-day move to Arsenal to compound the issues at the centre of defence for the Blues. Antonio Rudiger has the potential to be a top central defender but has often been tragically inconsistent and, it seems, Cesar Azpilicueta, the captain since Gary Cahill’s departure, and Marcos Alonso, the other senior pro in the backline, will have to shoulder maximum responsibility despite having a mixed season last time.

However, with Lampard showing a liking for youth, it might be time for the young defender from Denmark, Andreas Christensen to hog the limelight. Also getting more game-time will be talented young guns Recce James and Fikayo Tomori, who will not be loaned out now with Luiz gone.

It’s not as if the Blues were abjectly profligate at the back last season, they only conceded 39 goals in the Premier League but, when they imploded, they did so big time and in calamitous fashion. With Lampard’s wards conceding 10 in the pre-season games and Luiz gone, those little holes might become gaping chasms unless someone steps up to take responsibility.

Chelsea’s flanks will also feel a Hazard-shaped void and both Willian and Pedro fail to inspire confidence on a day-in, day-out basis and are probably a better bet in Cup competitions, than the grind of a demanding league, despite both having impressive attributes. Lampard will have great expectations from the dynamic Callum Hudson-Odoi to light up the wings but one should not overburden the youngster with expectations. Also, Hudson-Odoi missed the pre-season engagements tending to a hurt Achilles and may miss a couple of games early on as the management eases him back into the first team.

With Mateo Kovacic and Christian Pulisic joining their ranks, Chelsea are not short on creativity, though. Both will bring flair to the centre of the park and along the wings. Lampard has a great assortment of midfielders at his disposal with Jorginho becoming the person whom he will rely on to pull the strings and N’Golo Kante again reprising his role as the classic box-to-box medio. Ross Barkley and the young Mason Mount have both been in great form in pre-season and with England international Ruben Loftus-Cheek also in the mix, despite a niggle, the Blues actually have one of the most complete midfields in the League.

Who will get the goals for them, though? Michy Batshuayi has talent but doesn’t yet seem like he has a 25-goal season in him while Olivier Giroud has remodelled himself into a super-sub rather than a regular starter. The onus of becoming the main striker may fall on youngster Tammy Abraham, but is he ready for the big league yet?

Lampard: What to expect

The club legend and record goal-scorer evokes a lot of happy memories for a club that doesn’t have as illustrious a history as an Arsenal or Manchester United. However, Lampard, the coach, is still a relatively unknown entity who didn’t really set the stage on fire last season with Derby County. What one can expect from him is an endeavour to develop young players rather than inevitably buy readymade superstars all the time as Chelsea have been wont to do in the past. He will want to build a structure which has a healthy mix of youth and experience that challenges for silverware in time.

However, the two-window transfer ban has left the manager impaired. He would surely have been in the market for a centre-forward and maybe a central defender and the current squad does look a bit disbalanced.

It is assured, though, that the football under Lampard will be just as entertaining as Sarri, even if they commit hara-kiri on the way.

Realistic goals

One would always expect Chelsea to be in the mix when it comes to title aspirations. Their achievements in the last two decades accord them that respect. However, Lampard might set his sights on more achievable goals and a top-four finish for last season’s third-placed side is definitely attainable; though it won’t be very easy. Manchester United, against whom they begin their campaign in a high-voltage clash on Sunday, looked a rejuvenated lot in pre-season and will relish the opportunity to challenge for Champions League spots again and might be one of their main rivals. As for the Champions League itself? That will be a whole new ball game for Lampard and his boys.

Updated Date: Aug 11, 2019 13:02:02 IST