It’s time to put up or shut up for Chelsea this season. All the talk of “They’re still a young team” or “Frank Lampard is still a young manager” all stop now. Everything the team has worked for all year comes to a head over the next few weeks. These upcoming matches will define the season.
As Chelsea emerge from their winter break this weekend, they take on top-four rivals Manchester United at Stamford Bridge. They follow that up with a trip to arch rival, and top-four contender as well, Tottenham Hotspur the next weekend. Three days after that, the Blues host Bayern Munich in the first leg of the Champion’s League round of 16. Quite the challenge ahead.
Chelsea certainly have shown the flash to combat such obstacles already this season, mainly from their youngsters. Tammy Abraham’s hat trick at Wolves, Christian Pulisic’s perfect hat trick at Burnley, and the magical comeback against Ajax at home, all epitomize that spirit our younger players impart.
Without a doubt, the youth players have injected an inexplicable exuberance to the squad. Reece James continues sending in one beautiful cross after another, infatuating fans with his precision. Mateo Kovacic, who is still only 25, has arguably been Chelsea’s best player all season.
So, you can never count them out. But you also can’t REALLY count on them.
Despite all this positivity, Chelsea have failed to consistently put it together for more than a handful of games at a time. Injuries to Abraham and Pulisic have done no favors, but is that a valid excuse?
It’s important to note, sure. However, Lampard cannot allow that idea to enter the dressing room. Injuries or not, transfer ban or not, go and show everyone what you’re made of. That’s important for young players to not ever feel complacent, and learn early on that excuses are not acceptable.
And with the most important part of the season coming up, Chelsea must buck up and flex their muscles now more than ever. Fighting back against all odds with the ‘never say die’ attitude for 40 minutes against Ajax at home, was great.
Now, go do it for three matches in a row. Their first opponent, Manchester United, destroyed the Blues 4-0 in the season opener, and beat them again in the League Cup. They also improved their squad in January unlike the West London club. Now, will Chelsea, with all the pressure of a six pointer, beat Man United when it matters most?
Win or lose, can they get up for a second weekend in a row when they renew their rivalry with Spurs? Plus, Tottenham are even closer to Chelsea than the Red Devils, making it another six pointer.
And then Chelsea must do their best to keep Bayern from tallying away goals in the first leg of their knockout tie. This is the part where I remind you about our leaky defense taking on Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman, and Robert Lewandoski; the group that scored seven against Spurs in one match and ten across both in the group stage.
And, adding to the ‘pile’, there is the ongoing saga of Kepa in goal. Will he or won’t he play? By the time Chelsea face the Bavarians, hopefully the issue will be solved, whether that’s with the Spaniard or backup Willy Caballero in net. Either way, it’s disconcerting and truthfully, an unnecessary piece thrown into the puzzle.
These next few matches will define Chelsea’s season. Before the season, an optimistic goal was top four. Or at least, the confidence to predict a top-four finish came from a place of optimism.
But as the Blues have flirted with fourth place all season, (not to mention the poor form of Arsenal, Man U, and Spurs) fourth has become a must for Lampard and his squad.
In Europe, reaching the last 16 was always the target. To a certain degree, playing against Bayern Munich with the second leg in Germany seems like the proverbial ‘playing with house money’ for the Blues.
Lampard as a young manager, the young players like Abraham, Pulisic, Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi and the others, and Chelsea as a whole squad must show what they’re made of. Does this Chelsea team belong in the Champion’s League? Can they truly compete with the big boys?
Chelsea will define their season over the next few weeks. And for many of the players, this could define the early parts of their careers. Early on in one’s career, you generally have a chip on your shoulder, something you have to prove to yourself and others. Chelsea’s moment to do that is right now. Let’s see how big that chip is for the manager, each player as an individual, and the squad as a whole.
Written by: Drew Pells
Edited by: Kristen