In a season where Chelsea have arrived at a crossroads, the onus is on Frank Lampard and his squad to bring silverware back to Stamford Bridge. On the back of undergoing a major overhaul in the squad, with Willian and Pedro bidding farewell to the club, we could be witnessing a new, trophy-laden era at the club. The expectations going into the new season are as high as ever but can the players put up a sustained title challenge domestically and in Europe? Let’s get right into it.
The 2019-20 season was a rather satisfying one for Chelsea. Though certain scribes and pundits denigrate the manager by bringing on the table the fact that they didn’t win any trophies, the progress made went far deeper than potentially just winning a cup. It was about restoring the confidence in Chelsea fans and to proclaim that Frank is here to win and hoover up trophies for his club, this time as a manager. Keeping their place in Europe’s elite competition after a transfer ban that saw Chelsea unable to bring in new signings and having to put faith in their brilliant academy graduates, a feel-good factor was introduced at the Bridge; a small peak through the curtain into the reign. The pressure as ever is on Frank to repay the faith shown by the Chelsea hierarchy by breaking that barrier and by getting a trophy and reducing the gap to the top of the table. The early signs are encouraging; Chelsea have a richness of options but just need to put them together in a system that plays to their strengths. The sky is the limit for them. This team, with a couple of more tweaks, has the potential and quality to become one of England’s best-ever teams.
After last summer’s frustrations of not being able to capture new talent, Chelsea have gone all guns blazing this time round. The acquisitions of Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Thiago Silva and Malang Sarr represent a statement of intent from club owner, Roman Abramovich, that he is fully confident in Frank Lampard’s abilities as the man to make Chelsea top dogs in England and in Europe. This was a transfer window in the making for a couple of years. And boy have Chelsea put their funds to good use. This, in retrospect, mirrors Chelsea perfectly as a club; the transfer strategy at the club was always to bring in the best senior professionals and the most promising young talent from all around the world. Marina Granovskaia, director of football at Chelsea, known among fans as ‘The Iron Lady’, has struck brilliant deals all throughout the window and it’ll be interesting to see where Chelsea stand from a business point of view at the end of the season.
KEPA: STICK OR TWIST?
It would be an understatement to claim that things haven’t went to plan for Kepa Arrizabalaga since his arrival to North London during the summer of 2018. Whether it be due to the on-pitch incident with former manager Maurizio Sarri last year or simply the amount of ‘silly’ goals he concedes, Kepa has been at the end of severe criticism, not all of it fair. Chelsea’s title-winning teams of the past have had relatively stronger competition for the sole position between the sticks, be it Cech and Cuducini, Courtois and Cech or Courtois and Begovic. Does Frank trust Kepa? Do the defenders know that they can hang their hats on him to save their blushes if needed? Does Kepa have the mentality or quality to lead a title-winning challenge? Does he make an error on one occasion too many? These are just some of the questions surrounding the player’s current status at the club. Kepa made the headlines for the wrong reasons again after Chelsea’s recent 3-1 victory at Brighton. With Italian journalist Fabrizio Romano confirming that Chelsea have already secured the services of Rennes goalkeeper, Edouard Mendy, one would assume that it is indeed make or break for the Spanish international.
YOUNG GUNS BLAZING
The Blues boast a young squad led by a manager who is still young in his managerial career. It can go both amazingly well and horribly wrong for Chelsea; if they figure out a system that works for them and Lady Luck shines on them, they can silence all critics and build from there. However, one cannot possibly ignore the risks that surround this bubble going into the new campaign. Bringing in a variety of young international players is one thing, getting them to gel and work together for the betterment of the squad takes time and effort. There’s additional pressure on the recent signings, German internationals Kai Havertz and Timo Werner, to make an impact with the likes of Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham knocking on the door for a spot in the first team. But competition for places brings out the very best in players individually and transcends to the squad thereby. That’s one thing Chelsea have improved on massively in the transfer market, strength in depth in the squad. To compete on all fronts, there must not be a major drop in quality when the bench is called upon for action, something Chelsea arguably suffered from last season. There’s big stakes and the young guns better start firing soon because it is surely going to be a tight-packed schedule.
THE CURTAIN RISES
The stage is set. The curtain rises. The 3-1 victory at the Amex overshadowed the underwhelming performance from the squad. Getting overrun in midfield, sloppy passes, goalkeeping howlers brought back memories of last season. Though Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech are yet to fully recover from injury, the early signs are promising but there was a sense of profligacy missing in front of goal. In midfield, the pivot was overcrowded and easily played through by their Brighton counterpart. The arrival of Thiago Silva will surely tighten up the defence. Many more questions will be answered as the season unravels further. It’s all to play for, and a strong league finish coupled with a trophy would ideally highlight the minimum level of expectation from the board and the fans. You could feel though, that it is almost personal for Frank Lampard, and his desire to bring a turnaround at this club he’s emotionally attached to could affect Chelsea’s showing, in positive or negative fashion. This is as exciting as it gets for Chelsea fans and it’d be the story of the season if the young guns do indeed blaze to the title!