Chelsea riding high

Many people were sceptical when Frank Lampard was appointed as Maurizio Sarri’s successor in the summer, but the Stamford Bridge legend has quickly made his doubters aware of his managerial prowess.

Last years Europa League winners got off to a bad start, losing 4-0 away to Manchester United on the opening day of the current campaign. The performance drew criticism from many angles and especially focussed on Lampard’s younger players with Jose Mourinho stating after the game, “You look to the performance of Mason Mount, the performance of Tammy Abraham, you look to the performance even of (Andreas) Christensen and for matches of this dimension you need a little bit more.”

Whilst the Danish centre-half has had some mixed displays, often being outshined by Fikayo Tomori at the heart of defence, Mount and Abraham have gone from strength to strength since the humbling defeat at Old Trafford. Abraham has notched up eight goals so far in the Premier League and recorded his first strike in Europe away at Lille on matchday two in the UEFA Champions League.

Like Lampard, there were many doubts over his ability after a successful spell in the Championship last year on loan at Aston Villa, but the England striker has made the step-up seamlessly and proved he can be Chelsea’s main man for years to come. Lampard was fully aware of Mason Mount’s ability when he arrived back in West London; the pair worked together whilst at Derby County during 2018/19 and Chelsea’s record goal scorer has shown a lot of faith in the young midfielder’s ability ever since.

The pacey Tomori was also on loan at Derby last season, and despite having to wait a little longer to get his chance, he hasn’t looked back since. The returning trio, alongside the now fit again Callum Hudson-Odoi, form a core of young British players who could be at the centre of a fruitful future for Chelsea.

They are no longer the financial powerhouse they once were when Roman Abramovich first bought the club, and although they still do have significant funds in the market, they may need to be more tactful to compete with the likes of Manchester City in the future. After the transfer ban was upheld against the West London club and Eden Hazard’s departure to Real Madrid was confirmed, many people thought Chelsea would struggle to compete at the top end of the table this season. However, they have turned into many peoples third place favourites following their encouraging start to the campaign and United’s, Arsenals and Tottenham’s subsequent struggles.

If Lampard can get key men Antonio Rudiger and N’golo Kante fit to aid the inexperienced stars in his side, then Chelsea could really be the team to watch in the second half of the season. Rudiger has only been able to make one start in the Premier League so far which ended at half-time away to Wolves. World cup winner Kante hasn’t faired much better either, only making three starts in the league and returning from the last international break with a new set-back, something which angered Lampard greatly.

With the quality and experience that Rudiger and Kante can bring, alongside the ability and goalscoring threat that Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s return will give the side, Chelsea will surely only get stronger as the games go by.

Another factor perhaps underappreciated so far this season is how brave the Chelsea manager has been in his tactics. Although his side have conceded a lot of goals, they have often scored more. Manchester United fans were goading their rivals back in August but how the tables have turned since. They can only dream of a former player at the helm who plays attacking football which produces goal after goal and entrusts young academy graduates from the start.

This new look Chelsea side recorded their most significant victory yet on Wednesday night, winning 1-0 away at last seasons Champions League semi-finalists, Ajax. “I’m delighted with every element of the performance. I think we’re allowed to be excited tonight. That’s the blueprint. There are no excuses for us now. That’s the standard and we can’t drop it.” Explained the Blues boss.

The young players are still babies in terms of Champions League minutes, so this was a huge test for them.

It was test they rose to and passed with flying colours. Chelsea deserved the three points from a very positive display in the Johan Cruyff Arena.

How far Lampard and this crop of young players can go remains to be seen. The jump from third place contenders to title challengers has never been bigger in the Premier League era. Manchester City and Liverpool are streets ahead of the rest currently, securely a top four position would be deemed a successful season this year for Chelsea and Lampard but going forward, surely challenging the elite has to be the goal.

For that the Stamford Bridge outfit will need to be the complete team. Questions linger over whether Abraham can turn up in the big games, having failed to score against United, Liverpool, Leicester and Ajax, Chelsea’s hardest opponents so far this season. Whether Lampard can also outthink and out manoeuvre the likes of Klopp and Guardiola also remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, Chelsea are riding high and exceeding all expectations.

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George Cannon

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