With the 2020/21 Premier League season on the horizon, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at Chelsea and their prospects in the upcoming campaign.
Chelsea have been one of the most successful clubs in England since the turn of the millennium. Since the takeover from Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, the Blues have invested heavily into their squad and reaped rewards as a result. However, there has been a frequent turnover in terms of youth players and managers.
Chelsea were hit with a transfer ban for poaching youth players and the misery piled up with Maurizio Sarri leaving the club for Juventus after facing a lot of ridicule despite leading Chelsea to a fourth-placed finish in the league along with the UEFA Europa League in the 2018/19 season – Sarri’s first trophy as a manager.
Frank Lampard returned to his old hunting ground after a successful managerial stint at Derby County. The former midfielder was entrusted to oversee the transition at Chelsea, especially with the club under a transfer embargo. Lampard’s boys exceeded all expectations, though, not only in terms of results but also in terms of average age of the squad and providing opportunities to youngsters.
The club got close to silverware in 2019/20 but will be gunning to achieve their maiden one under Lampard in the 2020/21 season.
Prelude – The Backdrop
With Chelsea in peril, their saviour returned, albeit in a new role. Frank Lampard was the new manager of the club as it prepared for the dawn of a new era; one that would be more kind towards youngsters amid the transfer embargo. What has happened since then is unprecedented.
The season started with a 4-0 bashing at the hands of Manchester United at Old Trafford and the subsequent results meant Chelsea pocketed just 8 points from the first six league games. However, the squad started settling down and the results began to come their way.
A run of six wins were followed by a few defeats. But, Chelsea had stabilised their position in the Premier League as a top four favourite by then. Chelsea did the double over Tottenham in the league and their highlight would be the 2-1 win over Manchester City. Frank Lampard even got Chelsea to the final of the FA Cup, only to lose to bitter rivals Arsenal.
Lampard came in like a mage and crafted his spell at the club, not only changing the tactics but the atmosphere and the core structure of the squad. Youngsters like Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori began featuring regularly while the likes of Billy Gilmour, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James became more than just hopefuls.
Chelsea now go into the new season as one of the dark horses for the Premier League title, especially after having a blinder of a transfer window after the transfer embargo ceased to exist. The likes of Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva will strengthen the first-team squad while Malang Sarr has been brought in with the future in mind.
There are strong rumours linking Rennes goalkeeper Edouard Mendy with a move to Chelsea and it only seems to be a matter of when rather than if at this point. A host of players returned from loan and there were departures to balance the books and move the players on.
Alvaro Morata’s permanent transfer was shown in the books this season while Chelsea accepted deals to sell Mario Pasalic and Nathan to Atalanta and Atletico-MG, respectively. Pedro and Willian both left on free transfers, with the latter joining local rivals Arsenal.
Jamal Blackman and Kenedy continue their trend of going out on loans while Ethan Ampadu and Michy Batshuayi made their way to fellow Premier League clubs Sheffield United and Crystal Palace on respective loan deals. Danilo Pantic went back home on loan to Serbian side Cukaricki while Jamie Cumming joined League Two outfit Stevenage, also on a loan deal.
N’Golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko are both rumoured to be disposable assets at Chelsea, with the duo linked with a summer exit. Fikayo Tomori might also be on the move. There is also talk of Jorginho and Emerson returning to Italy this summer while the Blues continue to be linked with West Ham United star Declan Rice to add to their squad.
Chelsea start off their campaign on a Monday night away at Brighton before hosting defending champions Liverpool at home. Their first series of crunch games will arrive near the holidays, starting from December 12, 2020. Chelsea will go up against the likes of Everton, Wolves, West Ham, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Leicester City – all in a period of a month approximately.
The Blues do not have a clear run of favourable games this season except during the first six or seven games barring the one against Liverpool. Chelsea also end the season on a tough note and this run might be the title decider or for the top four race. Frank Lampard’s men will face Manchester City, Arsenal and Leicester consecutively before ending the campaign at Aston Villa.
Chelsea have badly missed the presence of a leader on the pitch since the departure of John Terry and Gary Cahill. Thiago Silva’s arrival might be able to fix just that. Do not be fooled by the Brazilian’s age; for the former PSG man still looks every bit the defender he has been touted to be.
Experience and composure in the locker; having a vocal man in the backline will be crucial for Chelsea, who were woeful at the back, especially while defending set-pieces. Silva will also add another target to aim at during attacking set-pieces. The Brazilian veteran might have joined on a free transfer. But, Silva has all the makings of being the transfer of the season at Chelsea, especially during the time of the youth revolution under Frank Lampard.
The key players section might as well be filled with the latest signings in Chelsea’s case. But, Kai Havertz was a man Chelsea were after for a while before they ultimately got their man. Choosing to splash the cash on an attacking midfielder despite already having a stacked attack only goes to show how highly they rate the German playmaking engine.
Havertz is a money-maker on the pitch. He has the technique to slice through oppositions with his passes and his vision has already been hailed in the Bundesliga. Havertz will have known faces around him in the form of fellow Bundesliga imports Timo Werner and Christian Pulisic while also having another blitzkrieg in Hakim Ziyech.
Chelsea have an explosive attacking lineup and it will be up to Havertz to make them tick when going forward. The engine of the attack and the trequartista at the same time – Chelsea seem to have rolled the dice and landed on the right man in Havertz.
Werner’s arrival might hamper the growth of Tammy Abraham. But, last season was evidence of the Englishman just not being mature or experienced enough to handle being the number 9 at a club like Chelsea. Abraham started explosively, but went quiet in the second half of the season; something Chelsea cannot afford if they are to challenge for trophies.
Werner has honed his skills in the Bundesliga and shown just how predatory his finishing skills are. The German international will have a different test at hand; to deal with the raging crowd in the Premier League stadiums, once they are allowed to enter; given his earlier problems with noise on the field.
Anybody would be foolish to discard Chelsea from the title race after the transfer window they have had. On paper, Chelsea have more depth than defending champions Liverpool and look more stable as a squad compared to Manchester City right now. Frank Lampard’s true test will begin now. The English manager has proven himself of being capable of transitioning Chelsea into allowing more freedom to players compared to the Maurizio Sarri regime.
But, will he be able to handle the stars of the past, present and future all together under one roof? So far, this question is yet to be answered and the 2020/21 Premier League season will give us one. Chelsea are ruthless when it comes to managers and Lampard, despite his history at the club, will be no exception.
Still, the quality within the squad and Lampard’s first season as the Chelsea manager give us hope that the Blues will at the very least improve their position to finish third on the Premier League table in the upcoming season. The author, however, predicts a top two finish for Chelsea, even going on to predict the Blues to snatch the title away from others, if they can add a credible goalkeeper as Kepa Arrizabalaga’s competition or replacement.
THT Prediction: 3rd
Author Prediction: 1st (Winners)