MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. – Former Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard had some words of advice for his former teammates, who are still struggling to rebound from the worst-ever start to a Premier League campaign by a defending champion.
"Every individual has to stand up and play better and be a bit of a leader on the team," Lampard told Yahoo Sports at Major League Soccer Media Day on Tuesday. "When you have too many players that don’t perform at a top level, then [the Premier League] is a very unforgiving league."
Lampard, who remains Chelsea’s all-time leading scorer, is currently ramping up for his first full season with New York City FC in the club's second season. He admitted he still follows the Premier League and his former team very closely.
"For Chelsea, I think it’s very simple: players don’t perform – maybe they had a second season syndrome – when you win the league last year, you come back a bit more relaxed. That’s a recipe for disaster as well," he said. "It’s going to be now a case of Chelsea clawing the best out of a bad season. Let’s hope they can get up the league and get into the top six, where they should be."
Lampard won three Premier League titles and one Champions League crown during his time at Chelsea. But he is realistic about Chelsea's current plight.
"This year, they're going to struggle to do anything spectacular," Lampard said. "But if they lift it and maybe add a few players in the summer, I think Chelsea are going to be there. They're a top club in world football."
He also had a somewhat surprising suggestion as to who in the Chelsea dressing room could help lift the team.
"Diego Costa," Lampard said. "When he controls his aggressive side, he's a great man for lifting the people around him."
Lampard's signing with NYCFC came with great fanfare, but a prolonged stint with parent club Manchester City delayed his arrival. Like his former England teammate Steven Gerrard with the Los Angeles Galaxy, Lampard admitted his first season in MLS had been tougher than expected.
"Well, the tough bit for me was getting injured because I rushed," Lampard said. "I tried to play within two weeks of being here, and at the end of week one, I got injured and missed a month or five weeks, and then it was a real catch-up personally."
Lampard is optimistic that, with a proper preseason, things will improve this time around. "It’s a huge thing for me now to have a preseason. I'm sure Andrea [Pirlo] will say the same. It's not easy coming in halfway through. This year, the excuses are taken out of it."
Lampard is also excited to work with new NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira, the legendary midfielder with Arsenal.
"I think with Patrick he'll bring his experience, he'll bring his know-how from being a great player and also from working in Manchester on the coaching side," Lampard said. "I saw that when I was there for a year. He's a very forward-thinking young coach, so we have to take in his ideas."
Having found playing in MLS to be “very enjoyable” so far, one thing in particular that seemed to stick out for Lampard was the parity in the league.
"There's kind of like an even playing field. Every week you can win or lose," he said. "It's not like some leagues in Europe where you have two or three clubs that dominate. You don’t have that here which is refreshing."
The 37-year old Lampard, who began his career with West Ham United, also admitted that there is a tendency among Premier League fans to think other leagues are inferior.
"In England, we think we've got the best league in the world, so we talk down to everything else. So we can talk down La Liga, we can talk down the MLS and say it's no good," Lampard said. "I think people are realizing now that’s not the reality.
"I think [MLS] is improving. There’s an interest because players are coming from all over Europe who played at the top clubs to the MLS."
This season, the goal for NYCFC is to be the top club in MLS.
"We want to make the playoffs. Last year, that was our aim and we fell very short of that and that was disappointing," Lampard said. "I think the club grew in one year off the pitch. We want to win it."