For a club that has added the gaggle of proven talent that Chelsea has during this extremely unusual summer transfer window, the Blues sure don’t seem to be getting much consideration as a dark horse title contender.
Maybe that makes sense, given the extent to which Liverpool and Manchester City have dominated the Premier League field over the past three years. Or maybe it is explained by pointing out how maddeningly inconsistent Chelsea was last season, the first with Stamford Bridge icon Frank Lampard manning the sideline as its manager.
Chelsea finished fourth during Lampard’s maiden, coronavirus-interrupted 2019-20 campaign, one spot worse than the year before. It lost an FA Cup final last month to London rival Arsenal, a game it was favored to win. The Blues bombed out of the Champions League in humiliating fashion against Bayern Munich, dropping their two-leg round of 16 series 7-1 on aggregate. Impressive Premier League victories over the Gunners, Man City, and two against Tottenham were evened out by defeats to Burnley, Everton, Southampton and since-relegated Bournemouth.
Lampard has plenty to prove as a coach. He’ll get the chance this season thanks to the arrival of the best recruiting class any Prem team has lured in recent memory.
With some clubs around the world taking an extra-cautious approach in the uncertain financial landscape caused by the pandemic, Chelsea pounced. Backed by the bottomless pockets of billionaire team owner Roman Abramovich, the club landed just about every top target in Europe. Striker Timo Werner arrived from RB Leipzig. Hakim Ziyech from Ajax. Kai Havertz from Bayern Leverkusen, Ben Chilwell from Leicester City and Thiago Silva from Paris Saint-Germain. The price? A cool $260 million combined.
The newcomers will join a young and exciting squad that already boasts Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and American star Christian Pulisic, all of whom have improved considerably in the past year.
The Blues scored the third-most goals in England’s top flight last season. Now? Now Chelsea’s attack is downright scary.
Problem is, so is its defense.
Adding an elite and experienced center back in Silva will certainly help. But the Brazilian is also 37 years old, and there’s a reason PSG didn’t renew his contract.
Dramatic improvement is needed after Lampard’s team conceded a whopping 54 times last season, four more goals against than any team that finished in the top half of the table. The locker room could also miss the veteran presence of grizzled midfielders Willian and Pedro, who left on free transfers to Arsenal and Roma, respectively, although so far it looks as though Olivier Giroud, the popular and soon-to-be 34-year-old World Cup-winning striker, will stick around.
Add it all up, and of course there are questions. How quickly will the newcomers integrate, both within the club and in the rough and tumble Prem? The Bundesliga is slower and less physical; Havertz and Werner will need time to adjust, just as Pulisic did after he arrived from Borussia Dortmund last summer. Is there room for playmakers Havertz, Ziyech and Pulisic — the club’s best player after the season resumed in June and its freshly minted No. 10 — to be on the field at the same time?
What’s for sure is that while the Blues will have a dramatically different look this year compared to a year ago, Lampard’s high-risk, high-reward’s approach to roster building will once again ensure that Chelsea is one of the most entertaining squads in England.
And if things break right — if the favorites slip and this new and improved Chelsea can find the consistency it lacked last season — claiming its first league title since 2017 is far from impossible.
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