Frank and his fledglings are now flying 

Chelsea V Ajax Celebrations
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When the Blues started the 2019-20 Premier League campaign by losing 4-0 against Manchester United, many fans and pundits alike were already beginning to write-off the season as one of transition. After all, the excuses were already in place amidst suggestions that Chelsea wouldn’t really amount to much this term.

Transfer Ban & Experienced Departures

The first and perhaps most justifiable reason that Chelsea might not do so well, of course, was the two-window transfer ban imposed by FIFA, after the club was found guilty of 150 rule breaches over academy signings. Unable to bring in any new additions until the summer 2020 transfer window, only the pre-agreed deal for Mateo Kovacic from Real Madrid could be completed, with the Croatian international penning a 5-year deal.

Hardly surprising after more than twelve months of gossip, not to mention declarations from the player himself, the departure of Eden Hazard to Real Madrid for €100 million looked set to be a huge loss for Chelsea. Unable to replace such an influential player in the transfer market, the Blues would be forced to look within for options to step into the Belgian’s talented boots.

While losing such a creative player was one factor for concern, another was losing a wealth of experience at the back, with Gary Cahill departing for Crystal Palace and David Luiz heading to Arsenal. Despite both players being well past the prime of what they could offer Chelsea, letting two such experienced campaigners go was still a huge gamble.

Initial Reactions to Lampard Appointment

As such an iconic and successful player with the Blues, the appointment of Frank Lampard as manager was met with overwhelming positivity by the vast majority of fans, while the news was also welcomed by a host of former Chelsea players, praising his coaching return to Stamford Bridge as an excellent decision by the club.

“Frank had the respect of everyone in the dressing room. When he speaks, he is the kind of person that you listen to and you respect,” assured Ricardo Carvalho, who has also taken his first steps into management as assistant to André Villas-Boas at Marseille this season. “Fantastic,” was the response from Carlo Cudicini, albeit with words of caution that Lampard would “need time to put his philosophy” in place.

Given that Lampard only had one full season of management behind him, guiding Derby County to the Championship playoff final and narrowly missing out on promotion, other reactions were mixed. Speaking on Sky Sports, Jamie Redknapp applauded the appointment, but also urged Chelsea fans “to be realistic” about their expectations in the Premier League this season. “Only time will tell,” said Jose Mourinho, albeit wishing his former pupil well.

Dodgy Start, Great Recovery

Opening his managerial account with a thumping at Old Trafford was hardly the start Lampard had been hoping for in the Premier League. However, even in defeat, the loss on penalties against Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup was far more encouraging. Chelsea had deserved much more from that encounter, with their new boss unfortunate not to be collecting his first piece of silverware.

Back in the Premier League, the harsh lessons continued with draws at Stamford Bridge against Leicester City and Sheffield United, either side of a narrow win away at Norwich City. That said, Lampard was also learning plenty and had yet to tinker much tactically. When he opted for a change of shape with three at the back away at Wolves, it paid dividends with a superb team performance and an impressive hat-trick from Tammy Abraham.

Although back to back defeats followed, against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge and then away at the Mestalla against Valencia in the Champions League, there were clear signs of progress and improvement, while Lampard wasn’t afraid of being bold and flexible tactically. Eventually, the results began to reward the effort and quality of the performances, as Chelsea set off on an excellent winning run of form.

Since beating Grimsby Town 7-1 in the EFL Cup in September, Chelsea have only lost once and that was in the same competition against Manchester United at home. In the Premier League, the latest soccer odds suggest Lampard’s team are now genuine top four contenders, thanks to six consecutive wins ahead of the international break, pushing his side up to third in the table. Likewise, there’s also a realistic chance of further progress in the Champions League. 

Frank’s Fledglings Are Flying

Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries since the arrival of Lampard have been the younger players. Prior to the 2019-20 season, Tammy Abraham had only made two league appearances and one in the Community Shield, before being shopped out on loan to Bristol City, Swansea City and Aston Villa. Now given his chance to shine with Chelsea at last, the 22-year-old has flourished, scoring 10 goals in 12 Premier League outings.

21-year-old Christian Pulisic has also thrived and is more than living up to last season’s outlay, demonstrating he’s more than capable of filling the void left by Eden Hazard. Likewise, Chelsea academy products Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount have relished the faith placed in them by Lampard, having benefitted hugely from working with him at Derby County on loan last season. Both have stepped up to the challenge of playing in the Premier League with aplomb.

Throughout the course of the season, there’s also likely to be continued opportunities for Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James, both of whom can now consider themselves firm fixtures in the first team squad and challenging for games. Such has been their eye-catching form, Abraham, Mount, Hudson-Odoi and Tomori have all been called up to the England squad by Gareth Southgate. Certainly, justified recognition for Frank’s fledglings.

The Road Ahead

While there’s a long road ahead, despite early teething problems for Lampard and his team, Chelsea are a team which are now combining stylish attacking with more resilient defending. They’re a team getting the results they deserve for their efforts, entertaining the fans and bringing genuine belief this team is capable of great things. Given how other teams in the Premier League are stuttering, the Blues should cement their place in the top four.