After spending big before the start of the season, Chelsea have made an adequate start to the 2020/21 campaign. They were dominant against Brighton in their opener, earning a 3-1 win against an improving side, but were brought back down to earth, losing at home to the champions Liverpool.
So far, so predictable. Realistic Chelsea fans were not expecting the Blues to go from fourth best in the top flight to Premier League champions within the space of a few weeks. But after the promise of last season, and the big bucks spent in the off season, progress is expected, and that means boss Frank Lampard, for all of the good will that he has behind him, will be under more pressure this time around.
So the relatively straightforward run of fixtures facing the Blues over the next few weeks are an ideal opportunity for Lampard’s team to get into some form. A trip to newly promoted West Bromwich Albion is followed by home ties against Crystal Palace and Southampton before they will have another test of how far they have improved against Manchester United at the end of October.
Given the number of new players arriving at the club, Chelsea are going to be hard to weigh up in the early weeks, and the expectation that this could be a fluid situation for the Blues can be seen in the online bookies sites predicting on a successful season. Currently, they are regarded as third favourites for the Premier League title, although a long way behind the main challengers Manchester City and Liverpool, but that could change given Arsenal’s rapid improvement, while Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, who have both invested heavily, are yet to get into gear.
One of the main issues facing Lampard is to work out which is his strongest line-up. The arrival of Ben Chilwell, Thiago Silva, Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Malang Sarr gives the manager a number of issues to resolve, particularly in the midfield and attacking areas of the pitch, and it may take a few games for him to establish the precise role each will play in the coming season, and to work out which players are going to be up to the pace and intensity of the Premier League.
In particular, the likes of Mason Mount, Reece James, Ross Barkley and Callum Hudson-Odoi may find their opportunities restricted, which will rob Chelsea of some of the verve and energy that the younger players brought to the line-up last season.
Despite the extensive recruitment, there are also some notable gaps in the squad. The arrival of Thiago Silva was an eye-catching way to address the need for more central defensive coverage but Silva is yet to reach match-fitness and the Blues have already conceded three goals in two games, a total that could have been more had Brighton made the most of their good play in the opener. The prospect of both Antonio Rudiger and Fikayo Tomori leaving the club, the former to Liverpool, the latter on loan to Everton, will put extra focus on this area of the starting line-up, and it would be no surprise if Chelsea made another central defensive signing before the window closes on October 5.
There also remains an issue in the goalkeeping department. First choice Kepa Arrizabalaga has already made costly errors this season and faith in the Spaniard is clearly wavering at Stamford Bridge, and with 38-year old Willy Caballero the only other option for much of last season, Lampard will be desperately hoping that new signing Edouard Mendy works out. The 28-year old will arrive as second choice, but could well find himself taking over as number one sooner rather than later.
The biggest criticism of Chelsea last season was that they were too vulnerable defensively, a tendency that saw them them concede more goals than any other team in the top ten. No matter how dynamic their midfield and attack may be, such frailty at the back could potentially cost them dearly, and it is something that Lampard will have to resolve sooner rather than later, though he is entitled to be optimistic that Chilwell and Tiago will boost the team’s defensive resolve once they settle in.
With that in mind, a relatively straightforward run of three Premier League fixtures is the ideal opportunity for the team to work on their defensive shape and resilience, ahead of the difficult challenges that lie ahead, in the Premier League and in Europe.