Considering that they have lost their best player, appointed a novice manager and begun serving a two-window transfer ban, there is more optimism at Stamford Bridge than might ordinarily be expected.
The chief reason for that, of course, is the return of Frank Lampard, the club’s all-time record goalscorer who is back at Stamford Bridge in a managerial capacity. The former England midfielder led Derby County to the Championship play-off final last season and returns to west London as a universally popular successor to Maurizio Sarri, whose departure at the end of last season was mourned by few Chelsea followers.
The Blues were able to complete the signing of Mateo Kovacic, who had spent last term on loan at Stamford Bridge, despite the transfer ban that was handed to them for breaking FIFA regulations on the signing of under-18 foreign players. Christian Pulisic is another new arrival, with his transfer from Borussia Dortmund agreed earlier in the year. Stepping into the shoes of the departed Eden Hazard will not be easy for the United States international, who slipped out of BVB’s starting XI after the emergence of Jadon Sancho last term.
As well as the club’s supporters, Lampard’s appointment was welcomed by another group of people at the club: its young players. Chelsea have one of the most productive academies in the country, evidenced by their monopolisation of the FA Youth Cup in recent years. Yet despite winning that trophy five times in the last six seasons, and on seven occasions since 2010, very few academy graduates have made their way into the first team.
There are signs, however, that change may be afoot. Being unable to sign any new players until next summer means Chelsea have to make the most of what they already have; moreover, the appointment of Lampard suggests that, for the first time in the Roman Abramovich era, the Blues might be willing to sacrifice short-term success for a long-term plan.
Tammy Abraham has been handed the No.9 shirt and will compete with Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi for the centre-forward spot. Abraham has spent the last three seasons on loan, spending time with Bristol City, Swansea City and Aston Villa, the latter for whom he netted 25 goals to help them win promotion from the Championship in 2018/19.
Reece James also excelled in the second tier last time out, catching the eye with his performances at right-back for Wigan Athletic. The 19-year-old looks set to serve as Cesar Azpilicueta’s deputy this campaign, while fellow defender Fikayo Tomori could also provide competition for places if he is not loaned out before Thursday’s transfer deadline.
Tomori worked with Lampard at Derby last year, as did midfielder Mason Mount. The 20-year-old is unlikely to start ahead of the likes of Kovacic, Jorginho, Ross Barkley and N’Golo Kante at the beginning of the season, but he will almost certainly make his Premier League debut in the coming months.
Winger Callum Hudson-Odoi will also assume a more prominent role once he returns to full fitness, having been restricted to only four top-flight starts under Sarri in 2018/19. Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen are more established than the above names but are still just 24 and 23 respectively, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek should continue his development as a first-team regular when he has recovered from an Achilles injury.
It has taken a while but this could be the season where Chelsea finally make use of their young talent.