Chelsea rounded off last week’s training camp in Dublin, Republic of Ireland with an easy 4-0 victory over St. Patrick’s Athletic. The difficulty and the intensity now ramps up with Chelsea spending the next seven days in Japan, where we’ll face defending Japanese league champions, and currently third placed Kawasaki Frontale on July 19 — a good physical test since they are in the middle of their season — and familiar foes Barcelona on July 23.
Chelsea have brought along a 25-man squad, which includes N’Golo Kanté who’s been on an individual fitness program and training separately from the rest of the team so far this summer. He has yet to participate in any of the preseason matches. Lampard is hoping that won’t be the case in Japan as well, though he also made it clear last week that N’Golo won’t be rushed back under any circumstances.
“N’Golo is here and will hopefully integrate with the rest of the team. I don’t envisage him being too long and hopefully will take part in one of the games while we are here.”
It’s been ten days since Lampard was announced as Chelsea head coach. He’s gotten to know a lot of his players already, helped by the basic level of familiarity that he already had with the players and the club from his prior experiences as well as watching the team last season.
But watching is one thing, working with the players is entirely different. So far, their attitude and quality has met expectations.
“I watched a lot of Chelsea last year under Maurizio Sarri, in terms of the way that the season finished to win the Europa League and secure Champions League football, it was a successful season. But for me the story is not to look backwards. I know the club very well, I know the players very well. I have my own way that I want to work with the players and I have to say in one week that we have been training I have been very happy with the attitude and the quality of the players.
“My job now is to work hard in pre-season with them. I like my teams to play with a lot of energy and speed, with and without the ball so I want to win it back as quickly as we can. When we have the ball I want to move the ball quickly and create chances and win games and feel like we are playing football that we enjoy. So that is my job now. I think I have inherited very good players. We can’t bring any players in this year, we know that but I don’t need new players. I am very happy with the squad and determined for us to be successful.”
With Eden Hazard leaving for Real Madrid and multiple key players going down with major injuries, not to mention the general overhaul that the squad needs, the transfer ban could not have come at a worse time. But the situation has also helped create a feeling of responsibility and togetherness within the club. Appointing a club legend as head coach, and having former Chelsea players in just about every coaching and technical position, has certainly helped foster that feeling as well.
Lampard is looking to use this as motivation to be competitive this season.
“A club like Chelsea always wants to improve in terms of the transfer market, if you can bring in players who can improve the squad you look at that but the decision and the story was made before I got the job. It helps my focus and if there’s a blessing in disguise it’s the fact that we don’t have a stressful start of August with the transfer window.
“The transfer ban is here so it is probably a waste of my time to think too much about what could have been or should have been, my job is to have absolute belief in the players and that is what I think the week’s training has started to give me, because I can see a quality and attitude within the squad.
“When you know where you are at it hones in what is important, which is the club together, players, fans, staff, everybody, giving everything to improve daily and improve game by game, because with the squad we have we can be really competitive this year.”
The ultimate silver lining of this transfer ban is a renewed sense of opportunity for Chelsea’s youngsters and hidden gems in the loan army to stake a place in the first team squad. Such chances are seldom provided at top clubs, let alone at Chelsea with our notoriously poor habits in youth integration.
But that’s just the carrot dangled in front of the youth. They still have the responsibility to grab it and impress the gaffer. Even those like Mason Mount, who already impressed Lampard last season while on loan at Derby County.
“In terms of where it [transfer ban] leaves us with people like Mason Mount, I am delighted that he has signed a new contract. I think everybody knows that I have a keen eye for the younger players in the academy, that they have produced and we have a batch of them that are fighting to get into the first team.
“To be absolutely clear, they now have to make the difference. It’s a road that is given to them and now they have to be the ones that play well enough to get into the team. I don’t care about age, I care about performance and how people train and play. Now with the squad it is up to those players to show what they can do.”
Mount’s commitment to Chelsea was rewarded with the five-year contract he signed yesterday, putting even more focus on the fact that Callum Hudson-Odoi still hasn’t signed is. While reports continue to paint a largely positive picture, the more it gets delayed, the more leverage Chelsea lose in making the most out of this precarious situation. Lampard once again reiterated his desire for Callum to play and stay for a long time.
“With Callum, of course I want him to sign and stay here. I said it before I came, just generally, I said it when I first got here. He is a player that has come through the academy, a player that I think can be a big player for Chelsea and for England. We as a club want him to stay, for sure.”
Frank Lampard; source: Football.London
But other than that, so far so good for Lampard and Chelsea.
The squad look happy and motivated and everyone seems united to make it a successful season, with hopefully a silverware or two in the bag as well. (We are Chelsea, after all.)