Chelsea are back this weekend after three months, but there are plenty of concerns and issues to contend with as we try to play football in a pandemic.
The risk of injuries have increased with players going into games after a long break — we’ve already seen that in the first two games, on Wednesday — but at the same time, the break has allowed many players to regain fitness and recover for the remaining nine games.
Those are just some of the issues coaches around the league have to deal with, as Chelsea boss Frank Lampard explained in today’s pre-match press (tele-)conference.
"I think there are a lot of challenges, I think we’ve already encountered a lot of them in the short period to try to get the players fit for these games. They were off for a long time and we’ve had to try to guard against injury whilst getting as fit as we can, and I think we’ll see that in the early games for everyone. And then it’s just making the players as aware as I can of the challenges that are coming up, and things that look different.
“One thing that pretty much remains the same is the players on the pitch realising what’s at stake in these games and performing to the best of their abilities to try to win for Chelsea. That’s the focus and we’ll try to take that into every game.”
The Premier League modified certain rules under Project Restart, including the number of substitutions, with teams able to now make 5 and name 9 to the bench. This should help not only in reducing injuries and maintaining fitness, but also in keeping a good squad rotation going and youth players involved.
Chelsea were in fact one of the clubs driving this change to the rules, and Lampard, who already set a Chelsea record for number of senior debuts handed out this season, is looking to take advantage of it.
“I think it is a nice problem. We have missed big players this season in big parts. Ruben, for example, hasn’t played for us. N’Golo Kante has played about 50% of games. You could go through them and I have missed them. I enjoy the problem.
“A message to the players on Sunday, whether you start or not, we are going to need the squad. There is going to have to be a togetherness. The players just have to perform when asked to and they look ready to.
“I think [more subs] is a very good thing considering the circumstances and the bigger bench. I think that should be something that stays the course because you work with players all through the week as a squad. You try to get younger players on the bench in the Premier League. Everyone has academies and bigger squads, so to be able to try and get younger players in the long term is a great thing.
“I think with the five subs; we saw that the energy levels on the other night and the injuries that it is crucial probably for player care as well to keep enough players fit."
The final few games of the season is expected to heat up the top-four as well as the relegation survival battle. Chelsea belong in the former race with Manchester United just three points adrift of Chelsea in 5th, and both Sheffield United and Wolverhampton Wanderers hot on their heels. (Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal are there somewhere, too.)
As we know, at the end of the day, the thing that will matter the most is the points tally. Accordingly, Lampard is urging his team to go "full throttle" for the remainder of the season. With Roman Abramovich looking more ambitious than ever and once again loosening the proverbial purse things, there will be plenty of motivation to not only finish in the top four, but to impress on the pitch, for both the coaches and the players.
“I think we have to go full throttle no matter what game it is. We have the ability to use more subs than usual. I mean full throttle as in giving the game everything we can do, whatever the gameplan is. We have to try to be at our best.
“It won’t be easy because of the circumstances but all teams are in a similar situation. So I just expect us to be ready and to be focused. We know how much is at stake and we have to start well.”
- Frank Lampard; source: Football.London
Bring on Sunday!