Chelsea’s 2019-20 Premier League season is now officially in the books after defeating Wolverhampton Wanderers, 2-0 on Sunday, and securing Champions League (group stage) football next season by finishing fourth.
That may not sound overly impressive for The Roman Era, but at the beginning of the season, expectations for Chelsea were rather low. Frank Lampard’s debut season with Chelsea would mark only his second ever as a manager. Many thought the loss of talisman Eden Hazard would be too much to recover from, especially with a transfer ban in place, and few put too much faith in all the Academy players coming back from various Championship loans making a big enough difference.
The pre-season predictions did not make for pretty viewing.
After roughly 352 days since the very first match of the 2019-20 Premier League season, Frank Lampard and Chelsea have proved the non-believers wrong. Lampard has guided his young squad to a top-four finish, reached the FA Cup final (to be played next week), and the Champions League knockout stages, all the while handing out a record number of debuts, eight, to Academy players.
Lampard has good reason to be pleased with how the season has turned out. He will have even more reason to be proud of his squad for getting the job done since football resumed in Project Restart.
Lampard has talked at length in multiple press conferences about the gap between Liverpool and Manchester City and this young Chelsea squad. Looking forward, now he wants his Chelsea team to evolve into title contenders. To do so, we will need to get results like today’s 2-0 victory much more consistently.
“I am very pleased but I don’t want to sing my own praises, because it is obviously the players that produce for you. There were a lot of unknowns, a lot I have gone over when they had to be said. You always rely on the group and the players you have got.”
“We have seen breakthrough seasons, players on loan and the players who were on loan and perform. We have seen the stories of players like Giroud, Willian, Pedro and Kovacic, Jorginho, people who have really provided along the way. Collective effort of staff and players.”
“I am proud, but I put small brackets around that because it is Chelsea and we want to be challenging for league titles. We’re not in that position now, I knew that going into the season. I knew that to compete, not just Liverpool and Man City, but Man United, Wolves, Tottenham and Arsenal, who spent an awful lot, £100million, and have really strong teams already, it was going to be really tough for us. The lads have competed.”
“We have been inconsistent at times, we will be brutally honest about that, but we can improve going forward. But tonight we can be pleased with what we have achieved.”
Many figured that the leap from managing Derby County in the EFL Championship to managing Chelsea at the highest levels of the game would be a leap too massive for a young manager in only his second year. However, Lampard (and his equally young if only slightly more experienced staff) have shown enough qualities to guide one of the the league’s youngest teams to a fourth place finish.
Reminder that the narrative before this season was pretty much like this.— Tweeds (@joeTweedie) July 26, 2020
All the "bUt oF cOuRsE cHeLsEa wErE gOiNg tO FiNiSh tOp 4" stuff is enormous revisionism. https://t.co/SBNcYKnQXX
Reflecting on the past twelve months, Lampard was humble in his assessment of what he’s learned about himself and the experiences of managing in the Premier League. As fans, we see common themes that plague the squad, such as set-piece defending, shaky defensive performances, and questionable load management.
However, Lampard has also shown to be a manager who is willing to make big changes when needed. He’s adapted well to the new substitution rules since matches resumed, making good use of opportunities to make triple substitutions. He’s tried to fix things by switching from zonal set-piece defending to a more hybrid marking scheme. Even the tactical setups have evolved over the season, as Lampard has tinkered with getting the best out of his players.
Some his changes have panned out, like Willy Caballero in for Kepa Arrizabalaga today. Some of his changes haven’t as well. As a young manager leading Chelsea, the expectations will continue to be large.
“In terms of myself, the year I had at Derby made me learn that this was definitely the role from me. When I had my role in football in the media, it didn’t really grab me enough. It was a nice job and I enjoyed parts of it but when you get to Chelsea it is a step up in terms of expectation which is huge. The level of player, the demands to win week-in, week-out are huge and that’s been tough.”
“In terms of how you always want to improve, I am pretty obsessive in how I want to work and I think on that sense I learned that I need to get the balance right going forward. In terms of being able to switch off a little bit myself but my desire to be successful here is so big that I can’t help wanting us to get better and better. I have learned one million things in a plain and simple answer and I am humble enough to know if there are things I might feel I can improve on then I will try and do that.”
“All I want is success for this club, it has been a tough year but I have enjoyed every bit of it. It feels like we have an element of achievement getting in the top four and we have a huge game next week. All I can think of now is the next thing.”
Given the transfer ban last summer, Lampard was given a bit of a cushion this season regarding expectations. Some even called it a free season, in essence, including old pal José Mourinho. But as the season wore on, it became clear that we would not settle for mid-table and that we wouldn’t want to settle for such low ambitions either.
Either way, next season the expectations will only rise. Lampard will be expected to turn his young squad into title contenders.
“We know that the economics of the Champions League are big, we know that. We know the prestige, top players want to play in the Champions League. The top players that are here already, even the young players, they want to play in the Champions League.”
“But if we’re looking to recruit in certain areas then I think it may help, but those are conversations for after Arsenal, after Bayern Munich, see how we go, because now we’ve had a good year, we want to have a better year next year. So we’ll try to better ourselves in any way possible.”
Luckily for us, Chelsea have already secured two high-profile signings to help in next season’s league title pursuit. Timo Werner was in fact in attendance today for the first time, watching his new teammates. (Judging by his Instagram, Hakim Ziyech was watching from his hotel room.)
Ziyech has already been training with Chelsea for the past week, but today was Werner’s first experience in London ahead of his transfer being made official. With a potential transfer for fellow German youngster Kai Havertz in the pipeline, the evolution of Chelsea’s squad into title contenders looks to be rapidly in motion.
“He was here today and I am hoping he would have seen a team play with a lot of spirit and professionalism to get through a game which was potentially very difficult for us. He would have seen a moment like Mason Mount did to break the deadlock, which is a problem we have had this season, control a game, not score and then conceded. We have things we want to improve on.
“But I think he would see we have talent in the squad, a real resilience and strong quality in the group and then he can bring his qualities to that. Hopefully it was a nice first viewing for him and we look forward to having him next season.”
-Frank Lampard; Source: Football.London
Securing Champions League football next season was the first big achievement of Lampard’s Chelsea.
Up next: securing the FA Cup title against Arsenal on Saturday (August 1).