The new Premier League season is nearly upon us and we at Tribal Football will be previewing the top six – what they need to improve upon, who their new signings are, and what can be expected in the months ahead. Here we look at Chelsea.
What stopped them from winning the title last season?
Frank Lampard's first year in charge of Chelsea was a success in many ways. Despite the lack of silverware or any kind of title challenge, they overcame a transfer ban to finish inside the top four and secure Champions League football with a team built around promising young talent, such as Tammy Abraham, Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount.
They were capable of vibrant attacking football, with the speed and darting runs of Pulisic and the now-departed Willian, the directness and finishing of Abraham, and the energy of Mount, they were a particular threat in transitions. However, against low defensive blocks they tended to struggle more often, with Olivier Giroud's penalty box qualities - ability in the air and to wrestle centre-backs out of the way - helping them out on crosses.
Lampard showed greater pragmatism than his predecessor, Maurizio Sarri, to adapt in certain games against high-level opposition. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn't. But regardless of the system and game plan used, one problem was consistent: Chelsea's defence. In a hypothetical world where the league table is decided on goals conceded, they were a bottom-half side. They let in 54 goals, which is their worst defensive record in over two decades.
There were several reasons behind this. One was the injury record of N'Golo Kante, whose effectiveness and intensity in closing down and breaking things up was badly missed. Without him, Chelsea didn't have a solid enough option out of Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic or Billy Gilmour to offer similar levels of coverage from a base midfield position. Another reason was their goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who had a terrible second year in the Premier League. Whether it was poor decisions or execution in build-up, or a failure to command his box, the Spanish shot-stopper simply wasn't good enough.
Chelsea have strengthened their squad considerably in this transfer window, but the majority of their money has been spent on attackers. Lampard still doesn't have a top goalkeeper, or a Kante replacement, so his big task will be getting more out of the defensive options he already had.
Lampard instructing his players during the Champions League loss to Bayern Munich
72 (goal involvements last season from Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz combined). Ziyech scored six goals and set up a further 12 for Ajax in the Eredivisie; while in Bundesliga action Werner scored 28 and set up eight for RB Leipzig, and Havertz scored 12 and set up six. Can Chelsea's new signings produce similar numbers at Stamford Bridge?
Who are the new guys?
With £200 million already spent on new players, Chelsea have undoubtedly made a faster start to the transfer window than any of their top-six rivals, perhaps making up for lost time after last year's ban. The question is: how do they fit all their new attacking talent into the line-up?
As left-footed attacking midfielders who like to play inside, it's possible that Havertz and Ziyech will rotate or compete for the same position on the right of the front four in a 4-2-3-1 system, which Lampard used frequently last term. Alternatively they could both start, with Havertz playing off the striker.
Werner, a versatile forward with electrifying pace who can play up top or coming in from the left, may compete with both Abraham and Giroud for the lone striker role, and perhaps even with Pulisic for the left wing spot. The likelihood is that Lampard will choose his strikeforce depending on various factors, such as the type of opponent, the game state, and form.
Chelsea have brought in new defensive options, even if they aren't going to fill the problem No.6 or No.1 positions. Thiago Silva brings experience to a youthful back line, however he does turn 36 in September. It will be worth tracking how well his body holds up to the speed and physicality of the Premier League, particularly in an attack-minded side that can be open in transitions.
Meanwhile, Ben Chilwell represents an upgrade at left-back, adding excellent forward runs and crossing on that side, while 21-year-old Malang Sarr offers flexibility and potential.
What to expect this season
Chelsea's summer spending is exciting, and their new arrivals should ensure they remain one of the Premier League's more potent attacking sides. How Lampard assimilates them into a cohesive system will be a significant test of his managerial acumen, and will directly impact how effective Chelsea are in breaking down the sort of stubborn defence that usually rocks up at Stamford Bridge.
If Lampard can get Werner, Ziyech and Havertz clicking with Abraham, Pulisic, Mount and/or Giroud, Chelsea may be able to outscore any continuing defensive woes. However, if it takes time, they may drop too many points early on in the campaign. And if their defence continues to leak goals at the same rate, it's highly unlikely that they will mount a sustained title challenge.
They finished top four last season, and they should do the same again this season. If they can add a domestic cup or a run to the Champions League's latter stages, Lampard's second year in charge will be looked upon as a success. If not, he may face serious scrutiny for the first time in his managerial career.