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The new Frank Lampard's young Chelsea

How the Blues they exploited the market embargo to completely refresh their squad

The new Frank Lampard's young Chelsea How the Blues they exploited the market embargo to completely refresh their squad

"The Raft of the Medusa" is one of the most famous works of Théodore Géricault, currently exhibited at the Louvre, in Paris. It's one of the most famous paintings of Romanticism and contains various ethos related to the human soul, and in this case, the sense of escape and hope: the will to abandon due to the lack of confidence in one's condition and faith in the possibility of salvation. Conceptually they correspond to the human coordinates of the Chelsea's start of the season, already  on the fourth gameday of the Premier League season which seems not at all easy. The team has a new manager and a completely refreshed roster, which is why the season that the Blues are about to face knows so much about "year 0". Also because the present of the London team is very different from what was its recent history, a rich period whose conclusion ended with two mainstream events: the winning of the Europa League 2019 against Arsenal and the Eden Hazard farewell.

In addition to the sale - already announced for some months - of the Belgian star to Real Madrid, on theory the most serious problem was that caused by the ban of the transfer market, which, even if already known (decided by FIFA to sanction the signing of players Under 18), has largely conditioned the summer of Chelsea. Following a mantra that recalls the early dawn of the philosophy of Cholo Simeone, Abramovich had to make a virtue of necessity and optimize every single internal resource, especially in a rather deconstructive context. The plenipotentiary Marina Granovskaia, and with her the executives of the English club, have had to set up a team that must compete in four competitions without the possibility of immediate investments. But never this time the ban on buying players during the summer window has been accepted with confidence and not with regret, given the possibility of operating that inevitable revolution that was postponed for many years. That's why, in a situation of declared criticality, the only smiles brought them two characters with fundamental roles: the return of Frank Lampard to Stamford Bridge as manager and the definitive transfer from Borussia Dortmund of Christian Pulisic, the leading player of American soccer. The first showed from the first weeks that he wanted to speak an elegant and entertaining football language, capable of enjoying the Chelsea audience; the second, with his talent, immediately took over the legacy of Hazard and became the team's offensive frontman. A squad that among other things could not even count on Gonzalo Higuain, returned to Juventus at the end of the loan, and therefore without a top striker. For the website Transfermarkt Chelsea is still in the top four of the Premier League rose values, a symptom of how there is not a total distrust in the Blues' qualities. But of course, the current one cannot be an easy season.

 

Academy's talents

Like the castaways of the Raft, so Chelsea has been able to find hope to be able to ensure that this season - even publicly on the media - is not considered totally to be thrown away before it even begins. In this case, the vessel that Géricault has placed on the horizon is called talent, and is that of the six under-21s in the roster: they are almost entirely produced by the West London youth sector (the so-called 'Chelsea Loan Army') and, what is not secondary, apart from Pulisic are all English: Mason Mount (1999), Tammy Abraham (1997), Fikayo Tomori (1999, of Canadian origin), Reece James (1999), Callum Hudson-Odoi (2000, of Nigerian origins) and Christian Pulisic (1998). The Pennsylvania-born US star was paid 64 million euros last January from Borussia Dortmund, just before the ban that would come soon, and in the six seasonal games played with the Blues left the impression that expectations had created: a pure talent that is gradually entering a complex football system.

Chelsea had already discovered with Maurizio Sarri Hudson-Odoi, an offensive forward born in 2000 who had already attracted many foreign clubs last season (especially Bayern Munich, who had long courted him and pulled out of the advances after his serious injury) with not even ten caps. But to exalt the new Chelsea in the latest games was the Mason Mount-Tammy Abraham couple, both of them coming from that great gym that is the English Championship. But this exploit has to do with Frankie Lampard, who coached Mount at Derby County and faced Abraham's Aston Villa in the play-off promotion last season. If Mount had already been announced as a future English craque and already was Lampard's beloved - currently boasting an overall run of 406 minutes and 2 goals - his qualities impressed beyond the Premier League debut. Allowed Chelsea's deficits in regards to the other big teams (the 4-0 defeat against Manchester United and then that in the final of the European Super Cup, although only on penalty kicks), Mount was together with Daniel James of Manchester United the more surprising young player of the first Premier League games, a mix of ball technique and elegance and ballistic qualities that, however, after the progress made at Derby, were not totally unpredictable. A few days after his exploit, in fact, he immediately entered the list of 23 called-ups in the major national team, with which he made his debut at the Euro 2020 qualifying match against Bulgaria.

The rest of the Lampard band is a group of prospects that will gradually reach the top of the integration in the team, which for the fate of the season, the former midfielder hopes to happen as soon as possible. Also because Chelsea will have to compete also in the Champions League, a competition that among other things will face with a number of overall presences in the tournament almost to the minimum. In the summer the club lost three experienced players such as David Luiz (who moved to Arsenal), Hazard (to Real Madrid), Higuain (to Juventus). But, after this continuous dramatic refrain, there is a good reason to be less sad. This year Stamford Bridge can applaud new and fresh faces, and among the protagonists, there will also be those who have had less visibility over the years - such as Ruben Loftus Cheek, Andreas Christensen and Kurt Zouma. To these youngsters, however, Chelsea has decided to guarantee a minimum number of seniors to support them with, who in the context of a roster so poor in experience must above all bear the responsibility of being leaders. Cesar Azpilicueta, Pedro, N'Golo Kanté, Willian or even a player often postponed as Olivier Giroud, players who together count 66 trophies won, will still have a more focal role. These top players over the years have offered both to Chelsea but except in some cases (Kanté and Azpilicueta) there has been no linear continuity in performance. Now the time has come to compact the energies to bring the level of the team to the highest thresholds, aware however of the distance from the other top clubs. 

 

Frankie

In the foreground there cannot be the most fascinating figure of the new present of Stamford Bridge, Frank Lampard. As happened to many other former champions with the managing license (from Filippo Inzaghi to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer) the first experiences as a coach meet early with the old clubs that have glorified them. That then are always positive experiences is not said. And although the beginning of the league was very crude and complicated in terms of results (just one win in four matches), Lampard's game philosophy likes, fascinates, amuses. What Sarri should have done. The L factor, in London, may be the one that will keep the Blues fans, who, despite having seen the second Europa League celebrated in their own history in Baku last year, have not been enthusiastic about Sarriball at all. And the former British international can exploit the affection that Stamford Bridge has always given him to be able to carry on his ideas without the sword of Damocles of popular criticism. The very ones that have tormented Sarri's months in London. In short, the choice to pass from managers from the illustrious past to a semi-debutant is explained by the fact that Lampard, despite not having the curriculum of his great predecessors, believes very much in the new project and cares about the fate of the team like no others before now.

Lampard has placed as guidelines four defenders and a difensive midfielder, which can be flanked by two other players or covering himself by putting a line of midfielders in front of him (in this first part of the season we are often seeing Barkley alternating Kovacic, preferring a more qualified playmaker like Jorginho). He uses only one striker, and in this case the owner was almost always Tammy Abraham, who did not start the season in the most comforting of ways (penalty missed in Istanbul against Liverpool). Yet the Blues Academy product started from the first minute three times out of four in the league, making a lot of mistakes but also leading to four goals. Giroud, who continues to be the favorite finish in Deschamps' French Team, will be fundamental in the Champions League, where experience can overcome many shortcomings. The rest of the eleven is fundamentally a construction based on 7-8 permanent players, all under 25, able to guarantee a lot of running and rhythm, which are evident both with the three and four midfielders. Pulisic and Mount, in the last match respectively external right and left, worked asymmetrically: the American arrived in depth, the English sought solutions returning.

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The former number 8 has built a very purposeful, aggressive, athletically slightly fluctuating but generally good-looking Chelsea. But perhaps too fragile behind, though, that's why Frankie wants a lot of work on the team personality, a goal that he also talked about publicly. Furthermore, the quality grades of some players who had been slightly tarnished last season seem to have recovered, in particular Jorginho, who paradoxically suffered in the Sarriball for the role he was taken for. The big and obvious limitation that is condemning Chelsea's performance is the mental tightness during the 90', already highlighted against Sheffield United and Leicester, for example: a team that presses, attacks and scores but then fails to stay on the same concentration levels throughout the race. Sarri's legacy in the dribble is evident but the rest is all Lampard's work, returned home with clear ideas. He has put them into practice with a lot of unscrupulousness and stubbornness, demonstrating competence and pride: he only expects that the qualities of this philosophy will merge with the development of the game. And here again the European factor returns: the Champions League group of Chelsea is far from impossible and will be a great slam of intense matches, to be played against opponents not invincible but equally of great thickness.

The bad news, however, seems to be getting smaller and smaller as the days go by: after knowing the CL's group, very affordable but not to be underestimated, the Londoners have also heard about the return to the pitch of Hudson-Odoi, who has already resumed training with the Under 23 team. The best of the news could however arrive from the courts, given that Chelsea waits to know the outcome of the appeal to the CAS that would reduce the ban and would reopen the possibility to operate in the incoming market, in January, thus guaranteeing to Lampard some reinforcement already identified for some time (a right back and a centre back of high level, for example) to continue to believe in this interesting technical project.