Under the demanding ownership of Roman Abramovich, Chelsea had become a conveyor belt, with manager’s seemingly unable to last more than a couple of seasons. A model of big money transfers to create instant success was instilled at the club. Despite the moral implications of sacking managers who quite often, didn't always deserve the boot, the model has worked as Chelsea have consistently won silverware almost every year since 2003 with a haul of 16 trophies over the last 17 years.
Then came the appointment of a club legend last Summer - Frank Lampard.
Lampard’s first season in charge at Stamford Bridge has been, on the whole, relatively successful. At least until the coronavirus stepped in. A top-four position in the Premier League has been held, a triumphant win over Liverpool in the FA Cup and a second leg against Bayern Munich in the last 16 of the Champions League is still to come… hopefully.
A reasonable record in what is only Lampard’s second full season in management after leading Championship side Derby to the play-offs final last term. Especially, as the Blue’s legends first Summer transfer window was during Chelsea’s transfer ban which meant no new signings and getting the most out of a squad that had just lost its talisman, Eden Hazard.
On that front, the Chelsea boss has certainly done that. With attackers such as Pedro and Olivier Giroud both the wrong side of 30 and veterans like Gary Cahill past his best and shipped off to pastures new, Lampard has utilised Chelsea’s academy in a way that his predecessors never did.
Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Reece James and Fikayo Tomori have all become integral parts of this season’s starting eleven. Abraham has scored 13 league goals and James has quickly become one of the top full-backs in the league.
Whether or not the former England international would have taken this approach regardless of the transfer ban is unknown, but it was definitely through necessity that’s for sure. Nevertheless, the summer transfer window will soon be upon us - in what capacity though remains to be seen.
Already, the Blues have agreed on the signing of Morocco international Hakim Ziyech from Ajax for a reported £33.3m. The 26-year-old was a January target for Lampard and will hopefully prove to be a worthy attacking option for the west London side. Chelsea had hoped to add a new striker to their ranks in January but links with Edison Cavani and Napoli forward Dries Mertens never came to fruition.
Goals and chances created have arguably not been a problem with an average of 1.74 per game and a total of 51 goals scored, the fourth highest in the league.
However, one clear weakness that has presented itself time and time again this season is not the number of goals scored, but the number conceded. Chelsea have conceded on average 1.34 per game and a total of 39 in the 29 matches played. Only Burnley and Tottenham have conceded more from teams in the top half of the table, letting in 40 goals each respectively. From these statistics alone, it is clear that the main problem the West London side need to rectify is defensive. Yes, Tomori has put in some strong performances and Rudiger has been solid when fit, but no defender has had the same presence and leadership qualities that were the bread and butter of former captain John Terry.
A good comparison would be that of Liverpool’s signing of Virgil Van Dijk and the difference he has made to that title-challenging side. Before his arrival, Jurgen Klopp’s team were scoring goals for fun but leaky as a burst water pipe at the back. After his first full season, Liverpool conceded just 22 goals in 38 games. The best defensive record of the 2018/19 campaign.
With this in mind, surely the number one target for Chelsea this summer has to be a new centre-back. Whilst a player of Van Dijk’s quality might not be available, there are still some strong options to cast an eye over.
Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester City)
The 23-year-old has had a terrific season for the Foxes so far and been integral to the third-best defensive record in the league. Fantastic awareness and playing intelligence has meant the void left by Harry Maguire has quickly been filled. His ball-playing skills cannot be undermined either having made 1,862 passes, the sixth highest in the league. It would be difficult to lure Soyuncu away from the King Power Stadium but with a valuation of just £28m in the current market, it makes him a bargain in a world of £80m defenders.
Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)
Koulibaly has been on the wanted list of many of the top teams in Europe for a few seasons now and with good reason. On the occasions the Senegalese defender has come up against English opponents, he has commanded his 18-yard-box and made even the most prolific strikers look second rate. The 28-year-old is also a formidable force going forward, bulldozing his way through midfield.
Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa)
It has been a successful season for Mings, establishing himself as a shining light in a newly promoted Aston Villa side that has been inconsistent throughout and also earned him his first England call-up. No matter how poor the performances of the team have been this season, Mings has never gone missing with 133 clearances this campaign and at 6ft 5ins, it is hard for him to not go unnoticed. At 27, he still needs to improve on parts of his game to cement himself as a top Premier League defender, but with a current market valuation of £25m, he makes for an interesting option to fix Chelsea’s defensive woes.
However Lampard chooses to bolster his ranks this summer, one thing is for sure, a lot more will be expected of his second season and he won’t have the excuse of a transfer ban to fall back on.
This article was written exclusively for golear.co.uk by Mat Ogley