What I mean by that is that for the first time, Chelsea fans feel that there is a genuine plan beyond the end of this season. That’s been clear from the moment Frank Lampard was appointed as Head Coach. We knew that the transfer ban woud necessitate bringing some of the younger players through to the first team to flesh out the squad. We also knew from Frank’s tenure at Derby County that he wasn’t afraid of putting younger players straight into the starting eleven. But I don’t think even Lampard could have predicted what a positive impact they were going to have.
We knew from last season that Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek would have big roles to play this season after their performances, especially towards the tail end of the season. If they hadn’t suffered major injuries, I am confident that both would have started the Europa League Final against Arsenal. As it is Hudson-Odoi has only just returned to regular first-team action but has already made a huge impact, with three assists and a goal in four appearances. Ruben Loftus-Cheek hasn’t returned to first team action and isn’t expected to do so until November but his return is an exciting addition to what has turned into a very dynamic attacking team. The defence needs to be tighter, we all know that. But every time we move forward we look like we’re going to score. No one apart from the top two teams have scored more than us. Watching the team this season is already so much more exciting that it was under Sarri. And that’s nothing against Maurizio Sarri. I don’t think he had the time or the players to properly translate his style to Chelsea and English football. Maybe, this season would have been better and we would have seen it come to fruition but he decided to go a different way.
What has been wonderful to see is the emergence at last of some of the vast arrays of talent we have had stored in the academy teams for so long. Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Reece James, Fikayo Tomori, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are the spine that Lampard can build his side around. And that sense of this side being forged from the academy has lifted the fans from last season. I truly believe that for the first time since Jose Mourinho returned for his second spell in charge. The fans know that this is now a multi season project, that success may not be arriving immediately, but they are willing to give that. Sarri’s Chelsea would not have been applauded off the pitch after a 2-1 loss at home. But, the fans can see the effort from the players and they will continue to give their support. Frank Lampard holding the position he does with the fans certainly will help, but Frank will want to stay in the job on merit, not because of what he did as a Chelsea player.
One thing that really set the fans against ‘Sarriball’ was its tactical rigidity. You could predict the formation and largely the lineup. And the playing style was entirely predictable. Sarri never seemed willing to change things up at all. It made watching games as a fan very frustrating. When that type of system works well, it’s fabulous to watch. When something isn’t quite clicking, it becomes extremely boring to watch. Lampard has already shown that he is tactically flexible. If a system is not working in a game, he will change it and adapt. The players seem to have responded well to that as well. Being tactically flexible is only a good thing in the Premier League. You can adapt to counter another team’s strengths and keep them guessing as to how you’re going to line up and where your emphasis for attack is going to be.
I’m also thrilled to see Jorginho’s name being sung at games by Chelsea fans. I feel he was unfairly scapegoated last season by many sections of the fanbase, even being booed as he came on as a substitute in the Europa League last season. But, Lampard has freed him from the role he was stuck in last season and has allowed him to lift his head up and play a longer pass. Teams quickly cottoned on to the fact that all of Chelsea’s transitional play from defence to attack went through Jorginho and if they could put pressure on him, Chelsea’s attacking capabilities would be severely reduced. And that happened repeatedly. Under Lampard however, his number of passes has fallen but he’s playing more key passes when he does have the ball. His interceptions and tackles are also well up from last season and his work rate has been exceptional. His impact and leadership skills with the younger players has even seen named vice-captain.
Willian has also seen an upturn in his form over the last three games or so, he was superb against Southampton. Mateo Kovacic has also started the season well and Marcos Alonso has deputised well for Emerson whilst the Italy international is injured. N’Golo Kante has been his usual brilliant self when he has been able to play. If he can work through these recurring niggles, he will add so much to the team in both defence and attack. But that really is stating the bleeding obvious.
The fans will have a big part to play as the season goes on. No doubt there will be other teething problems for this Chelsea side as we progress through the season and the fans will need to stand by the team and the management as they find their feet and gain experience at this level. But from what we have seen so far, especially in more recent weeks, there is an awful lot to look forward to if you’re a Chelsea fan.