I know I write about Chelsea a lot on this blog, but if you read the homepage it does say that Chelsea is one of my favourite things to discuss and write about, so do please indulge me. Chelsea are having a far better start to the season than anyone expected. Pundits and fans were writing Chelsea off as a serious force for this season from the moment the transfer embargo was announced. When Sarri and Hazard both left, that impression was essentially cast in stone. Chelsea would be lucky if they even qualified for the Europa League and certainly wouldn’t be seriously challenging for any silverware.
But Frank and the team have completely disabused that notion. With the form Liverpool are showing at the moment and the fact that this squad is a young one and will make mistakes between now and the end of the season, I don’t think that they will win the league and certainly not the Champions League. But they absolutely could finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League again. However, Lampard now has a problem. It’s a good problem but it is a problem none the less. How on earth does he fit all his players into his system?
Some positions speak for themselves. Tammy Abraham is obviously the starting striker. For a guy who was targeted by racist trolls after the Super Cup final, who was written off as a Championship striker who didn’t have the quality to lead the line for Chelsea, he’s playing out of his skin. With ten goals already in the Premier League, he’s shown his ability and for the first time since Diego Costa was on the books, Chelsea fans have a striker they are confident in and will fully get behind.
The midfield, however, is a different story. N’Golo Kante is without a doubt one of, if not the best midfielders in the world. Chelsea have relied so much on him during his time at the club. He was crucial in Antonio Conte’s title winning side, forming a strong midfield partnership with Nemanja Matic that was one of the foundations for the team’s success that season. He was just as vital the season after, when league performances slipped but the Blues did claim the F.A. Cup. And when Maurizio Sarri was appointed first team manager, he adapted to a new role so well that he’s still being used in that position by Frank Lampard.
Kante has spent much of the start of this season sidelined with injuries. Last season, that news would have terrified me. But Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho have been two of the best midfielders in the league so far this season. Kovacic is now showing the player Real Madrid had thought they had signed a few years ago. Strong in the tackle, intelligent on the ball and able to carry it forward and go past opposition players with ease. Meanwhile, Jorginho has gone from unfairly made pariah to a fan favourite and leader of the team, to the extent that he is now the vice-captain. And both are playing so well that dropping either one of them to bring Kante back into the starting lineup seems unfair. Any side would be better with N’Golo Kante in it, of course. However the system that Lampard has been using utilising an attacking midfielder, usually Mason Mount and to fit Kante in with the other two central midfielders would require moving to a midfield three. Added to this is the fact that Mason Mount is a very versatile player and can easily drop into a deeper midfield role.
The wingers will pose a problem as well. Willian is playing as well as I’ve ever seen him play in a Chelsea shirt. At the start of the season, I was expecting that once Callum Hudson-Odoi returned from his injury, he and Christian Pulisic would quickly establish themselves as the starting wingers and Willian and Pedro would be used as rotation and cover for injuries. But Willian has stepped up to the plate in the wake of Eden Hazard’s departure. His turn of pace and ability on the ball have been crucial to the positive results Chelsea have enjoyed this season. Christian Pulisic meanwhile, after a slightly slow start to life in the Premier League, now has five goals in three games and is really starting to look like a world beater. His dribbling ability is ridiculous, the ball seems to just to stick to his feet. Callum Hudson-Odoi showed what a good player he could develop into last season and it would be a real shame if his development was stunted.
Lampard will have to decide whether he wants to rotate his players to ensure they all get an amount of game time, or whether he wants to have a core starting lineup. Does he bring in the players who could make a real difference, regardless of the form of other players or stick with those that have performed well so far this season? Ultimately, I think the whole squad will have their part to play this season, and Lampard knows it. We’ll probably see some experimenting with personnel and formations as Lampard tries to find the best formation for him to take the team forward with the form of certain players and the return to fitness of others. Its not an easy question to answer, but it shows Chelsea are in an extremely strong position, when fans can say ‘I feel okay that N’Golo Kante/ Ruben Loftus-Cheek/ Callum Hudson-Odoi isn’t starting.’