It is not clear if Marina Granovskaia was aware that André Villas-Boas was back in the market after a year and a half out of the game, but the Portuguese former manager would have allowed himself a wry smile on learning about Frank Lampard’s appointment this summer.
Installed as manager by struggling Marseille a month before the Chelsea legend was announced as the Blues’ new boss, Villas-Boas famously tried and failed with his youth integration policy at Stamford Bridge eight years ago. A 33-year old Lampard, understandably, had reservations about the project. Having been tasked with freshening the current squad however, an older Frank will probably better understand the other side of the argument as the season progresses. He would do well to share notes with Villas-Boas, who claims to have learnt from his time at Chelsea and has promised not to change too much too soon at his new club.
The circumstances are different, of course. In a way, Chelsea will be forced to rely on youth this season with a transfer ban in place. The stockpiling of players in recent years has not sat well with a lot of fans and this is an opportunity, albeit enforced, to set things right. Lampard singled out Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori for praise after the pre-season win over St Patrick’s Athletic last weekend but will also have his pick of thirty-eight other players who were out on loan last season.
David Luiz, Willian, Pedro, Olivier Giroud and Willy Cabellero; all on the wrong side of thirty, will have their tasks cut out for them. The captain, César Azpilicueta, will join the senior citizen club in August and faces competition from Reece James, who made such a big impact at Wigan last season and was named in the Championship Team of the Year. It is still too early to write the Spaniard off though and he will still start the season as a first-choice right-back, as will some of the other older players.
Lampard’s biggest problem at the moment is in identifying the striker who will bring in the goals. Eden Hazard scored or assisted half of Chelsea’s sixty-three Premier League goals last season and he is gone. As underwhelming as the two strikers, Alvaro Morata and Gonzalo Higuain were, they supplied ten goals between them. They are gone too.
Olivier Giroud, who contributed two goals, is the only established number nine in the squad. Youngster Tammy Abraham had a very good season at Aston Villa in the Championship last season, but it is unclear if he will make the step up to the highest level. His season-long loan stint at Swansea the previous year ended with the club being relegated from the top flight. After seeing his career stall for a couple of seasons, Michy Batshuayi had an encouraging half-season at Crystal Palace after the turn of the year. Questions still remain though about a striker who has been playing senior football for the best part of a decade but is yet to establish himself.
The game just gone by provided some clues. The Irish side may have been dispatched 4-0 but lively performances from Abraham and Batshuayi yielded nine shots and zero goals. Giroud took the field in the second half and provided two composed finishes. It does not augur well for Chelsea if a soon to be 33-year old is expected to shoulder the burden of scoring goals next season. The Frenchman has not been a regular starter for a few campaigns now, either at Chelsea or Arsenal and is not likely to last the full ninety minutes week after week.
The manager may have made his name scoring goals from midfield but for all the talent Chelsea have in that area, no one has really stepped up to the plate yet within the current squad. Goals may have to come from the wingers and it could be up to the likes of Willian and Pedro to contribute, especially the former whose output has reduced over the last couple of seasons. So, there we have it. For all the talk of a youth revolution, it could be the old brigade making a difference at the top end of the pitch, after all. If Lampard needs to get that message across at any time this season, he need only recall his and Didier Drogba’s Champions League exertions after Villas-Boas was fired that memorable season.
The Blues ended that campaign with the biggest prize of all.