Chelsea’s pre-season preparations are now over and on Sunday face Manchester United at Old Trafford in a tough season opener.
The Blues are currently serving a two-window transfer ban, Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard has experimented with what the club currently has to offer him as he continues to figure out his first-choice XI.
Here are 8 things that we’ve learned from Chelsea’s pre-season tour of Asia and Europe, along with what a good season would be for the Blues.
4-2-3-1 looks to be the Lampard’s formation choice
Lampard has experimented with two systems, but it seems his preference is playing 4-2-3-1. A win against Barcelona with the returning Tammy Abraham up front looked the most promising for Lampard.
His other option is a midfield diamond with two elected strikers which proved decisive in the second half at Reading, with Abraham and Batshuayi up front together. But it showed the defensive frailties as the Blues conceded three poor goals.
4-2-3-1 looks the best option for Lampard which provides defensive cover which the new head coach used frequently during his first year in management at Derby County.
Creative, scoring goals… but leaky defence in Europe
Chelsea played three games in Europe during pre-season where they were unbeaten. They look creative and scored goals that came from all over the pitch. But, they are leaky at the back. Only one clean sheet in seven pre-season friendlies will be a concern to head coach Lampard.
A change of formation to adapt to a defensive style of play will restrict the attacking threat but will help keep clean sheets. Lampard has to get the right balance this season with the attacking and defensive side of the game.
Jorginho proves he can play in other systems
When Jorginho signed for Chelsea it was to play one specific role in Maurizio Sarri’s side, a regista in ‘Sarri Ball’. Now that Lampard is the new man in charge of Chelsea, Jorginho has been given a new role in pre-season, playing in a two-man double pivot.
The Italian international has adapted quickly to the change during pre-season, and with a brilliant footballing brain, there wasn’t an argument to say Jorginho couldn’t adjust.
Chelsea fans will be hoping that Jorginho continues his fine form in pre-season and produce consistently this season.
Zouma aiming for Euro selection
Kurt Zouma appears set to start the season in central defence after being assured of first-team opportunities by Frank Lampard.
Zouma, however, has made it clear he wants regular football to keep his place in the France squad ahead of Euro 2020 and this may be more difficult when Antonio Rudiger is fit again.
However, David Luiz’s recent deadline day transfer to Arsenal has made room for Zouma to get regular game time this season.
New boy Pulisic looking sharp so far
Signing in January from Borussia Dortmund for a hefty fee, most Chelsea fans will be hoping Christian Pulisic can fill the void left by Eden Hazard.
The 20-year-old has started his Chelsea career in superb fashion, he looks sharp, quick and possesses the dribbling technique of Hazard. Scoring two goals in pre-season, the Chelsea fans are hoping his pre-season sharpness can continue this season for the Blues.
Perfect chance for strikers to shine, especially Abraham
Tammy Abraham has recently been given the No 9 shirt at Chelsea, scored his first goal for the Blues against Barcelona where he showed his ability.
Successful loan spells in recent seasons where he has shown his eye for a goal and at 21, he is the same age as Harry Kane when he broke through at Tottenham.
Like all Chelsea youngsters, he will have the support of Lampard but he will need to repay the faith Chelsea have shown in him by scoring goals, and Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi will be ready and waiting when they are given their chance.
Mount and Barkley have given Lampard selection headache
Mason Mount and Ross Barkley have impressed the most out of the Chelsea squad during pre-season. When selected, the pair have shown consistency which Lampard is looking for. Both have been scoring goals and creating chances for their teammates, but it looks like the two English attacking midfielders are competing for the same position.
Although the pair will get a lot of game time this season in the No 10 role, when Ruben Loftus-Cheek has recovered from his injury, he will in the equation too.
Mount played under Lampard last season at Derby and the Chelsea head coach wants to give him a chance. Barkley looks like he has rediscovered his confidence playing in his preferred No 10 position. These two have shown their worth in pre-season and they will provide Lampard with more attacking options.
Formation switch will get the best out of Kante when fit
Lampard will require all his senior players to step up this season. Now that Hazard has made his dream move to Real Madrid, Kante is seen as Chelsea’s best player. He made his return from a knee injury as a sub in Chelsea’s final warm-up match at Borussia Monchengladbach.
Kante will get the opportunity to return to his most preferred position which he has been regarded as the best in his position. He will slot in as part of a two-man midfield pivot in Lampard’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, alongside Jorginho or Kovacic. His presence will add legs and his ability at turning over the opponent’s attacks will improve the balance of Chelsea’s midfield.
Likely first-choice XI v Manchester United
This is the formation and line-up that Lampard is expected to begin with on Sunday:
4-2-3-1: Kepa; Azpilicueta, Zouma, Christensen, Emerson, Kante, Jorginho; Pedro, Barkley, Pulisic, Abraham.
Expect Rudiger to replace Zouma when fit. Plenty of competition elsewhere with Mount & Loftus Cheek (when fit) will contest with Barkley for No 10 role.
Kovacic will push Jorginho. Hudson Odoi (when fit) and Willian will challenge for wide positions. Giroud and Batshuayi will put pressure on Abraham.
Prospects for the season ahead – a new chapter for Chelsea
If there were to be an improvement on last season then this upcoming season will go down as a success, following Chelsea selling their best player in Eden Hazard to Real Madrid. Also, Chelsea remains under a transfer ban which means no incomings for the next two transfer windows and Lampard will have to work with the players currently at the club.
The current squad is imbalanced of players’ bough in by previous managers Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri but includes a lot of hungry youngsters looking to impress. Also, some key players remain out injured and will be a big addition to Lampard when they return.
It would be a test for any veteran coach walking into the helm at Chelsea, but Lampard and his staff are coaching at this level for the first time. There is a desire to give him time but that hasn’t been the case at Chelsea in recent seasons under previous managers.
With a transfer ban underway, Lampard will have to get the right balance with his squad straight away and the pre-season that he has had with them, it seems that he is finally understanding his best XI.
It will be a hard task to retain a top-four spot this season with the majority of Chelsea’s rivals investing heavily in additions to their squads. However, what this transfer ban has done is give the club an opportunity to change the culture and the energy with how the club is perceived. The young players are excited where there’s an excitement in the club which most Chelsea fans can agree on.