Chelsea manager Frank Lampard faces a daunting task on his return to Stamford Bridge as the club’s midfield great tries to keep his team competitive despite a host of issues on and off the pitch.
AFP Sport looks at the west London side ahead of Lampard’s debut season on the Blues bench:
What to expect
Despite securing a third-place finish in the Premier League and winning the Europa League with a rout of London rivals Arsenal, Maurizio Sarri’s decision to join Juventus in the close-season went unlamented by Chelsea fans.
A large part of their relief at seeing Sarri return to Italy after only one season lay in the belief that Lampard would be the man to replace him.
The Blues’ faithful got their wish as Lampard was hired after just one season in charge at second-tier Derby.
Lampard is well-established as a Chelsea icon, with the midfielder’s 13-year spell bringing the club’s goal-scoring record, three Premier League titles, four FA Cups and their first Champions League crown in 2012.
But the 41-year-old’s appointment is a significant gamble by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and his top aide Marina Granovskaia.
The summer exit of star playmaker Eden Hazard to Real Madrid and an ongoing transfer ban leaves the inexperienced Lampard up against it, especially as he looks set to use gifted but raw youngsters Callum Hudson-Odoi, Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount to spearhead his reign.
With Chelsea’s two-window transfer ban under way for breaching rules in relation to youth players, Christian Pulisic is the only new arrival in Lampard’s squad, putting him firmly in the spotlight as the successor to Hazard.
The promising US winger signed from Borussia Dortmund for £58 million in January, but was allowed to finish the Bundesliga season before finally linking up with his new club in the close-season.
The 20-year-old has the daunting task of filling the void left by Hazard’s move to Real Madrid.
Hazard had a direct hand in 38 goals last term, scoring 21 and laying on 17 more, but Pulisic’s new teammate Ross Barkley says the rest of the squad have to share that burden.
“We know he is an exceptional player, but we have other exceptional players. We have youngsters that will step up and produce the goods,” Barkley said.
Mateo Kovacic does not count as a new face, but the Croatia midfielder, who was on loan with the Blues last season, is now a permanent fixture after completing a £40 million ($49 million) switch.
Just months after Callum Hudson-Odoi appeared headed for an acrimonious departure, the England winger is set to become a leading member of Lampard’s youth revolution.
The 18-year-old Londoner handed in a transfer request in January after Chelsea rejected a bid from Bayern Munich, but he is now keen to stay after Lampard convinced him he would play a major role in his team.
Hudson-Odoi, who felt marginalised by Sarri, is set to sign a new long-term contract according to Lampard.
And in another boost for the new Blue’s boss, Hudson-Odoi is on track to feature by September after recovering from a serious Achilles injury suffered in April.
His return cannot come soon enough for Chelsea fans after he caught the eye with some precocious performances last season, but it will be fascinating to see if Lampard can accelerate his development as the expectations and hype increase.
“I am not going to say things that are pie in the sky but, with his talent, he can be central to this team and to England,” Lampard said.
“He can show, right here at Chelsea, that he is going to be a world-class player. I truly believe that.