Frank Lampard will be desperate to hold on to a Champions League place and Kovacic, Pulisic and Loftus-Cheek should be back from injuries
What was the situation like when the league was suspended on 13 March Frank Lampard had bristled when January passed without any arrivals at Stamford Bridge, warning that hopes of finishing in the top four were under threat. His concerns looked justified when his inconsistent side were beaten at home by Manchester United on 17 February. The most inexperienced manager in the league had seen frailties in attack and defence and although victory against Tottenham followed, Chelsea’s shortage of quality was hammered home when Bayern ran riot in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
Yet there were positive signs. Kepa Arrizabalaga regained his spot in goal, while Olivier Giroud and Pedro started to fire in attack after injuries led to them being brought in from the cold. Then there was the impact of Billy Gilmour, who got his chance because of a selection crisis in midfield. The 18-year-old made a stunning impact in the victory against Liverpool in the FA Cup and his poise on the ball stood out when Chelsea, showing rare conviction in attack, tightened their grip on fourth place with a 4-0 thrashing of Everton on 8 March.
What about now? The break stalled Chelsea’s momentum but it has allowed injured players to return. Mateo Kovacic has shaken off a minor knock, Christian Pulisic is back from the adductor problem that has kept him out since 1 January and Ruben Loftus-Cheek will hopefully be ready to compete after recovering from an achilles injury. However it remains to be seen if N’Golo Kanté will be available after expressing health fears about coronavirus. Giroud and Willy Caballero have signed one-year contract extensions but Willian and Pedro could yet leave on free transfers on 30 June. Lampard will not want to lose them before the campaign is over – after all Chelsea will not have the RB Leipzig forward Timo Werner at their disposal until next season.
What needs to be done to have a successful end to the season? With Werner close to joining for £53m, Hakim Ziyech due to arrive from Ajax and Lampard keen to sign Leicester’s Ben Chilwell, Chelsea cannot afford to miss out on Champions League qualification. The job is far from done, with Lampard’s side three points above fifth-placed Manchester United and five clear of Wolves and Sheffield United. Chelsea have often struggled to kill off teams, especially at home, and have shipped too many soft goals. They need to be more calm, more focused in defence and have greater precision in attack. For Lampard, the challenge is demonstrating he has used the time off to devise a more coherent tactical plan. Chelsea, who are also in the FA Cup quarter-finals, have let too many games spiral out of control.
Have players and staff behaved during lockdown? Callum Hudson-Odoi was reportedly arrested on the morning of 18 May and later released and bailed until mid-June. Mason Mount had to be reminded of his responsibilities after the midfielder was pictured having a kickabout with West Ham’s Declan Rice on 15 March.
Any unsung/community heroes? Chelsea have played an active role in the community since the coronavirus outbreak. They opened up the Millennium Hotel on their Stamford Bridge stadium site to NHS staff and teamed up with the domestic abuse charity Refuge to help provide support for people forced to self-isolate in vulnerable situations. The players also donated money to enable the Chelsea Foundation to help those in need during the crisis.
Key player in the run-in? Lampard will hope the deal for Werner will fire up Tammy Abraham, Chelsea’s top scorer. Abraham, who has struggled with an ankle injury this year, can link play and is smart inside the box. Chelsea need him to settle tight games.
End-of-season prediction Chelsea should have enough to qualify for the Champions League, especially if Manchester City’s ban means fifth place is enough, while their knockout prowess makes them a threat in the FA Cup. However they are unlikely to pull off a dramatic comeback when they play the second leg against Bayern in the Champions League.
Remaining fixtures (all times BST): Sun 21 June Aston Villa (a) 4.15pm, Sky Sports Thur 25 June Manchester City (h) 8.15pm, Sky Sports Wed 1 July West Ham (a) 8.15pm, Sky Sports TBC Watford (h), Crystal Palace (a), Sheffield United (a), Norwich (h), Liverpool (a), Wolves (h).
Source: The Guardian