A fourth-place Premier League finish and losing an FA Cup final would have got some Chelsea managers under Roman Abramovich’s ownership sacked. Not Stamford Bridge idol Frank Lampard.
Expectations were as low as they had ever been since the Russian oligarch took control of the Blues in the summer of 2003. This wasn’t because of the goodwill everyone had for midfield great Lampard now occupying the hot seat, but due to a transfer ban.
Chelsea have signed an awful lot of players in the Abramovich era. Many haven’t worked out, some succeeded and even a few – like Kevin De Bruyne and Mo Salah – went on to be successful elsewhere. The fact that they weren’t able to bring anyone in dampened any enthusiasm in the stands or the Blues boardroom.
That created the right conditions for Lampard, who is still a relative managerial novice compared to illustrious predecessors who include Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti, to overachieve. Chelsea scored more goals (but also conceded more) than in each of the last two seasons as he made do with what he had.
While their points tally was fewer, the result was the same. Except for 2016-17 following a disastrous previous season where they came tenth in the Premier League, European football at the Bridge has been a constant of Abramovich’s time as Blues owner.
With three continental trophies in the last nine years, Chelsea have been more successful in UEFA competitions than on the home front. Mourinho, in his second spell, and Antonio Conte are the only managers to have steered the club to the Premier League title since Ancelotti did the double in 2009-10.
Now that Blues boss Lampard can make signings, he has. If you want a season bet on Premier League football involving Chelsea, then 888Sport go 12/1 about them being champions. That price is built on the fact that other clubs, namely Liverpool and Manchester City, have been dominant forces in English football of late.
Having just made the top four, the Blues are fourth-best in this particular market behind those sides and Manchester United. Lampard was the beneficiary of Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City throwing their own hopes of a return to the Champions League away.
In his second season as boss at the Bridge, however, there will be greater expectations. Big money moves to bolster the Chelsea attack with the arrivals of Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech have seen to that. A bigger concern for Lampard, though, should be his goalkeeper and defence.
The Blues backline had their worst season since 1996-97, shipping 54 Premier League goals – one more than when they finished tenth in 2015-16. This reflects a lot of chopping and changing as Lampard sought to find a rearguard that would keep the opposition out.
It’s an area where major improvement is needed. The table doesn’t lie and Chelsea were 33 points, that’s 11 wins, behind Liverpool. Yet potential remains over Stamford Bridge and their manager who, if rewarded with further uncustomary patience from Abramovich, may mount a bigger challenge in the Premier League next term.