Champions League knockout stages, a transfer ban successfully navigated, five points clear in fourth and an FA Cup semi final on the horizon; Frank Lampard’s first season in charge at Chelsea has certainly ticked a lot of boxes.
On the whole, the rookie Premier League manager has made a very good fist of it at Stamford Bridge in 2019/20, with seven games still to play and the prospect of yet more silverware for the bulging Chelsea trophy cabinet, the season could well end on another very high note in West London.
Lampard though will not need telling that his second season is shaping up to be a real test of his credentials. Currently sat 32 points behind recently crowned champions Liverpool, they will need to surge up the table with wins and points if they are to successfully compete for the title again.
Factor in two potentially resurgent Manchester clubs, as well as two wounded superpowers in North London looking to make their mark on the table once again and next season is looking like quite the epic challenge to say the very least.
However, Chelsea have been by far the most active club from the traditional big six with their preparations for next season. Already they have moved quickly to secure the services of attacking duo Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner from Ajax and RB Leipzig respectively.
These exciting forward players were previously linked to some of the continents biggest clubs so for Chelsea to elbow their way to the front of the queue is a show of real strength and burning ambition.
Both players will significantly bolster and replenish their attacking options which have, in part, looked a little on the aged side this term. Willian, Pedro and Olivier Giroud are all on the wrong side of 30 and linked with moves away from the club. Indeed Pedro has recently agreed to join Italian outfit Roma upon the conclusion of this current campaign, so reinforcements were sorely needed.
While Lampard and co deserve full credit for such impressive moves in the transfer market, they must also show similar zeal to improve matters at the other end of the field.
Their defensive unit has too often been a rather swollen Achilles heel this season. Far too many goals have been shipped and they have frequently looked a tad fragile and more than wee bit exposed to aggressive counter attacks and direct balls in over the top.
Just six clean sheets all season and 41 conceded in the league at the time of writing paints a picture of a rudderless backline in need of urgent repair. In goal, the erratic form of Kepa Arrizabalaga led to him being dropped from the first team back in February and has only increased speculation about his long-term future.
While Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen are all reasonable defenders who have rarely let anyone down, you cannot help but feel an upgrade is urgently required to help take the Blues to the next step. None of that trio stands out as natural leaders of men in a backline, nor do they come anywhere near the levels of recent title winners like Vincent Kompany, Aymeric Laporte or Virgil van Dijk.
Yes, Chelsea have looked very good in attack at times and with the pace and predatory instincts of Werner and Ziyech added to their armaments, they will be a handful but Lampard would do well to take a cautionary note from Premier League history.
Past campaigns are littered with the debris of challengers who have tried to outscore their way past opponents and come up short. Newcastle United’s mid-nineties entertainers and Liverpool in 2013/14 serve as suitable warnings for would-be cavalier title charges. Both teams were exhilarating in attack, eviscerating opponents with their attacking flair, yet they ultimately came up short; their leaky defensive lines unable to see them through in tighter games where control and discipline was sorely needed.
With Chelsea’s current defensive record more resembling that of Brighton and Newcastle this season, there is clearly much work to be done.
Their tendency to throw the full-backs forward has been an effective lock picker for them at times this season, but it has created yet more defensive frailty. Whereas Liverpool have been able to lean on their full-back pairing in devastating counter-attacks, they have also been able to count on Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold to get back up the flank and man their defensive posts. They also have other players in midfield who can revert back into the full-back area to help counter-balance the team in certain dangerous scenarios when they are out of possession.
The likes of Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho, and Mason Mount have looked leggy or disinterested at times when asked to drop back and cover these holes. It is an obvious area of weakness for opponents to target and it will continue to be exposed until it is addressed.
This is just one key area that Lampard and his staff need to refine next season. While all of this may sound like splitting-hairs or over-criticism, defensive discipline, in the modern era of rapid, hell-for-leather counter-attacking is crucial. All too often Chelsea have strayed from this and been left highly vulnerable. You simply cannot sustain a title charge with a dodgy keeper and flaky defence.
Whether they find solutions internally with the current crop of young talent at their disposal or look to the transfer market for further new recruits, Lampard must find a way to plug that leaky defence next season if he is to truly covert his team of entertainers into genuine title contenders.