Frank Lampards arrival is a popular move with fans but he cannot make any new signings and Eden Hazard leaves an enormous gap
Guardian writers predicted position: 4th (NB: this is not necessarily Jacob Steinbergs prediction but the average of our writers tips)
Last seasons position: 3rd
Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 33-1
As a player Frank Lampard became a European champion, scored the goals that ended Chelseas 50-year wait for a league title and went to training with the sole intention of bettering himself every day. A relentlessly hard worker, he has thrown himself into management with a zeal that set him apart during his playing career and has earned a reputation for playing attractive football and giving youth a chance. As an added bonus he even appears to have heard of Chelseas academy, which should be good news for players such as Callum Hudson-Odoi and Mason Mount. Andreas Christensen, the 23-year-old Dane, will hope for more games in defence and Lampards influence is evidenced by Hudson-Odoi, long coveted by Bayern Munich, edging towards signing a new deal.
On the face of it there is much to like about Lampards return to the club he knows inside out, where he is respected by the clubs notoriously hard-to-please board and revered by supporters who will feel waves of nostalgia and excitement wash over them when they see their manager in the away dugout at Old Trafford on 11 August. It is an appointment that makes sense on a number of levels, not least because installing Chelseas record goalscorer should have a restorative effect on the mood after a year dominated by less than complimentary chants about the quality of Sarriball.
Yet for all the romance of Lampards homecoming, there are awkward realities to confront. After all, Chelsea have turned to a managerial novice to replace a coach who has been poached by Juventus. A coach who ended his debut campaign in England by finishing third in the Premier League and thumping Arsenal in the Europa League final. A coach who spent much of last season seemingly one game from the sack but succeeded in his primary objective of getting Chelsea back into the Champions League. A coach who was derided as a joke figure and barracked by supporters, only to walk into a job with the Serie A champions.
In Sarris place arrives a 41-year-old who has been managing for a year, finished sixth in the Championship with Derby County and lost the play-off final to a more experienced English manager, Aston Villas Dean Smith. In different circumstances there is no chance that Chelsea would have asked Derby for permission to talk to Lampard.
But appointing Lampard now leads us to another thorny issue: Chelseas inability to make signings until next summer after being handed a two-window transfer ban by Fifa. It threatens to be a major impediment given that they finished 26 points behind Manchester City and 25 behind Liverpool, numbers which explain why Sarri spent much of the early part of last season cooling talk of a title challenge. Why would one of Europes top managers come to Chelsea at this stage?
Lampard probably would have welcomed a few signings. Instead he arrives just as Eden Hazard departs, sold to Real Madrid for 88.5m, the lure of the Bernabu finally proving too strong for the brilliant little Belgian to ignore. Chelsea, so often reliant on Hazard, are unlikely to be better off without their one truly elite talent and they are unable to replace him with a marquee signing.
At least Christian Pulisic, bought for 58m from Borussia Dortmund before Fifas punishment landed, has arrived to fill the creative void. The American can play in the hole or on the flanks and could provide excitement. Yet the 20-year-old will need time to settle and the unfortunate truth for Lampard is that his attack looks far less daunting without Hazard. Pedro and Willian can flatter to deceive and Hudson-Odoi is recovering from an achilles injury. As for the strikers, Olivier Giroud has rarely been a consistent force in the Premier League, neither Sarri nor Conte was convinced by Michy Batshuayi and Tammy Abraham, scorer of 25 goals during his loan at Villa last season, is unproven at this level.
Then again it has been a long time since Chelsea have had a manager willing to give a raw young talent such as Abraham a proper chance. Enough doom and gloom. One of the best reasons for fast-tracking Lampard is that his readiness to promote youngsters offers a straightforward way to rejuvenate the team and having Jody Morris, who developed a glowing reputation during five years working in Chelseas academy, as his assistant will help in that regard.
There is a sense that Chelsea are building for the future. So ruthless in the Roman Abramovich era, it is possible to detect a willingness to give Lampard space to breathe and grow. Hiring Petr Cech as a technical and performance adviser is a sign of a desire to build a proper structure around Lampard.
Such assurances will give Lampard the confidence to trust in his vision. He showed at Derby that he can improve young players. Chelsea entrusted him with Mount and Fikayo Tomori, both of whom have returned as better players. Mount will press for a spot in midfield, Tomori in defence, while Jake Clarke-Salter and Reece James will hope to catch Lampards eye.
The transfer limbo also means Lampard may offer second chances to outcasts such as Danny Drinkwater and members of Chelseas returning loan army, with Kurt Zouma hoping to challenge in central defence after a year at Everton, Kenedy an option on the wing after a year at Newcastle and the midfielder Timou Bakayoko keen to prove himself after spending last season at Milan.
Raw materials are at Lampards disposal. But he must ensure the positives outweigh the negatives. In goal Kepa Arrizabalaga is a goalkeeper with vast potential. In central defence Antonio Rdiger has emerged as a commanding leader. Csar Azpilicueta remains dependable at right-back, Emerson has made the left-back spot his own after dislodging Marcos Alonso and Lampards apparent preference for 4-2-3-1 over Sarris 4-3-3 should allow NGolo Kant to play a more central role next to the deep-lying orchestrator Jorginho, a divisive figure last season.
Moving Kant inside ought to solidify a side beaten 4-0 by Bournemouth and 6-0 by City last season. Yet questions linger. Can Lampard succeed where others have failed and curb David Luizs rash tendencies? Is Ross Barkley capable of a consistent run of form? Was it a mistake to sign Mateo Kovacic, an underwhelming presence on loan from Madrid, on a permanent basis? Will Ruben Loftus-Cheek be the same after injury? Do Giroud, Batshuayi and Abraham convince up front? And will there be enough spark without Hazard?
Lampard will need time to come up with the right answers. Unable to lean on Hazards genius, it will not be easy keeping up with Pep Guardiola, Jrgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino. This is a transitional period and Chelsea should regard anything more than a top-four finish and a decent Champions League run as a bonus.
Still, imagine the excitement if it is Lampard leading a title charge. For all the current uncertainty it would be a hell of a story.
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