Graham Ruthven on how Chelsea's new transfers - Ziyech, Werner, Silva, Chilwell and Havertz - can help close the gap on the top two.
Brighton v Chelsea
On the final day of the January transfer window, Frank Lampard sat in front of the assembled media in a sulk. A sulk over Chelsea’s lack of transfer activity.
With the club’s transfer embargo lifted, Lampard had wanted a new centre forward to replace Olivier Giroud. The window passed, however, without a single signing made and the Blues boss struggled to mask his disgruntlement.
This was perhaps a factor in Chelsea announcing a deal for the £33.4m signing of Hakim Ziyech from Ajax just three weeks later. Far from being a signing merely to appease Lampard, it was a precursor for what would be the most significant summer Chelsea have experienced since the early days of the Roman Abramovich era.
Lampard can sulk no longer. On top of Ziyech’s arrival, a deal was reached for the signing of Timo Werner from RB Leipzig, snatching the Germany international from under the noses of Liverpool who had long been presumed frontrunners for the striker’s signature.
Lampard wanted a striker and he was delivered one of the very best in Europe.
He also wanted a left back and so Ben Chilwell was signed for £50million from Leicester City. Thiago Silva arrived as a free agent to address Chelsea’s desperate need for an experienced central defender, with French youngster Malang Sarr also signing for good measure.
And, as if that wasn’t enough for one summer, Kai Havertz joined from Bayer Leverkusen for £71million - £1m less than their club-record fee paid for Kepa Arrizabalaga two years ago.
All these signings will heap pressure on Lampard to forge a winning team. There is no doubting Chelsea made progress under their former midfielder last season, with a number of young players breaking through to significantly lower the average age of the squad at Stamford Bridge. But, while Lampard was afforded a honeymoon period, now that period is over.
Hard results are required. Chelsea have not spent over £200 million to go through another transitional spell and this is where Lampard could potentially struggle.
The gulf between the league's best, in Liverpool and Manchester City, and the rest in the Premier League is so vast that third place might still be the best outcome Chelsea can hope for this season. But, after such a big summer, expectation will outstrip this.
In the final third, Chelsea will boast the kind of quality to challenge for the Premier League title.
The addition of Ziyech (above) in particular could take the Blues’ attack to the next level. The Moroccan scored six goals and notched 12 assists in 21 league appearances for Ajax last season, but perhaps more importantly registered 3.7 key passes per Eredivisie outing. To provide some context, Willian was Chelsea’s most prolific key passers, recording only 2.1 per Premier League match.
Chelsea needed a creator and in Ziyech they have found one of the very best in the game.
Werner will also ensure opposition goalkeepers have more to do against the Blues, with the German firing off an average of 3.6 shots per game for RB Leipzig last term. Tammy Abraham, by contrast, fired off only 2.1 shots per Premier League match last season.
At the back, though, is where Lampard as a coach will come under most scrutiny. It’s where his Chelsea side were most vulnerable last season, with some questioning the former midfielder’s credentials as a defensive-minded coach. With Chilwell and Silva now in the squad, Lampard will struggle to find any excuses to fall back on.
Silva made 4.3 clearances per Ligue 1 appearance last season, a figure that would have ranked him higher than any Chelsea player last term.
The Brazilian (below) should help the Blues address their weakness from set pieces and give Antonio Rudiger a partner to build an understanding with - something he has been denied so far under Lampard.
To finish behind Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, who don’t possess the squad depth of Chelsea, would represent failure for the Stamford Bridge club this season.
And yet, the yardstick to measure what would constitute a successful ceiling for Lampard’s side this season, is difficult to make out.
Ordinarily, a club would be expected to challenge for the title after a £200million summer spree, but that Chelsea will likely be some way off that this season illustrates just how far behind they had fallen.