In a convoluted campaign affected by Covid-19 restrictions and congestion, Frank Lampard has been grateful for the recent rest afforded by the final international break of the year.
While it came at a time when the Blues were in form and rising up the league table, with three games in a week placing additional pressures on players already pushed hard by the demanding domestic schedule, the pause did give the Chelsea head coach a rare opportunity to reflect.
With 13 matches in the space of 43 days on the horizon, it will be the last chance for some time for Lampard to draw breath.
‘I have taken stock,’ he said this week. ‘There were some points we lost earlier in the season that we were frustrated with but looking back I think maybe that was par for the course in terms of where we were as a team, with new players coming in and some injuries.
‘The international break came at a time when we were playing well so I’m pretty happy with our current form but the important thing is we don’t get carried away. I’ve used the time for reflection and to review where we’re at. There are lots of improvements we can make so that’s our next focus.’
The boss believes relationships within the team can continue to be honed so that our attacking efficiency improves even further, despite the fact we are the highest scorers in the Premier League thus far. He has been happy with the impact of the six new signings, as well as the knock-on uplift in standards the arrivals have brought among the wider group.
‘The group feels strong and that’s not easy with a big squad,’ explained Lampard. ‘It feels like we’re working in a good direction, with the understanding that we need everybody in the squad as we go through this season because it’s a long marathon that is as congested as it’s ever been.
‘I’m happy with all the new signings because every player has come into the team and made an impact in their own way. The balance of the new players and the players that were here trying to improve our standards has been great.’
Lampard’s Chelsea remains a young team, learning and improving all the time. Only Aston Villa and West Brom have an average age younger than the Blues this term, while our haul of 1,791 minutes to players aged 21 or under is more than any other club in the league.
Despite the outside perception that additional recruitment this summer would squeeze the opportunities for the homegrown players who burst onto the scene so spectacularly in Lampard’s first season in charge at Stamford Bridge, the boss never doubted their resilience and ability to adapt.
‘I read some articles and heard some people saying “that’ll be the end of it and you won’t see these young boys again” but I always had a strong belief that the young players who have come through the Academy would compete again this year,’ he stated.
‘Look at the performances of Tammy Abraham, Reece James and Mason Mount. Fikayo Tomori is staying patient at the minute, Billy Gilmour is back fit – I have absolutely no problem in throwing these young boys in.
‘They’re a great part of the make-up of our squad so I’m really pleased their levels are rising. My job is just to pick the best team to win a game. Nobody is going to give me medals for debuts or Academy appearances. I have to try to pick the best so it’s up to the players themselves.’
Club football resumes with Chelsea unbeaten in 11 matches and just three points adrift of the Premier League summit. Last season's top two, Manchester City and Liverpool, have dropped twice as many points in their opening eight games as they did last term, which has offered hope to other contenders.
‘It’s definitely more open than in recent years and we haven’t seen the gaps open up,’ he added.
'This time last year, Liverpool had won all eight games and we were 10 points behind them but now the league looks a lot different for different reasons.
— Frank Lampard
‘I truly believe the lack of pre-season has been a big issue for some clubs and we’ve felt that here, particularly given that we carried on in Europe for extra weeks [at the end of last season]. There are issues of freshness, no pre-season and of course this ongoing factor of not having fans in the stadiums.
‘There are lots of challenges for everybody to try to overcome but what we have to do is find the best way to navigate through them. We’re in a decent position at the moment but we want more.’