Frank Lampard believes the unusual circumstances of this season, along with the improvement in quality and consistency of a number of our competitors, means the top of the Premier League will be more congested this campaign than it has been for many years.
Champions Liverpool have already dropped 11 league points, four less than they lost in the whole of 2019/20, while Manchester City, who won the title in the two preceding seasons, have been beaten twice and drawn on four occasions in their dozen games to date.
Simultaneously, the likes of previous challengers Tottenham and Leicester City are enjoying strong starts, while Southampton, West Ham and Everton have offered the surprise element in the top seven a third of the way through this term.
Lampard’s Chelsea are currently fifth, albeit averaging a slightly improved points per game tally on last season’s average and sitting just three points behind the joint leaders Tottenham and Liverpool, who meet this midweek at Anfield.
For perspective, at this stage last season we were eight points off the early pace set by the Reds and, since last winning the title in 2017, we haven’t finished closer than 30 points off the top.
The Blues boss has admitted it is likely to require a lower points total than in previous recent seasons to lift the title this campaign and, even though he doesn't see his team as strong title contenders, he has urged the players to continue striving for improvement.
‘That’s just where we’re at this season,’ he said. ‘We’ve seen the results and we felt it first-hand at the weekend with Everton.
'They have good players, they invested in the summer, they’re a good squad, they were well-organised and they made it difficult for us. Watching the other games, you see that all over the place. Teams are strengthening and the league is getting tighter.
‘I certainly felt our preparation into the season was slightly different so we’ve been a bit of a work in progress. We feel ourselves that we’ve already lost some points that we maybe wouldn’t have done and everyone will feel that in their own way.
'I do think the level of the points will be less but we just have to try to make sure we maintain our levels and keep improving to stay in that.’
There has been a significant about-turn in recent months from some pundits when analysing Chelsea’s prospects for this season, with the criticism following high-scoring draws with West Brom and Southampton followed by a 12-match unbeaten run that was brought to an abrupt halt on Merseyside at the weekend.
That upturn in form led to some categorising the Blues as serious title contenders but Lampard has maintained his position that in reality his side are probably somewhere in between right now.
‘I just don’t see it,’ he admitted in response to claims that he has the strongest squad in the country. ‘I’m not talking down my squad by saying that.
'Some people are saying we’ve got the strongest squad and we can swap players with no change but these are the same people who were saying those players weren’t so good when we drew with West Brom and Southampton.
'The tide has turned pretty quickly but the conversation is pretty irrelevant because it’s only what we do on the pitch that matters. I look around and see strong squads that have been winning things over the last few years and that are very stable.
'There are squads that can have one of the best players in the world sitting on the bench most games as their back-up and teams that have got Champions League winners throughout their squad. We’re not quite there at the moment but we hope to get there.
‘We’ve got some new players that have come in and people maybe want to look at the price tags but at the same time some of them are young players who are coming to play in this league for the first time and they clearly need a little bit of time. There are lots of elements to the squad.
'I believe we will improve, we are improving as it stands and I think we’ll continue to improve but strong squads will only be referred to when you win something.’