The winter break gave Frank Lampard a chance to assess the season so far, and he wants his players to embrace the pressure of the top-four fight to find the small margins that can make the difference between success and failure.
We return to action on Monday night against Manchester United after two weeks’ rest during the Premier League’s first winter break, with that match firing the starting gun on what could be a crucial run of matches for our Champions League ambitions.
After that chance to take stock of the situation, our head coach is satisfied with what we have achieved so far, even if he knows there is a lot more work to do between now and the end of the season and improvements that can be made on the training pitch.
‘I always like to reflect on myself and how I work day-to-day with the players, so there was a lot of self reflection and having a little time away brings a bit of clarity to think we should be happy in fourth position.
‘We know we dropped points against Arsenal at home and against Newcastle away and previously before that, and in the moment every point you feel like you’ve dropped really hurts, but at the same time we have to realise where we are. We are in a bit of a transition and the Premier League has never been as competitive as it is now.
‘Coming fourth for Chelsea is our aim now, but it shouldn’t be our aim long term. We want to be pushing again to close the gap to the standard, which at the minute is Liverpool. That’s the longer-term vision and sometimes within that long-term vision you need a bit of calmness within the storm. Hopefully I can be that, but stay driven.
‘So I think being fourth would have been a plus at the start of the season, but at the same time, I think about how we can get that extra 10 or 15 per cent that I think we’ve been lacking, that if we’d had would have got us a lot more points on the board and would make fourth look a lot more comfortable. So I’ve come back very keen and excited to hit this long run-in to the end of the season.’
Having drawn against one of our rivals for a top-four spot, Leicester City, in our last fixture before the break, we now face Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton in quick succession during a period that could see our chances of achieving that goal take shape.
However, rather than hiding from the pressure, Lampard wants his team to fully absorb the situation they are in and the importance of the next month to our season.
‘I don’t mind the reality of it, I like the reality of it,’ he explained. ‘I think the players should know that if you want to make the top four, we’re in a good position now and we can affect it seriously over the next seven days.
‘That’s not bad to have in your mind. We should be slightly on edge. Training should be on edge, like it has been, when people are tense and being competitive, and we have to take that into the game against Manchester United.’